Accounting for Internal Threats to Your Network

Bob Yowell, Delivery Director

Late last year, Forrester released a report, “Understand the State of Data Security and Privacy,” which indicated reasons for data breach. The report found that the leading cause of data breach over the previous 12 months came from internal threats, not external threats. This does not mean that your largest security threats come from within.

It can be concluded, that organizations spend the majority of their budget protecting against external threats while often ignoring their internal threats. Rightly so, the majority of IT professionals focus on external threats. The majority of TraceSecurity customers have external penetration tests and vulnerability scans in place to help guard against data loss from outsiders that are especially interested in financial or customer data.

Looking at the internal threats to your network must be addressed too. According to the Forrester report, 36% of breaches over the previous 12 months were a result of inadvertent misuse of data by employees. The study goes on to state that 57% of employees polled were not currently aware of their organization’s current security policies.

Not only do your employees need to know your security policies, but it is also important to minimize the amount of damage that can be done by a rogue employee or simple mistake. You require the ability to see what is going on inside your network, recognize patterns and determine who has access to what. If a hacker successfully bypasses your front-level security, you need to quickly know how many employees have simplistic passwords that may be discovered via password-cracking programs and what important pieces of information they may have access to.

In TraceSecurity’s experience, once given access to an organization’s internal network, analysts are successful in compromising the system the majority of the time. This can happen a variety of ways. Most commonly, TraceSecurity finds improperly secured network shares, default passwords and incorrectly patched systems. Internal penetration tests also expose flaws in design and configuration of an internal system. While not always exploitable, it can result in excessive traffic that consumes bandwidth.

When you are preparing your budgets for 2015, don’t forget to protect your internal networks too.

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Meet Compliance Challenges with TraceCSO

Mark Thorburn, Security Services Manager & Kayla Campbell, Delivery Director

Meeting compliance requirements is a challenge for many credit unions.  Not only is it an overwhelming task to sift through compliance documentation, but it is also time-consuming to keep up with the credit union’s compliance posture on a consistent basis.  Given these two hindrances, it is very common for credit unions to put these compliance challenges on the back-burner until they are no longer possible to ignore.   Now, credit unions are faced with the concept of GRC – governance, risk, and compliance – which has thrown compliance even further into the limelight.

TraceSecurity identified the need to develop a solution that could aid an organization, including credit unions, in meeting its GRC demands, yet be quickly and easily deployed and managed.  This solution is TraceCSO.  TraceCSO is a GRC tool that is aimed towards helping organizations manage their risk-based information security program more effectively and efficiently.

From a compliance perspective, the introduction of authority documents within TraceCSO provides organizations with citations from hundreds of governing bodies that are stored in a centralized repository, thus eliminating the painstaking task of sifting through compliance documentation to find the true citation text.  It also allows organizations to assign citations to owners, which provides accountability, as well as allows for surveying of citation owners and collection of citation answers and supporting documentation.  This information can be reported on in multiple ways, including dashboard graphs, excel spreadsheets, and formal reports that include both executive-level and detailed sections.

TraceCSO also makes it easier for organizations to meet compliance challenges on an ongoing basis by introducing process, policy, training, and vendor functionalities that support and automate what may have been manual processes before.

Given that TraceCSO is a GRC solution, an organization’s compliance challenges are only one piece of the puzzle.  In TraceCSO, organizations can not only view their citations in compliance assessments but can also view them in risk assessments and audits, thus providing a view into the organization’s compliance posture while considering the organization’s overall risk posture.  This provides a holistic view of the organization’s security stance at any given point in time.

Overall, TraceCSO is an extremely effective solution for measuring an organization’s compliance status in relation to particular governing bodies and/or industry best practice standards.  When compliance is managed alongside risk, organizations are able to get a holistic view of their organization’s posture that, before, may have been spread across multiple solutions or not tracked at all.

