So APT Is China *snicker* Now What?

Thursday, February 28, 2013



Avanced? Persistent? Threat? 

As RSA comes to a close and the corridors of the hall stop ringing with the acronym APT bleated out by a megaphone from the Mandiant booth, I find myself once again looking at the problem as opposed to the hype. Let me simplify this for you all a little bit here to start though. APT is not necessarily "advanced" as Mandiant finally lets you all out there not in the secret squirrel club know. In fact, APT's are often just outsmarting the average end user on a daily basis and you and I both know it does not take a mental genius to do that right? Seriously, there is nothing overly advanced nowadays in sending phishing emails and doing recon to assess your targets. Sure there is some coding going on once inside that is novel but really, any good hacker will tell you that they can code some shit up to keep persistence or maybe just buy it on the black market if needed. This is not rocket science here.

On the persistence thing yes, yes they are. They are persistent not only in trying to keep their toehold but also in that they bombard companies with emails in order to have a signal to noise attack. This is nifty but really it's not a new technique. So ok persistence means they keep trying but it is often our own failings that ALLOW their persistence. Everything from the #click_sheep who keep clicking on every god damned email they get that asking if they want a bigger penis to companies lack of controls over patching and other standard procedures that they should be carrying out on their infrastructure. So when really looking for someone to blame look in the mirror folks. Hey maybe you will look in the mirror and see that you are Chinese huh?

Finally the "threat" part well I think I just covered that huh? YOU are the real threat in this vector. The adversary is just leveraging that fact to obtain their goals. The threat is not Chinese, Russian, Israeli, or French. It's us. We are the threat and this was the case even before computers and espionage came together. How do you think a lot of the information was stolen back in the day from governments and companies? That's right kids! It was by people being paid off or being leveraged in some way by spies and spy agencies. Now though, we really don't have to leverage people as much with compensation or threats. Instead we just leverage their human natures and boy oh boy does it work ever so well!

Our sloth, greed, and general cluelessness are our own undoing.

Is WHO Hacked You That Important?

So Mandiant puts out a report on our Chinese hackers and everyone is a twitter over the "revelations" As someone who has personally dealt with this type of activity in my work life I was pretty apathetic about the report and it's being published outside of the "sekret squirrel" world. Sure, they probably set us all back some and certainly have set the stage for a great amount of douchery to come but really, what good comes from this report and the data it dropped? Hurriedly I have seen many glom onto the hashes and the techniques that the Comment Crew was using in order to fortify their environments since the drop. Of course this may be to no avail as soon I am sure the CC will be changing their ways but hey, it gives us all something to do huh?

Meanwhile people are nodding their heads and saying "BAD CHINA" while the government pops out 140 page draft resolutions on how to deal with China and their hacking of our IP. I for one see this as just a lot of smoke and mirrors that may in the end have no greater effect other than political gain but hey who am I right? Let's let it roll as everyone gets their panties in a bind over China. Others though have piped in and said that maybe it's not only China but all too often these voices are not enough to cut through the cacophony of stupid to make it to the reasoned ear. Guess what kids it's not just China and it never has been and this is the problem of fixating on one target. You tend to lose the other and then they come up behind you and shoot you in the back of the head.

The upshot here? Who hacked you is NOT as important as WHY you got hacked and HOW you got hacked. The old WHO WHAT WHY WHEN & HOW are important equally and we unfortunately have collectively latched onto the WHO and this will be our downfall. At least Mandiant is looking at the how but I am not hearing much about how to remediate the problems that cause the problem to start with. Instead as we see with the government response they are going to the WHO and saying "cut it out" and anyone who thinks that that is going to make them stop is really biting too tightly on the crack pipe. So back to the point which should be plainly clear. We are the target and we are the problem. It is important to understand the who but you cannot leave out the WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, and WHY. If you do then you will never win the battle.

Know Thy Enemy.. Know Thyself...

