NG-OPS Advanced Defense – Part 1

NG-OPS Advanced Defense – Part 1: Identifying Defense Gaps & Improving Visibility

NG-OPS Strategy Guide
Advanced Defense Posture Assessment
NG-OPS Advanced Defense – Part 2

Today’s cyber security paradigm is a reactive cycle: when a threat is exposed, it is analyzed and a counter-solution is designed. The trouble is that attackers can easily reuse pieces of previous malware, modify them, and create a brand new threat, bypassing the newly updated security measures [1].

NG-OPS Advanced Defense

There are too many APT entry points in today’s virtual enterprise, too many individual endpoint security solutions triggering alerts, too much security threat intelligence to process in real-time. More importantly, there are too few trained personnel who can spot and respond to advanced threats. The pain points all cry out for a common holistic solution: NG-OPS Advanced Defense.

APT Prevalent Dangerous

The APT Conundrum and Challenges

Many organizations suffer from a lack of detection capability and precision, holistic situational awareness and behavioral anomaly detection, i.e., visibility. There is  too broad an attack surface, gaps in defense and, integration issues that together lead to reduction in the ability to detect, contain and respond to targeted attacks.

The typical challenges include, as follows:

  • Focus on prevention approach to address threat landscape
    • Fails to address increasing attack complexity and persistence with enough efficacy
  • Investments in protection model out of balance with today’s threat landscape
    • Technologies that don’t work together
  • Uncoordinated monitoring and compilation of security events & threats
    • Flood of unmanageable data = “Loss of visibility”
  • Organizations lack visibility into defense gaps, to enhance detection capability and precision
  • Organizations have not fully leveraged the kill chain life cycle approach
    • Reason why attackers are continuing to be so successful.
  • Common security architectures and compliance regimes are not prioritizing methods to address the kill chain

Reallocate Security Spend

Re-allocate Budget to Advanced Security Capabilities

The Changing Threat Environment

There is a growing need and urgency to evolve towards Advanced Security with a continually improving Detection, Containment and Response Capability. This is fundamentally due to cybercriminals doing their homework on organizations and waging a fierce, persistent campaign to find any possible way to get a foothold. Attackers have a fine tuned malware development process that is increasing in efficiency.

  • Evolving Malware Development Process
    • Create Malicious Tool (x 1)
    • Obfuscate Malware, Create Permutations (x 10,000)
    • Test against Detection Engines (OK)
    • Deploy Un-Detected Samples
  • Availability of Malware Tools
    • Results in high degree of Attack Automation
    • From systematic identification of targets to fully automated exploitation
  • Leads to increase in opportunistic attacks
    • Attacker no longer needs expertise or special skills

Malware Development

Malware Development Increases in Efficiency

Detection is the Weakest Link

Common intrusion detection methods are lacking in their ability to detect multi-step blended and targeted attacks.

Breach Detection Timespans

The Signature of an APT

A targeted attack aka advanced persistent threat (APT) is a targeted effort to obtain or change information by means that are difficult to discover, difficult to remove and difficult to attribute.

APT Attack Kill Chain 2

First – the bad guys get in. Always. It doesn’t matter if it’s social engineering, phishing, or some contractor organizations didn’t watch closely enough.  Sooner or later they find the weak spot and they exploit it – despite all of the best plans to keep them out. Target retail stores learned this the hard way. Who would have guessed that an HVAC system could be a point of weakness?

Case Study: The Target Attack Step-by-Step

In December 2013 – Target announced that it had been breached by attackers who had gotten away with 70M customers’ Personal Identifiable Information (PII) and 40M credit cards, financial damages currently stand at $148M, and are estimated to reach $1B. A high-level summary of the steps taken mapped to the kill chain are:

Target Kill Chain

  • Install malware to steal credentials from Target’s HVAC vendor.
  • Connect using stolen credentials, enables access to Target’s application dedicated to vendors.
  • Exploit a web application vulnerability on Target’s Web interface enables the attackers to execute code on Web application server.
  • Search relevant targets for propagation by LDAP querying Active Directory from the Web application’s server.
  • Steal access token from Domain Admin of the previously connected Domain Admin from the memory of application server.
  • Create new Domain Admin account using the stolen token in AD.
  • Propagate to computers using the new Domain Admin credentials
  • Steal 70M PII. Do not find credit cards, data is extracted using SQL
  • Steal 40M Credit Cards. The data is extracted by the Kaptoxa malware from the memory of the POS system.
  • Send stolen data to an FTP server in Target’s internal network.
  • Send stolen data via FTP to attackers-controlled FTP server.

Enabling Advanced Defense

Second – once they are in, organizations better figure out how to spot them. Developing, tuning, optimizing and evolving situational awareness and behavioral analysis allows network anomalies to be used to detect the different stages of APTs using various indicators.