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Eyes on the Industry: Heartbleed and its Impact

Josh Stone, Director of Product Management and Information Security Expert

There’s been much in the news about the recent vulnerability in OpenSSL – the so-called “Heartbleed” bug. This is a landmark vulnerability and deserves the publicity and industry response. TraceSecurity has received its fair share of inquiries about this vulnerability, so here’s our perspective on the bug and its future in the security space.

Is it the future, you might ask?  It’s been patched, after all, and recent indicators suggest that the public exposure is substantially eliminated. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of sites still vulnerable, but most significant sites are now patched. So, shouldn’t the issue be largely a thing of the past?

There’s an important aspect of the vulnerability life-cycle to consider. Bugs are published, immediately rendering many existing installations vulnerable. But, even after the rush to patch all systems, these bugs live on. Other classic vulnerabilities still show up surprisingly often. For example, I recently polled our security analysts and found out that MS08-067 – a six year-old vulnerability – still shows up in about one out of every three internal penetration tests. You may remember it: it was exploited by the Conficker worm.

I predict the same future for the heartbleed vulnerability. Public Internet exposure will be history quite soon, but the real ramifications of heartbleed will be felt for years. Most organizations will have a few systems here and there that will remain vulnerable and be exploitable on the internal network.

And, heartbleed is still a big deal. I know this because I recently exploited it in an internal penetration test. The type of information that you get from this vulnerability can be extremely valuable. For example, one can obtain session tokens, usernames and passwords, or internal application data. Over time, the vulnerability surrenders new information all the time, so prolonged exploitation can yield volumes of very useful data.

We encourage all of our customers to scan for this vulnerability internally, and make sure that you patch or otherwise compensate for vulnerable hosts. It’s remarkably easy to make use of the information extracted with heartbleed, and this vulnerability could play a significant role in a future security incident near you.


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The Heartbleed Bug

As many of you may have heard, a new vulnerability was recently discovered in OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This new vulnerability is known as the Heartbleed Bug.  This Heartbleed bug could allow the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption to be stolen.  In simple terms, this means that the majority of websites on the Internet are at risk of leaking confidential information, even if the connection is via an encrypted session (HTTPS).

The following is an excerpt from, which provides complete details about the vulnerability:

What is leaked: Primary key material and how to recover?

These are the crown jewels, the encryption keys themselves. Leaked secret keys allows the attacker to decrypt any past and future traffic to the protected services and to impersonate the service at will. Any protection given by the encryption and the signatures in the X.509 certificates can be bypassed. Recovery from this leak requires patching the vulnerability, revocation of the compromised keys and reissuing and redistributing new keys. Even doing all this will still leave any traffic intercepted by the attacker in the past still vulnerable to decryption. All this has to be done by the owners of the services.

What is leaked: Secondary key material and how to recover?

These are for example the user credentials (user names and passwords) used in the vulnerable services. Recovery from this leaks requires owners of the service first to restore trust to the service according to steps described above. After this users can start changing their passwords and possible encryption keys according to the instructions from the owners of the services that have been compromised. All session keys and session cookies should be invalided and considered compromised.

What is leaked:  protected content and how to recover?

 This is the actual content handled by the vulnerable services. It may be personal or financial details, private communication such as emails or instant messages, documents or anything seen worth protecting by encryption. Only owners of the services will be able to estimate the likelihood what has been leaked and they should notify their users accordingly. Most important thing is to restore trust to the primary and secondary key material as described above. Only this enables safe use of the compromised services in the future.

What is leaked: collateral and how to recover?

 Leaked collateral are other details that have been exposed to the attacker in the leaked memory content. These may contain technical details such as memory addresses and security measures such as canaries used to protect against overflow attacks. These have only contemporary value and will lose their value to the attacker when OpenSSL has been upgraded to a fixed version.

