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Cybersecurity is not an IT problem to solve—it's a business risk to manage. In the Managing Cyber Risk podcast series, Mark Sangster, Vice President and Industry Security Strategist with eSentire, and Cybercrime Magazine’s Hillarie McClure lead conversations with cybersecurity experts, using the dollars-and-cents language of the C-suite to expose the issues, challenges and pitfalls which are often obscured by ones and zeroes.
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This statement serves as a valuable reminder to organizations and cybersecurity practitioners that, when it comes to developing, implementing, and maintaining defenses, the job is never done. And yet, there are too many news headlines that are quick to lay blame following the latest cyber attack.
Today’s threat actors operate like businesses, executing deliberate strategies with the assistance of highly-skilled ‘employees’, backed by tremendous resources and a commitment to investing in continuous R&D that puts most legitimate businesses to shame.
These ransomware groups operate in a highly evolved ecosystem with tactical experts taking on tasks including developing zero-day exploits, gaining initial access into an organization’s environment, launching lucrative ransomware attacks and laundering the proceeds.
“Maybe they’re not backed by or part of the army, but if nothing else then law enforcement in those countries will turn a blind eye to their activities,” says Mark Sangster, Vice President and Industry Security Strategist at eSentire. “On some level, they’re propped up or supported and know that they’re free from prosecution—so they can act with impunity—because any kind of destabilization they create is good.”
The consequences are increasingly felt around the world, as businesses are targeted and citizens are impacted by infrastructure disruptions in what Mark describes as a “Gray War”—a cyber cold war in which state-sponsored (or at least state-tolerated) threat actors keep their activities just below the threshold which would trigger a traditional military response.
Attackers are adept at creating the sort of leverage which will increase the likelihood of a payout—that’s why they’re particularly fond of targeting healthcare organizations, law firms, manufacturers, and organizations within critical infrastructure.
Unfortunately, so many incidents go unreported. Governments have slowly realized that this problem isn’t going away on its own, prompting them to gather more information by encouraging, or even requiring, organizations to report attacks in response.
For example, the DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act of 2019 was introduced as a bill in the United States, which supports the efforts contained in the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The objective for the bill “requires the Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center to maintain cyber-hunt and incident-response teams to assist with activities such as restoring services following a cyber incident and identifying cybersecurity risks and unauthorized cyber activity.”
The fact of the matter is that it’s a huge mistake to think there’s nothing that organizations can do if a skilled threat actor decides to attack the business.
In reality, there are a handful of fundamental, yet simple, actions security leaders can take that will bolster your organization’s defenses. After all, cybersecurity investments aren’t about building impenetrable defenses—they’re also about changing the economics of an attack.
If it takes more effort to attack organizations than it does to attack a similar target elsewhere, then rational threat actors will go after the easier target.
“I hear all the time that there were no signs. ‘[Threat actors] came and attacked and we had no idea until it happened’,” Mark says. “And that’s typically not the case—there are often lots of telltale signs: like an increase in targeted phishing attempts that uses information about your client base, your supply chain, or employees; strange administration behavior; or an increase in failed login attempts. There are things that do occur and there are ways of detecting them.”
That’s where eSentire’s Threat Response Unit (TRU) comes in. By understanding the latest TTPs—from poisoned Google searches leveraging advanced digital marketing keyword optimization, to forums that return booby-trapped PDFs, to the latest zero-days—the TRU team ensures that it catches those telltale signs, allowing analysts to detect and respond to threats.
“Our mission is to hunt, detect and prevent security threats before they become business-impacting events for our customers,” says Rob McLeod, Vice President, Threat Response Unit (TRU). The four teams under the TRU umbrella work together to outpace adversaries who themselves are always innovating:
The Threat Intelligence (TI) team tracks and monitors adversaries, performing primary research into attackers, including their motivations and preferred techniques.
The Threat Detection and Response team uses the insights and intelligence from TI to design and build threat detectors (which target the attacker behavior), investigation runbooks for the SOC, dashboards for customers, etc.
The Threat Analytics team creates purpose-built machine-learning models to detect highly sophisticated attacks which can’t be recognized by tools, techniques and procedures (TTPs) alone.
The Security Services Architecture team designs and implements a scalable service layer to efficiently collect, ingest and process the vast volumes of data it takes to quickly detect and respond to attacks—the Atlas XDR platform is one (continually evolving) output of their efforts.
It takes this level of investment and expertise to develop the state-of-the-art defenses which protect eSentire’s global customer base. And that’s because today’s threat actors use the money from their successes to scale up their operations—often with the explicit or tacit protection of a nation state.
Learn more about the current threat environment by listening to The Current Threat Environment from the Managing Cyber Risk podcast series. Mark and Rob join Cybercrime Magazine’s Hillarie McClure to explore:
The economics driving innovation in the cybercrime ecosystem
The latest attack strategies threat actors are using to target professionals in high-value sectors
Why the ripple effects of geopolitics are being felt by businesses and citizens
Simple actions you can take to reduce your risk
Be sure to stay tuned for more Managing Cyber Risk. In the next episode, we focus on data breaches, including how to collect evidence, and build a case for prosecution.
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eSentire is the Authority in Managed Detection and Response, protecting the critical data and applications of 1200+ organizations in 75+ countries from known and unknown cyber threats. Founded in 2001, the company’s mission is to hunt, investigate and stop cyber threats before they become business disrupting events. Combining cutting-edge machine learning XDR technology, 24/7 Threat Hunting, and proven security operations leadership, eSentire mitigates business risk, and enables security at scale. The Team eSentire difference means enterprises are protected by the best in the business with a named Cyber Risk Advisor, 24/7 access to SOC Cyber Analysts & Elite Threat Hunters, and industry-leading threat intelligence research from eSentire’s Threat Response Unit (TRU). eSentire provides Managed Risk, Managed Detection and Response and Incident Response services. For more information, visit www.esentire.com and follow @eSentire.