How Tachyon brings a fresh perspective on keeping your endpoints healthy

If you run the IT security for your organization, you probably are feeling two things these days. First, you might be familiar with the term “box fatigue,” meaning that you have become tired of purchasing separate products for detecting intrusions, running firewalls, and screening endpoints for malware infections. Secondly, you are probably more paranoid too, as the number of data breaches continues unabated, despite all these disparate tools to try to keep attackers at bay.

I spent some time last month with the folks behind the Tachyon endpoint management product. The vendor is 1E, which isn’t a name that you often see in the press. They are based in London with a NYC office, and have several large American corporations as customers. While they paid me to consult with them, I came away from my contact with their product genuinely impressed with their approach, which I will try to describe here.

A lot of infosec products try to push the metaphor of searching for a needle (such as malware) in a haystack (your network). That notion is somewhat outdated, especially as malware authors are getting better at hiding their infections in plain sight, reusing common code that is part of the Windows OS or chaining together what seems like innocuous routines into a very destructive package. These blended threats, as they are known, are very hard to detect, and often live inside your network for days or even months, eluding most security scanners. This is one of the reasons why the number of breaches continues to make news.

What Tachyon does isn’t trying to find that needle, but instead figures out that first you need to look for something that doesn’t appear to be a piece of hay. That is an important distinction. In the memorable words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are unknown unknowns that you can’t necessary anticipate. He was talking about the fog of war, which is a good analogy to tracking down malware.

The idea behind Tachyon is to help you discover all sorts of ad hoc and serendipitous things out of your collection of computers and networks that you may not even have known required fixing. Often, issues that start out with some security problem end up becoming general IT operations related when they need to be fixed. Tachyon can help bridge that gap.

Today’s enterprise has an increasingly more complex infrastructure. As companies move to more virtual and cloud-based servers and more agile development, there are more moving parts that can be very brittle. Some cloud-based businesses have hundreds of thousands of servers running: if just a small fraction of a percent of that gear has a bug, it becomes almost impossible to ferret out and fix. This post on LinkedIn’s engineering blog is a good case in point. “Any service that is live 24/7 is in a state of change 24/7, and with change comes failures, escalations, and maybe even sleepless nights spent firefighting.” And that is just dealing with production systems, rather than any deliberate infections.

Unlike more narrowly-focused endpoint security products, Tachyon operates in a wider arena that responds to a lot of different events that deal with the entire spectrum of IT operations– not just related to your security posture. Does it matter if you have been infected with malware or have a problem because of an honest mistake by someone with setting up their machine? Not really: your environment isn’t up to par in either situation.

So how does Tachyon do this? It is actually quite simple to explain, and let me show you their home screen:

Does that query box at the top remind you of something? Think about Tachyon as what Google was trying to do back in the late 1990s. Back then, no one knew about search engines. But we quickly figured out that its simple query interface was more than an affectation when we got some real utility out of those queries. That is where we are today with Tachyon: think of it as the search tool for finding out the health of your network. You can ask it a question, and it will tell you what is happening.

Many security products require specialized operators that need training to navigate their numerous menus and interpret their results. What Tachyon is trying to do is to use this question-and-answer rubric that can be used by almost anyone, even a line manager, to figure out what is ailing your network.

But having a plain Jane home page is just one element of the product. The second important difference with Tachyon is how it automates finding and updating that peculiar piece of hay in the stack. I won’t get into the details here, but Tachyon isn’t the only tool in the box that has automation. While there are many products that claim to be able to automate routine IT functions, they still require a lot of manual intervention. Tachyon takes its automation seriously, and puts in place the appropriate infrastructure so it can automate the non-routine as well, to make it easier for IT staffs to do more with fewer resources. Given the reduced headcounts in IT, this couldn’t come at a better time.

If you would like to learn more about Tachyon and read the full review that I wrote about the product, download the PDF here and you’ll see why I think highly of it. And here is a short video about my thoughts on the product.

Now I realize that having 1E as a client could bias my thinking. But I think they are on to something worthwhile here. if you are looking for way to respond and resolve network and endpoint problems at scale,  they deserve a closer look.