According to the documentation regarding this vulnerability, the following versions of OpenSSL are at risk:

  • OpenSSL 1.0.1 through 1.0.1f (inclusive) are vulnerable
  • OpenSSL 1.0.1g is NOT vulnerable
  • OpenSSL 1.0.0 branch is NOT vulnerable
  • OpenSSL 0.9.8 branch is NOT vulnerable

The bug was introduced to OpenSSL in December 2011 and has been out in the wild since OpenSSL release 1.0.1 on 14th of March 2012. OpenSSL 1.0.1g released on 7th of April 2014 fixes the bug.

If your web server is running a version of OpenSSL that is vulnerable, we strongly encourage you to upgrade to a secured version of OpenSSL today and confirm that your web server SSL is using the upgraded version.  In addition, other encryption products that use the OpenSSL library could also be at risk and should also be addressed.

For complete details about this vulnerability, visit

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Identity Theft Armageddon is Coming

Jim Stickley, Chief Technology Officer

Recently, there has been a lot of press regarding the Target credit card breach, and this has lead to many questions regarding just how vulnerable the entire credit card payment system really is. Now, in case you are unaware of how Target was breached, the basic facts are this. Hackers were able to load malware onto the Point of Sale (POS) servers on Target’s network. This malware was specifically designed to monitor the payment processing software loaded on the devices and then watch the card data as it was being processed in plain text in the memory of the server.

How the malware actually ended up on the servers is still up for debate. It appears that a third party vendor may have been compromised, and then through this vendor, the hackers were able to gain access to the Target network. Other security experts say that it’s highly unlikely that a third party vendor would have had access to the POS servers; therefore, it’s not possible that this is how this attack started. While I am interested to read the final report that gives the actual steps the hackers took, the simple fact is that this type of attack has brought sophisticated malware to mainstream hacking and the beginning of a whole new era of targeted malware attacks.

While malware that is designed to target a specific type of application is not new, for the most part it has been used to target the average online banking consumer. In most cases, the malware would end up on a person’s PC and simply wait until they logged into their online banking account. Then, once the person logged in, the malware would begin passing commands to the online account on behalf of the user, without the user’s knowledge. When this attack first came out, it was extremely successful in automatically transferring funds out of unsuspecting victim’s bank accounts.

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Of course financial institutions fought back and implemented additional layers of security to help reduce the risk of these types of attacks. For example, when a person attempts to transfer funds out of their account, an additional security challenge is presented in an attempt to thwart automated malware. And, while hackers do still come up with ingenious ways to bypass these additional layers of security, overall the success rate of these targeted malware attacks has declined.

However, something happened a few years ago, and it has set-in-motion the beginning of a new trend in hacking. An extremely specific type of malware was created, ended up on Iranian servers, and just so happened to be involved in their nuclear program. The malware was given the name Stuxnet. What made this malware so special was that its whole purpose was to wreak havoc on Iran’s nuclear program.  There have been numerous white papers and even some fantastic YouTube videos released that show exactly how the malware worked. The premise is simple. As data is engineered into a piece of software, the malware manipulates that data. So, as far as the engineer was concerned, everything looked like it was supposed to. In reality, the numbers entered were way out of whack and when executed caused devastating consequences.

So how do Iran, Target and a bunch of hacked banks accounts come together to change the entire future of hacking? Hackers have now been given the blueprints to create absolute identity theft armageddon. Sound a little overblown? Well, maybe, but I will let you be the judge.

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Identity thieves have one primary purpose and that is to make money. The problem for these criminals is that their overall success is often limited to a very short window of time. Take, for example, the Target breach. Sure there was an estimated 70 million card numbers stolen, but within days, Target had sent these numbers to every financial institution in the United States. The card numbers were deactivated, and new cards were issued. Were some of the numbers used before they were deactivated? Absolutely, but the reality is that more money was lost in the cost to financial institutions having to re-issue new cards then in actual money stolen via the cards themselves. So, while the attack itself was both sophisticated and extremely successful, the overall monitory value of the attack was relatively limited.