  • Factors associated with APT attacks include the following:
    • Sudden increases in network traffic, outbound transfers
    • Unusual patterns of activity, such as large transfers of data outside normal office hours or to unusual locations
    • Repeated queries to dynamic DNS names
    • Unusual searches of directories and files of interest to an attacker, e.g., searches of source code repositories
    • Unrecognized, large outbound files that have been compressed, encrypted password-protected
    • Detection of communications to/from bogus IP addresses
    • External accesses that do not use local proxies or requests containing API calls
    • Unexplained changes in the configurations of platforms, routers or firewalls
    • Increased volume of IDS events/alerts

Attacker Defender View

Proactive Defensive Measures to Address Unknown Threats

Coming Soon

In NG-OPS Advanced Defense – Part 2  we will further develop the concept of developing and evolving an Advanced Defense security posture that identifies any gaps, improves detection capability and precision, enables proactive defensive measures to address unknown threats and — holistically integrates and operates continuous intelligence, detection and, response.

NG-OPS Ecosystem

In order to help organizations reduce operational overhead the NG-OPS Strategy Series will also include the following blog articles (although topics will be added as the theme develops and evolves):

  • NG-OPS SOC Version 2.0: Build a Next Generation Security Operations Center to protect critical assets
  • NG-OPS Evolving a SOC Team: Building, Nurturing and Evolving Security Operations Staff
  • NG-OPS Operational Maturity: Migrating from Reactive to Dynamic Defense and Cyber Resilience
  • NG-OPS Automation & Orchestration: The Next Big Thing: Automation and Orchestration
  • NG-OPS Threat Modeling: Manage complex systems using a structured methodical framework
  • NG-OPS Risk Management 2.0: Shifting focus from technical assets to critical business processes
  • NG-OPS Smart Telemetry: Leveraging 3 levels of telemetry: End-point, Gateway and, Infrastructure
  • NG-OPS Security DevOps: The critical convergence of security and IT operations with DevOps 

This new NG-OPS Strategy Guide builds upon and enhances the current APT Strategy Guide and Security Architecture Series Guide introducing a whole new set of topics into the framework.

Nige the Security Guy Bio


Nigel is a Chief Security Architect with 30 years of international experience in Security Operations, Management, Research, Development and Security Services. He started his career as an assembler programmer who was contracted by the US DoD to develop secure operating systems with multi-level security and preclude covert channels. Nigel is a passionate evangelist who loves working with organizations to share thought leadership and practical strategy to help defend against advanced targeted threats.


[1] Why cyber criminals are winning: The secret weapon of the black hats

[2] ISMG Advanced Persistent Threats Survey: New Strategies to Detect, Prevent, and Defend

Thanks for your interest!

Nige the Security Guy.


NG-OPS Strategy Guide

NG-OPS Strategy Guide: Navigating the Next Generation Security Operations Ecosystem

In today’s threat environment the only constant is change. In fact, everything is changing – the way our users work, the types of adversaries we face, and the techniques hackers use to infiltrate our networks. Such threats have become even more sophisticated than ever, bringing new risks and uncertainties that require more visibility in operations — thus a Next Generation Security Operations mindset.

NG-OPS Strategy Guide

This NG-OPS Strategy Guide introduces a new blog series on the Next Generation Security Operations Ecosystem to build upon and complement our prior blog series, they are as follows:

  • Security Architecture Series
  • Security Program Best-Practice Series
  • Security Assessment Series
  • APT Strategy Series

Disruptive Shifts and Converging Trends

The past few years have set the stage for some disruptive shifts in network security operations. These shifts are driven in part by the rise of BYOD, mobility, virtualization and the cloud, which have resulted in a new level of complexity and fragmentation with distributed systems.

Occurring in tandem, the proliferation of applications and infrastructure services inside the organization requires holistic organization into trust zones based upon risk and classification (see Adaptive Zone Defense) as well as greater policy orchestration, management and, visibility across access boundaries (inter-zone).

Next Generation Operations

The ability to translate complex business and organization goals into a set of automated data center workflows is critical to not slowing down the application delivery process. It is also an essential part of making compliance and security requirements a lot easier to manage in a very dynamic environment. Network security needs to transform into agile and adaptive end-to-end automated processes. This requires a systems approach when thinking about network security.

“The threat can be broken down into three components: intent, opportunity, and capability.
Organizations need to know, ‘What is the intent of adversaries? What are the opportunities available to them?
And what capabilities do they have to exploit the opportunities?”

Felix Mohan, Senior Vice President and
Chief Information Security Officer, Airtel

The delivery of an application can trigger a cascading series of actions to ensure that the application is delivered efficiently and in compliance with any regulatory requirements. Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) now provide the ability to implement policies based on applications, users and content, and they can provide the appropriate hooks for automation and orchestration solutions.