SaltStack: beyond application configuration management

When it comes to building online applications, you can build them with old tools and attitudes or with new methods that are purpose-built for solving today’s problems and infrastructures. Back in the days when mainframes still walked the earth, setting up a series of online applications used some very primitive tools. And while we have more integrated development environments that embrace SaaS apps running in the cloud, it is more of a half-hearted acceptance. Few tools really have what it takes for handling and automating online apps.

I wrote this white paper which talks about typical use cases of the SaltStack Enterprise product and Salt’s key features.

Why adaptive authentication matters for banks

The typical banking IT attack surface has greatly expanded over the past several years. Thanks to more capable mobile devices, social networks, cloud computing, and unofficial or shadow IT operations, authentication now has to be portable, persistent, and flexible enough to handle these new kinds of situations. Banks have also realized that they aren’t just defending themselves against external threats, that authentication challenges have become more complex as IoT has expanded the potential sources of attacks.

That is why banks have moved towards adopting more adaptive authentication methods, using a combination of multi-factor authentication (MFA), passive biometric and other continuous monitoring efforts that can more accurately find fraudulent use. It used to be that adaptive authentication forced a trade-off between usability and security, but that is no longer the case. Nowadays, adaptive authentication can improve overall customer experience and help compliance regulations as well as simplifying a patchwork of numerous legacy banking technologies.

In this white paper I wrote for VASCO (now OneSpan), I describe the current state of authentication and its evolution of adaptive processes. I also talk about the migration from a simple binary login/logout situation to more nuanced states that can be deployed by banks, and why MFA needs to be better integrated into a bank’s functional processes.


Veeam papers on ransomware

I wrote a series of papers for TechTarget, sponsored by Veeam, mainly about ransomware. Here are links to download each paper (reg. req.):

  1. Understanding different types of phishing attacks. As we all know by now, all it takes is just one phishing message to slip by our defenses to ruin our day. Just one click, and an attacker can be inside our network, connecting to that single endpoint and trying to leverage that access to plant additional malware, take control over our critical servers, and find something that can be used to harm our business and steal data and money from our bank accounts. In this paper, I talk about the many different variety of phishing attacks and their increasing sophistication.
  2. How the role of backups have changed in the era of ransomware. The role of backups has changed in the modern era and this paper describes this evolution. As attackers are getting smarter and more focused, IT managers have to also change with the times. Attackers are getting more adept at penetrating networks, necessitating that backups have to become more sophisticated and cover a multitude of circumstances, threat models, and conditions. And as we change the way we work, the way we consume data, the way we build our business computing systems and the way they depend on more complex online systems, we need to change the way we make backups too.
  3. Tips on defending your network against ransomware. Defending your network and preventing your users from getting infected with ransomware means more than just implementing various firewalls and network intrusion systems. It is about creating a culture of being resilient.  It is developing a concerted backup and recovery process that will cover your systems and your data assets, so they will be protected when an attack happens and your business can return to an operational state as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. In this paper, I share some tips for making your systems more resilient.
  4. Fighting ransomware with tape and cloud: a backup field guide. The old standby of data protection, tape backups, is still alive and well in many IT shops. Ironically, it is making a resurgence because of ransomware and other malware attacks. We don’t know what tomorrow’s threats will look like, and there is a lot of risk to having something online that is connected to a network with these types of threats today. While tape has had a long history as a backup medium, the cloud can complement tape backups too, as I describe in this paper.
  5. Steps to an effective phishing defense program. When it comes to defending your network, many enterprise IT managers tend to forget that it is the people behind the keyboards that can make or break their security posture, and sometimes the people matter more than the machines. Phishing is happening all the time, to every organization. The trick is understanding this dynamic. I describe four different steps you can take to improve your defenses.
  6. The story of how the city of Atlanta reacted against a ransomware attack at the end of March 2018 is instructive both in terms of what not to do and how expensive such an attack can become. The city actually experienced two separate attacks, one that began March 22 and another on April 5. My paper describes the series of events and how the city got attacked.

Why you should be afraid of phishing attacks

I have known Dave Piscitello for several decades; he and I served together with a collection of some of the original inventors of the Internet and he has worked at ICANN for many years. So it is interesting that he and I are both looking at spam these days with a careful eye.