Now, you have a large number of cyber criminals who have been closely watching this story unfold. They have seen just how successful the attack itself was. But, at the same time realize that just because it was easy for the malware to steal all this information, in the end the payoff was limited due to rapid deactivation. The Target breach made it clearly that targeting a large organization with malware designed specifically to attack a particular application is a far faster way to gain access to millions of records, than to attack the home user and gain access to one bank account at a time. Remember, malware targeting the home user’s online banking is facing more and more challenges.

So, if you’re a cyber criminal you have to be thinking to yourself, why are we wasting our time stealing credit card numbers that can simply be deactivated when we can just as easily go after social security numbers? Think about it. When it comes right down to it, each of our identities are nothing more than a simple social security number. Need a loan? You will provide your social. Want a credit card? Again, it’s the social. Dealing with the IRS? Yep, you are nothing more than 9 numeric digits and a couple of dashes. Now, add in the fact that unlike a credit card, you’re stuck with your social security number for life. If your social security number gets stolen, all you can do is attempt a fraud watch and hope that’s enough to keep you protected.

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Give an identity thief a credit card, and he steals for a day. Give him the social security number of an unsuspecting person, and he can rip them off numerous times for life. This is because even if the person finds out they have become a victim of identity theft and start to clean everything up, the criminal can simply put that social security number aside. Then in five or six years, they can come back and start all over because the person’s name will probably still be the same and yes, the social security number will also still be the same. Think I am making this up? Reach out to your local social security office and ask them if you can change your number. Unless you just happened to join the witness protection program, it’s not happening.

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Sure, financial institutions, health care facilities and accountants are all going to be primary targets, but don’t forget about all those general businesses out there that allow people to setup credit cards or apply for loans. Car dealerships and department stores are great examples of organizations that are just waiting for hackers to start their attack. The list of course is endless, and as you read this, I am sure you can think of numerous other organizations that handle social security numbers. The point is that criminals have an unlimited supply of potential targets and can create targeted malware to take each of these companies down one at a time.

As these breaches start happening and organizations are forced to disclose that social security numbers have been stolen, they will do what it takes to defuse the PR nightmare. In most cases, they will offer six months to a year of a free credit watch service. This will give the average person a false sense of security, and people will move on with their lives. Unfortunately, when that year is up, most people will not have the money to pay to keep the credit watch service active, so the service will be discontinued. And what happened to the stolen social security numbers? It’s not like the criminal who stole them just threw them out. In many cases, they will sell them to other criminals who are willing to wait to use them with the understanding that it’s not a matter of if these numbers will be useful but only a matter of when.

I have spent the past 25 years working in the cyber crime field and have seen many types of attacks come and go. The difference between those attacks of the past and what is coming in the future is that there is little to nothing the average person will be able to do to defend themselves, and this has been proven over the past several months. Even the most secure organizations are still vulnerable to attack.  As targeted malware begins to siphon off millions of social security numbers from organizations all over the United States, the ability to truly track real identities from fake ones will become so blurred that the entire system as we know it will simply fail.

Still believe this is overblown? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I can only hope that all organizations will attempt to learn from what has happened with these other public breaches and stop attempting to simply meet some poorly-constructed regulation, and instead actually attempt to properly secure the confidential information they collect. This doesn’t have to end with identity theft armageddon, but without organizations taking a much more comprehensive look at their security practices, I personally am not overly optimistic about the security of my identity in the future.

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The Current Threat Model to Information Security

Josh Stone, Director of Product Management and Information Security Expert

The security industry is a sea of constant change, with the last two decades providing lots of waves. The end-user and workstations are the next key attack vector. We believe this transition to be a result of operating system (OS) and infrastructure vendors figuring out protection. For example, there hasn’t been a “juicy” Windows vulnerability since 2008.

Java, browsers and document viewers are the next layer of software that has operating system-like capabilities but to date has not had the same level of security engineering. Attackers made OS vendors get up-to-speed, so now they must move into this next layer. Hopefully, one day the entire stack will be strong, and only the user will remain; however, we are not there yet.