These disruptive shifts and converging trends have fused application and network layer functions, causing a fundamental reset of the security operations function.

  • Organizations need to shift more security resources from preventing intrusion toward rapid detection and response
  • Improving detection and response requires an intelligence-driven context-aware security approach
  • Optimizing how security technologies, resources and process work together is pivotal to scaling security capabilities
  • Automation frees up analysts to focus more on higher priority risks affecting the most critical assets and data
  • SOCs need to build collaborative cross-disciplinary teams with highly specialized skill sets to combat advanced threats
  • Evolving security operations optimizes the interplay of people, processes and, technologies to enable rapid response
  • Orchestrated management of network infrastructure will be embraced as the next big thing
  • The rise of DevOps drives much needed convergence between security and IT operations to add security by design
  • Increases need to automate and optimize security operations to more effectively leverage resources/skills shortage

People Process Policy Technology

Reducing Operational Overhead

It’s a known fact that a lot of time is typically wasted on analyzing false positives generated by technology that is not correctly baselined, customized, tuned, optimized. Depending upon the environment, false positives can often be numerous and very difficult to verify, costing analysts valuable time determining whether or not something is an event the analyst should be worried about.

The tenets for this Next Generation Security Operations series are simple:

  • Increase visibility across the enterprise to identify active threats quickly
  • Understand the business impacts to better respond
  • Utilize resources to the fullest

“People in the SOC need ways to react faster and better — they need ways to improve the efficiency of what they do.
They need ways to reduce the amount of time between the onset of an attack and the time it’s stopped or remediated.”

Rich Mogull, founder of Securosis

NG-OPS Ecosystem

In order to help organizations reduce operational overhead the NG-OPS Strategy Series will currently include the following blog articles (although topics will be added as the theme develops and evolves):

  • NG-OPS SOC Version 2.0: Build a Next Generation Security Operations Center to protect critical assets
  • NG-OPS Evolving a SOC Team: Building, Nurturing and Evolving Security Operations Staff
  • NG-OPS Operational Maturity: Migrating from Reactive to Dynamic Defense and Cyber Resilience
  • NG-OPS Automation & Orchestration: The Next Big Thing: Automation and Orchestration
  • NG-OPS Threat Modeling: Manage complex systems using a structured methodical framework
  • NG-OPS Risk Management 2.0: Shifting focus from technical assets to critical business processes
  • NG-OPS Smart Telemetry: Leveraging 3 levels of telemetry: End-point, Gateway and, Infrastructure
  • NG-OPS Security DevOps: The critical convergence of security and IT operations with DevOps 

Please feel free to propose additional topics and/or vote for which topics should get published before the others.

This new NG-OPS Strategy Guide builds upon and enhances the current APT Strategy Guide introducing a whole new set of topics into the framework.

APT Strategy Maps

APT Strategy Guide Framework


The era of advanced threats calls for a new approach to information security. When dedicated cyber adversaries have the means and methods to elude commonly used defenses, such as signature based detection, it is clear that conventional approaches are no longer sufficient.

The need for a Next Generation Security Operations mindset is evident across the industry. Technologies will continue to improve but in parallel we do need to ensure that we also evolve and improve our security processes as well as invaluable resources and skills. Attackers are constantly evaluating their methods and improvising new techniques. Defenders must think in those same fluid terms to keep pace.

The value proposition for a Next Generation Security Operations program includes improved security, resource utilization and, cost-effectiveness. Together with increased visibility and vigilance defensive strategies can be precisely aimed at addressing the most significant threats and protecting the most critical assets and data. Leveraging automation and orchestration the security team will have the knowledge and the cycles it needs to make informed risk decisions and invest in the right security controls.


Orchestrating People and Process with Technology

Many enterprises are looking toward 3rd party security services to help them handle some elements of their defense. But that doesn’t mean the expertise of the SOC staff will become less important. In fact, most experts agree the next-generation security analyst will have to be smarter than ever. The security staff of the future is going to need expertise not only about the domain they’re defending, but also contextual expertise to determine what combinations of events might present a threat. On top of that, they’re going to need analytical expertise so that they can determine the source of the threat — and how to stop it

Thanks for your interest!

Nige the Security Guy.

APT Strategy Guide

APT Strategy Guide Navigating the APT Strategy Series

Continuous monitoring is an important part of an organization’s cyber security efforts. But without establishing an effective security framework first, those efforts may be misspent.

APT Strategy Guide

Strengthening IT infrastructure begins with establishing a sound cyber security threat and risk management governance process. Next, organizations must manage the complexity of their IT infrastructures by using enterprise architecture to consolidate, standardize and optimize the current inventory of IT assets as well as developing “threat aware” mission and business processes.