He recently posted a column saying “It sounds trivial but spam is one of the most important threats to manage these days.” He calls spam the security threat you easily forget, and I would agree with him. Why? Because spam brings all sorts of pain with it, mostly in the form of phishing attacks and other network compromises. Think of it as the gateway drug for criminals to infect your company with malware. A report last December from PhishMe found that 91% of cyberattacks start with a phish. The FBI says these scams have resulted in $5.3 billion in financial losses since October 2013.

We tend to forget about spam these days because Google and Microsoft have done a decent job hiding spam from immediate view of our inboxes. And while that is generally a good thing, all it takes is a single email that you mistakenly click on and you have brought an attack inside your organization. It is easy to see why we make these mistakes: the phishers spend a lot of time trying to fool us, by using the same fonts and page layout designs to mimic the real sites (such as your bank), so that you will login to their page and provide your password to them.

Phishing has gotten more sophisticated, just like other malware attacks. There are now whaling attacks that look like messages coming from the CFO or HR managers, trying to convince you to move money. Or spear phishing where a criminal is targeting someone or some specific corporation to trick the recipient into acting on the message. Attackers try to harvest a user’s credentials and use them for further exploits, attach phony SSL certificates to their domains to make them seem more legitimate, use smishing-based social engineering methods to compromise your cell phone, and create phony domains that are typographically similar to a real business. And there are automated phishing construction kits that can be used by anyone with a minimal knowledge to create a brand new exploit. All of these methods show that phishing is certainly on the rise, and becoming more of an issue for everyone.

Yes, organizations can try to prevent phishing attacks through a series of defenses, including filtering their email, training their users to spot bogus messages, using more updated browsers that have better detection mechanisms and other tools. But these aren’t as effective as they could be if users had more information about each message that they read while they are going through their inboxes.

There is a new product that does exactly that, called Inky Phish Fence. They asked me to evaluate it and write about it. I think it is worth your time. It displays warning messages as you scroll through your emails, as shown here.

There are both free and paid versions of Phish Fence. The free versions work with, Hotmail and Gmail accounts and have add-ins available both from the Google Chrome Store and the Microsoft Appsource Store. These versions require the user to launch the add-in proactively to analyze each message, by clicking on the Inky icon above the active message area. Once they do, Phish Fence instantly analyzes the email and displays the results in a pane within the message. The majority of the analysis happens directly in Outlook or Gmail so Inky’s servers don’t need to see the raw email, which preserves the user’s privacy.

The paid versions analyze every incoming mail automatically via a server process. Inky Phish Fence can be configured to quarantine malicious mail and put warnings directly in the bodies of suspicious mail. This means users don’t have to take any action to get the warnings. In this configuration, Outlook users can get some additional info by using the add-in, but all the essential information is just indicated inline with each email message.

I produced a short video screencast that shows the differences in the two versions and how Phish Fence works. And you can download a white paper that I wrote for Inky about the history and dangers of phishing and where their solution fits in. Check out Phish Fence and see if helps you become more vigilant about your emails.

CSO Online: As malware grows more complex, protection strategies need to evolve

The days of simple anti-malware protection are mostly over. Scanning and screening for malware has become a very complex process, and most traditional anti-malware tools only find a small fraction of potentially harmful infections. This is because malware has become sneakier and more defensive and complex.

In this post for CSO Online sponsored byPC Pitstop, I dive into some of the ways that malware can hide from detection, including polymorphic methods, avoiding dropping files on a target machine, detecting VMs and sandboxes or using various scripting techniques. I also make the case for using application whitelisting (which is where PC Pitstop comes into play), something more prevention vendors are paying more attention to as it gets harder to detect the sneakier types of malware.

White paper: Invisible mobile banking security

As more banking customers make use of mobile devices and apps, the opportunities for fraud increases. Mobile apps are also harder to secure than desktop apps because they are often written without any built-in security measures. Plus, most users are used to just downloading an app from the major app stores without checking to see if they are downloading legitimate versions.

Besides security, mobile apps have a second challenge: to be as usable as possible. Part of the issue is that the usability bar is continuously being raised, as consumers expect more from their banking apps.

In this white paper for VASCO, I show a different path. Mobile banking apps can be successful at satisfying the twin goals of usability and security. Usability doesn’t have to come at the expense of a more secure app, and security doesn’t have to come at making an app more complex to use. Criminals and other attackers can be neutralized with the right choices that are both usable and secure.