The largest challenge will be securing your endpoints. Workstations are already behind your firewall and offer a fantastic entry point for a single malicious URL. Antivirus and IDS/IPS help, but for targeted attacks, you may not get as much help from your automated systems as you’d hoped.

Here are a few things to evaluate for your organization:

1. Start the war on local admin.

It is no longer the case that your endpoint is an unimportant component of your infrastructure, and the risk-level exceeds the need for everyone to have their own favorite screensavers. If malware can escape the Java jail and compromise the workstation, you want it running as anything but local administrator. We recognize that this is a difficult win but worth the effort. We have recently spoken with a customer who described an 8 to 10x reduction in desktop-related incidents solely resulting from the demotion of users to a non-privileged status.

2. Build a window into your network’s behavior.

The best tool you can have to detect an incident is not a magic software solution. It’s an understanding of what is normal. If you do not know what is normal, then you cannot notice when things are abnormal. For example, get Netflow up and running and then glance at the top talkers on the network every morning. In two minutes of effort each day, you will be in the perfect position to detect a compromised system that is behaving strangely.

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3. Look at your endpoint solutions to make sure you have something that is a little more than normal antivirus.

Solutions use various names, but it will sound something like “network threat protection” or “endpoint protection”, etc. Some antivirus products are starting to look more like HIDS/HIPS, and that is a good thing! You may already have it, but audits will often find that it is disabled.

4. Make sure your event logging sources are turned on.

Many organizations have their security event logs disabled. You may not be willing or able to centralize workstation logs, but you do want to have them for analysis. In 2013, I personally consulted on three incidents where the bit trails ended at a system with no logs. That is the worst way to find out!

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Meaningful Use for Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Meaningful use aims to protect electronic health information created or maintained by certified EHR technology through the implementation of appropriate technical capabilities. Eligible professionals must conduct or review a security risk analysis of certified EHR technology and implement updates as necessary at least once prior to the end of the EHR reporting period and attest to that conduct or review.

Security updates would be required if any security deficiencies are identified during the risk assessment. Security updates could include updated software for certified EHR technology to be implemented as soon as available, changes in workflow processes or storage methods, or any other necessary corrective action that needs to take place in order to eliminate the security deficiency or deficiencies identified in the risk assessment.

Meaningful use does not impose new or expanded requirements on the HIPAA Security Rule, nor does it require specific use of every certification and standard that is included in the EHR technology. There is no single method or “best practice” that guarantees compliance, but most risk assessments and risk management processes have steps in common:

  • Review the existing security infrastructure in your medical practice against legal requirements and industry best practices
  • Identify potential threats to patient privacy and security and assess the impact on the confidentiality, integrity and availability of your ePHI
  • Prioritize risks based on the severity of their impact on your patients and practice

Once you have completed these steps, create an action plan to make your practice better at protecting patients’ health information. Make sure your assessment examines risks specific to your practice. Your risk assessment may reveal that you need to update your system software, change the workflow processes or storage methods, review and modify policies and procedures, schedule additional training for your staff, or take other necessary corrective actions to eliminate identified security deficiencies.

After the risk assessment is complete for your practice’s facility and information technology, you will need to develop and implement safeguards to mitigate or lower the risks of your ePHI. For example, if you want to assure continuous access to patient information, you may need to add a power surge protection strip to prevent damage to sensitive equipment from electric power surges, put the computer server in a locked room, and become meticulous about performing information systems backups.

The Security Rule requires that you put into place reasonable and appropriate administrative, physical and technical safeguards to protect your patients’ ePHI. The Security Rule allows you to tailor security policies, procedures, and technologies for safeguarding ePHI based on your medical practice’s size, complexity, and capabilities – as well as its technical, hardware and software infrastructure.

