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The Information Security Specialists

Governance & Compliance

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Dec 13

Government launches cyber incident response schemes

Two cyber incident response schemes have been launched by the government to help businesses cope better following a malware outbreak or hacking attack.

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The schemes' public release follow a pilot, which ran in November last year, involving four hand-picked firms - BAE Systems, Detica, Cassidian, Context Information Security and Mandiant - providing cyber-incident response services to critical national infrastructure, such as banks, utilities and transport firms.

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The result from the pilot highlighted a need for two certified services. A government-run service, certified by GCHQ and CPNI, will focus on responding to 'sophisticated, targeted attacks against networks of national significance.'

A second scheme, led by CREST and endorsed by GCHQ, is aimed at mainstream business and e-commerce firms and will focus on appropriate standards for incident response for general industry and the public sector.

Both schemes will offer a list of government-assured and certified providers of security response and clean-up services, such as computer forensics and malware eradication skills.

CREST will audit the service providers against standards for cyber incident response and ensure compliance through codes of conduct, which will be combined with professional qualifications for individuals.

The introduction of the two schemes form part of the government's goals of making the UK more resilient to hacking attacks and cyber-espionage.

Minister for cyber security Chloe Smith stated that people needed to recognise that there may be times attacks penetrate our systems and organisations need to know who they can turn to for help. She added the scheme was an important part of the government's efforts to provide assistance to industry and government in order to protect UK interests in cyberspace.

Jan 14

Businesses believe they're losing cyber battle

UK IT and security professionals believe that external attacks and the risk of internal breaches have increased over the last year.

"Businesses fear they're losing the battle, particularly against state-sponsored cyber attacks," comments Roy Hills, NTA Monitor technical director.

A recent survey of 560 UK staff by Check Point found 64 per cent of respondents said that attacks had risen significantly in the past 12 months, while 57 per cent reported a growth in internal breaches, mainly resulting from growing use of web and social media applications.

Roy added: "Even though organisations are deploying more products and robust policies to secure their network and applications, security teams still see external and internal attacks increasing.

"The complexity of the modern IT infrastructure coupled with under funding on security is probably the root cause of the problem as it's leading to vulnerabilities not being addressed."

At a Black Hat conference this year, Lieberman Software polled nearly 200 attendees who stated that they thought the hacking landscape is only going to get worse over the time.

Explosive growth in the number of devices connected to the Internet will open up new and additional threats both to people and systems. When the world embraces IPV6, the next generation Internet protocol, the 'Internet of Things' will allow every human being to own 2,000 fixed Internet addresses. This could see, for example, medical implants, cars and critical infrastructure at risk from cyber attacks.

"The future of the Internet will fragment how security professionals protect sensitive data and experts need to keep an eye on how products and policies are adapted to ensure networks, systems and people remain secure," said Roy Hills.

In the meantime an array of reports make for worrying reading about the issues affecting the industry. Application vulnerabilities and mobile devices top the list of concerns alongside an increasingly broad and complex security landscape.

The 2013 (ISC)2 report states 72 per cent of the executives surveyed named application vulnerabilities as the chief threat to the security of enterprise data, a situation made more difficult by the challenges within the organisation in developing and implementing best practice around app security.

Conflicting security demands mean security professionals are faced with dilemmas where there is no single answer, underlining why many firms are finding it difficult to defend against attacks.

An F-secure study found Java in the browser is the main vector for attacks on PCs, Android is taking the brunt of mobile attacks and Mac malware is growing from a small base.

SQL injection and DDoS attacks continue to remain high and are a popular choice for hackers to exploit.

Roy Hills added: "IT departments are critically underfinanced, leaving many under resourced. As a result IT professionals do need to be methodical and systematic in how they approach security. The threat landscape is very complex at the moment and it is extremely difficult to balance that with the needs of all parts of the organisation.

"Nevertheless, we do regularly see enterprises that have spent a lot of money on the very best products, but the security basics aren't in place, meaning the organisation is wide open to external attack or an internal data breach."

Jan 14

Encryption useless if endpoint security weak

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has catapulted the issue of data encryption into the security limelight, causing alarm in many businesses about how they can best protect sensitive information.

While the leak has opened up a global debate on cyber spying practices, from an information security perspective the revelations raise far more serious questions.

Google has rushed forward plans to roll out new encryption software that they claim is impenetrable to government agencies and other large-scale hacking groups. Google hasn't provided details on its new encryption efforts, but did say that it would be 'end-to-end', covering all servers and fibre-optic lines involved in delivering information.

Businesses are also being advised to encrypt everything. Secure data transfer is best achieved via Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Security Sockets Layer (SSL), which provide a secure channel between two machines operating over the Internet or an internal network.

While TLS/SSL make it difficult for some third parties to intercept traffic, anyone who has access to the private key can do so. And there's been some discussion about whether NSA and other similar groups might have access to the private keys for major providers.

One thing that can help is to ensure you use Ephemeral DH with TLS, but that's not universally supported.

Google's efforts will certainly stop the average hackers from snooping on the traffic, but it is unlikely to stop government agencies.