Organizations must also develop and integrate into their enterprise architecture a security architecture that guides the effective allocation of security controls to their information systems. And finally, organizations must initiate continuous monitoring of all of the above activities to ensure ongoing effectiveness of cyber security and risk management governance, mission/business processes, enterprise and security architectures, and security controls deployed within the enterprise.

APT Strategy Guide

This blog provides an overview to the site to facilitate navigation as well as place the various topic threads in context. The following APT Strategy Guide Map graphic provides an at-a-glance simplified summary of the blogs to help understand how they fit together to form a building block picture.

APT Strategy Maps

APT Strategy Guide Map

APT Strategy Framework

APT Response Strategy

Adaptive Response Strategy

How do you implement a Plan C? Organizations are starting to recognize the ever increasing importance of rapid and well orchestrated incident response capabilities as a key component in their defense-in-depth strategy.

Increased complexity and frequency of attacks, combined with reduced effectiveness of preventative security controls, elevate the need for enterprise-scale security incident response. The APT Response Strategy (aka APT-IR) series of blogs discuss the development and evolution of an effective rapid incident response program, a call to action.

APT Red Teams

APT Red Teams

How do you prevent an APT? The APT Red Teams blog defines core components used by successful red teams and proposes an approach for categorizing and implementing red teams to enable continuous improvement and optimization from counter-intuitive sources and help mitigate advanced threats.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) initiated by an ever growing population of highly capable cyber criminals who are focused, determined and, stealthy are an ever increasing risk. While many organizations have the basic tenets of security in place and regularly test their industry standard best-practice procedures, they are caught off guard by exposed vulnerabilities, risks and threats not previously identified and formally escalated to resolution.

A Red Team approach provides a proven method of risk analysis which uncovers risks and quickly adapts to real world approaches taken by adversaries.

APT Threat Analytics

APT Threat Analytics 1

How can you predict emerging threats? Threat intelligence and analytics continues to dominate the headlines and attention of organizations seeking viable options in their escalating battle against advanced threat actors.

Threat intelligence is evidence-based knowledge, including context, mechanisms, indicators, implications and actionable advice, about an existing or emerging threat to assets. It is used to inform decisions regarding response in terms of prevention enhancements with mitigating controls or detection adjustments (rules or triggers).

This blog discusses best practices to identify internal and external data sources as well as help overcome many operationalization challenges to take an emerging program to the next level as a strategic component.

APT Detection Indicators

APT Detection Indicators

In a world where organizations need to be watching or monitoring their networks continuously knowing what to look out for is critical. In this blog we discuss how to detect incidents early by identifying “attack precursors” and other leading indicators that help protect your organization from compromise and can stop an attack in its tracks.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) typically exhibit recognizable attributes and patterns that can be monitored by readily available, open source tools. These tools can enable early detection of APT behavior, especially by monitoring unusual inter-zone or outbound traffic.

APT Detection Framework

APT Detection Framework Logo 2

The last decade has seen a lot of research on intrusion detection with intelligent data analysis and its implementation in commercial products but there are still some challenges remaining. Effectiveness, accuracy and scalability are key considerations in the technical design, implementation, and operations of an IDS.

This blog presents a proposed APT Detection Framework that can be used both for advanced multistep threat scenario analysis as well as detection system design – to identify an organizations gaps based on new threats and/or indicators of compromise and make iterative improvements.

Defensible Security Posture

Defensible Posture - Part 2

The purveyors of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) assert that preventing today’s advanced threats is unrealistic, internal compromise is inevitable and – that FUD factor is reinforced by more and more reports of malware and advanced attacks penetrating insufficient security controls. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Although the experts concede that stopping 100% of attacks is a technical impossibility, there are ways for organizations to avoid becoming the next devastated victim.

The basic idea of a Defensible Security Posture is that you aren’t striving for an absolute, but rather for a position (or posture) that is able to be defended even when it’s infiltrated

Adaptive Zone Defense

Zone Defense

Limiting and intelligently managing communications between services and systems on an organizations network helps contain an infection or compromise to keep malware or a persistent threat from running rampant. In addition, business needs, regulations and other compliance requirements impact security architecture and design and thus may impose mandated separation or additional boundary controls.

This blog offers guidance to organizations seeking to develop a modular and scalable network segmentation design.

There is a lot of hype and yet no silver bullet. However there is much an organization can do to extend and evolve their defense-in-depth strategy, to improve their detection and containment capability and, to gain key visibility to rapidly respond to a compromise or attempt. There is also a win-win in that many best-practices, controls and, detection techniques needed for APT also help address the Insider Threat.

Thanks for your interest!

Nige the Security Guy.