Click here for a Security Risk Analysis Tipsheet. Content has been adapted from the HHS Office of the National Coordinator on Health Information Technology’s Guide to Privacy and Security of Health Information. The tipsheet includes examples of safeguards and processes you might put in place to mitigate security risks to your practice, common myths about conducting a risk assessment, as well as facts and tips that can help you structure your risk analysis process.



U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights

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TraceSecurity Newsletter: Your Connection to IT GRC News and Issues

We’re telling a new story to the market: where IT GRC is the new business imperative, helping to secure companies like never before. It starts with understanding what the market need has evolved into and why it’s so important. That’s where TraceSecurity comes in. We help you make sense of the IT GRC landscape and how to leverage it all for a more secure enterprise.

Please enjoy our new monthly newsletter that brings educational and relevant content to the IT GRC revolution.

December 2013 Issue

January 2014 Issue

February 2014 Issue

March 2014 Issue

April 2014 Issue

May 2014 Issue

June 2014 Issue

August 2014 Issue

IT GRC Newsletter

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SANS 20 Critical Security Controls – Simplifying the security standard

Josh Stone, Director of Product Management

New standards and compliance requirements are always coming out. But, once in a great while, one of these strikes a chord with the right industry representatives and gains immediate ascendancy among the various standards and best practices already available. One you may have heard a little about already is the SANS 20 Critical  Security Controls. This is an excellent standard that should receive immediate attention in your organization. Why is that? I’ll present three reasons you should consider adopting the SANS 20 Critical Security Controls in your environment:

  1. A real-world perspective – many standards emanate from sources that emphasize the abstract, managerial, or strategic aspects of information security. While those are important, the SANS 20 Critical Security Controls standard takes a very hands-on approach, and builds in the “real-world” steps that you can take to really reduce your risk. Other standards still have their place, but if you want a list of 20 things on which you can take immediate action that will definitely reduce your risk, you need look no further.
  2. Regulator recognition – TraceSecurity has received significant feedback from a number of clients that industry regulatory examiners, external auditors, and other sources are asking about this standard more and more, over time. One explanation is the brevity of the standard; with 20 items to check for, and supported by an information security powerhouse like SANS, compliance is an achievable goal and effective audit and review is straightforward. It behooves you to review this standard before you hear about it in your next audit.
  3. Supplemental guidance – SANS has built this standard with the recognition that no one will have all 20 controls operating at maximum effectiveness. Everyone will need to work on something. One way they’ve made things easier is by documenting a large body of supplemental information for each of the 20 controls. You can find advice for “quick wins” all the way through measuring and monitoring at a maximum implementation level for each one. We have found that the materials provided with the 20 controls is often more valuable than the control list itself.

Will the 20 Critical Controls guarantee that you’re secure, and that you can’t be hacked? No – information security is always an arms race, and there’ll always be a way in. But, this new standard gives you an actionable framework to dramatically reduce your risk in an achievable, step-by-step manner. Check out the standard for free at

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Efficient Audit and Compliance Management

TraceSecurity believes current audit and compliance management challenges will be eliminated when organizations place priority on protecting their proprietary and customer information. This is why TraceSecurity focuses on strategic information security risk management that leads to a streamlined audit process and compliance by default.

Once an organization has completed a risk assessment they can map identified controls to their specific compliance requirements and authority documents. Along with the proper policies and processes, audit and compliance management becomes streamlined – eliminating manual and redundant tasks, providing the necessary visibility and accountability and brings compliance awareness to the forefront.

Using a cloud-based software solution, like TraceCSO – TraceSecurity’s flagship product, all of your IT GRC functions can be centrally managed and assignments are dispersed across the organization for appropriate department participation.

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As assignments are completed, automatic and real-time updates result in simplified audit and compliance management and reporting.

Lack of resources and information security expertise are no longer a hindrance. TraceSecurity is leading the market and transforming IT GRC into a mainstream business application for organizations of all sizes and industries.

For more information on how TraceSecurity can help you automate and simplify your audit and compliance management, visit today.

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