Companies want to encrypt data at rest too either by encrypting individual files or having a secure container that is encrypted. Email software can be used to encrypt message content and attachments, which will all help in the bid to protect data from being hacked.

Strong cryptography is a vital element to an information security policy. While it can be time-consuming and expensive to encrypt all company data, assessing which information is most sensitive and encrypting that first is a good start.

However, a word of warning. The best encryption programmes will fail if endpoint security is weak.

NTA Monitor's penetration testers see terrific examples of strong encryption practices in organisations. Yet in a number of cases the whole process is rendered useless if an employee's workstation is not running the latest browser update or application patch.

It is good security practice for organisations to take a rigorous approach to patching promptly, shoring up security on each terminal. It's all very well having strong encryption, but if a hacker can gain access to a laptop or PC via an unpatched application, then the battle for data protection has been lost.

Dec 13

BYOD approved for public sector staff

Public sector employees can now access data and applications using their own smartphones and tablets after the government issued security approval for bring your own device (BYOD) schemes.

CESG published the new End User Devices Security and Configuration policy following calls from local councils wanting to introduce BYOD schemes to offer more flexible working for staff.

The policy, which is currently in draft format, details the security rules that must be followed for any mobile devices and, for the first time, now allows use of employee-owned computers.

While the move may be contrary to upholding a robust information security position, the policy does place a number of restrictions on how staff-owned devices must be used. CESG continues to recommend that public organisations not offer BYOD.

The guidance states that any mobile device must be returned to factory settings before it can be used to access government data, and that the device must be fully managed by the employing organisations throughout the life of its use for mobile working.

Detailed advice is listed in the policy for a wide range of products and operating systems.

CESG recommends 12 security controls that need to be considered, including in-transit and at-rest data assurance; authentication; security boot; application sandboxing; whitelisting apps; malicious code detection and prevention; and an incident response plan for security issues such as lost devices.

Dec 13

New version of PCI DSS released

Changes to the standards on how merchants protect cardholder data are being published in November. According to the PCI Security Standards Council (SSC), the revisions focus on three key areas of education, flexibility and 'security as a shared responsibility'.

The changes are meant to make the guidelines easier to implement on a day-to-day basis, encouraging enterprises to integrate them into the business rather than making them a check-box exercise that is completed once-a-year.

The standards, which are updated every three years, are not - at the time of writing - expected to touch the core 12 areas of the PCI DSS, but there will be more changes introduced than in version 2.0.

A preview of the PCI DSS and Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA DSS) was issued in August for industry consultation. The draft guidelines and any feedback have since been discussed at council meetings and the guidelines could subsequently be amended. However, it is unlikely to deviate greatly from the revisions released in the summer.

The new version is expected to contain guidance around protecting point-of-sale terminals and devices from threats such as tampering, malware and insiders, and give merchants more flexibility in password authentication options.

Education of merchants will form a key component of the update, with the SSC keen to ensure merchants are more aware of password security and protecting their data against some of the most common malware-based attacks.

Other additions include improvements around clarification and wording so people are clearer on what they have to do and providing further assistance in facilitating better implementation of the current requirements through improved validation methods, rather than making the standards more prescriptive.

The new mobile payment acceptance technologies such as Square and iZettle won't directly change the PCI DSS, but the council is working with developers and merchants on upcoming guidelines and evaluation programmes to ensure, for example, that any data recorded is immediately encrypted.

PA DSS, which was introduced by the council in 2008, is also likely to incorporate some changes around additional procedures for software developers who build programmes that process credit card payments, including rules on managing the lifecycle of the software and developer education.

Roy Hills, NTA Monitor technical director, said: "It's great that the SSC are seeking a collaborative approach to updating the requirements and listening more to merchants' feedback. Yet there still appears to be a degree of inconsistency in the standards, with some areas providing greater clarity than others.

"There's also concern that the standards aren't fully addressing the mobile issue, with technology being developed and adopted quicker than the standards can keep up with.

"Some experts believe the PCI DSS does not put enough emphasis on getting retailers to assess the risks when introducing new technology into payment systems. Consumers are clamouring to use their mobile devices for shopping and e-commerce does need to respond to this demand, but often it is at the expense of fully testing those new systems."

Another key area that needs to be looked at is making sure smaller merchants understand their obligations around protecting card holder data.

According to Visa statistics, last year (up to 31 December 2012) 95 per cent of Level 1 merchants - companies that process greater than six million transactions annually - have validated PCI DSS compliance. Level 2 merchants, which process between one and six million transactions have achieved a 90 per cent rate. Level 3 merchants, which process between 20,000 and one million transactions are at 55 per cent.

"These figures show that smaller merchants are finding it difficult to interpret PCI DSS and implement the security procedures necessary to comply with the standards," says Roy Hills.

"We've heard from the SSC that they want to clarify the standards better, but interpretation is not so much of an issue for larger organisations who employ specialist support. It's the millions of small merchants that need to be given clear information and advice on how to implement secure payment protection processes."

The new standards will come into force from 1 January 2014. Merchants will be given one year to meet the new guidelines.

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