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Sun Tzu: Art of War

It's a trite thing to some out there *looking at you Jericho* to quote Sun Tzu in any cyber context but in my case here it is absolutely correct to quote. The problem I am finding in much of the approaches to trying to defeat or lessen the APT problem focuses less on knowing the self (aka your network and your people) and more on blinky light solutions to stop them dead in their tracks as the vendor propaganda states. Some even go as far as to proclaim that security awareness is pointless which I called bullshit on before rather vociferously in the past. I find it to be one of the more reprehensible statements made up until yesterday's revelations that a panel gave at RSA saying that "We are soon going to live in a post crypto world" and that crypto is pointless because the APT keeps avoiding it. This is one of the most idiotic statements I have heard in a while and it just makes me think people misunderstand APT even more than before. Everyone thinks they are unstoppable and that is not right. These attacks can be mitigated but it will take real work to do do not some blinky verndor solutions.

The point here is this; We need to carry out due diligence and we need to be vigilant in our security apparatus. We need to engage the end users and teach them about malware and phishing and keep teaching them over and over and over again. Wrote learning is the ONLY way that this will get into their collective heads. Sure, we can also use technologies to attempt to arrest the spear phishing attacks but if you have a 3 star general who is a #click_sheep well, you are pretty much fraked if you are not really paying attention to the network SIEM and other mitigations in place and even then, with creativity those too can be outwitted. These APT types use common traffic to hide within and that is the problem. The pivot is the key here, they are using your network to their advantage just like a Judo expert. Will you be able to stop them all? No. Will you be able to considerably cut the attack success down with holistic methods? I believe you can and I have seen it in action. Others have said much the same thing and I hope more people start paying attention.

I agree that knowing who is attacking is important but it is only important as long as you take the time to be introspective about what they are seeking from you and how they are getting it out of you. What flaws in your infrastructure and culture are they exploiting that is allowing them to rob you blind and how can you remedy them to stop them. These are the key questions that seem to be missing from so many vendor offers like Crowdstrike and others out there today offering offensive defense or active defense. Sure, if your org is working properly and you have security enlightened end users go for the disinformation honeypot things and other means of defense. However, if your people are a bunch of #click_sheeple then what is the point? You will be PWND and it will be all be moaning and wailing "woe is me" in the end ...Trust me.

Oh, and a last word here on the #click_sheep thing. Why am I harping on it? Look at the reports again. 99.999 percent of the attacks are being performed via phishing and spear phishing STILL! We have known about this type of attack how long? Come on people! There's a reason it is done this way. It's because people are not being trained properly as well as their systems are not being patched up! I know what you are thinking "but there's 0day!" Yes yes there is but that is only a small percentage of the attack surface at present.


Behavior Modification Is Needed

Now that I have ranted a while let me just re-iterate the facts. We are to blame for the APT successes. The term was coined back in 2006 and though it's been in the secret squirrel world it was a known quantity. In fact I would say that it was not only the APT but generally crackers who were using these techniques for the most part and the APT just went along with it and refined it. This is not new and now that it is all out in the open we need to really pay attention here and look at the problem from the macroverse level and not just the myopic microverse that we in the industry tend to have. This isn't just a technical problem it's a sociological and psychological problem that we have to work on. Many say that there is no defense to social engineering attack but I do not ascribe to that. With the proper security education and awareness training anyone can defeat SE attacks. It just takes training like that which Dave Aitel thinks is pointless.

9/11 pointed out to the intelligence community that an over-reliance on technology failed to detect and stop the 19 hijackers from AQ. This failure was remedied by adding record numbers of assets post 9/11 to carry out HUMINT (Human Intelligence) and what we learned most of all that technology in itself is useless against human nature and a healthy dose of avoiding tech. It was tradecraft that allowed the plot to succeed even when their phone conversations were being tapped. I make this analogy because once again we are facing the same problem within the INFOSEC community as well as the government and military's. The adversary is relying on human nature and we are relying on technologies created by humans. It's a bad mix really and it needs to be re-evaluated to include more introspection on the people creating, maintaining, and using the technologies today. So far I am not seeing too much of this ethos being bandied about in the community and I think it is at our own peril.

I feel like it should be a catch phrase akin to the GHW Bush era's "It's the economy stupid" In my case though its more along the lines of "It's not just the technology stupid" We have been myopic and we need to cut that out. The next shiny whizbang appliance is not going to stop that 3 star #click_sheep from opening the email addressed to him with the misspellings about how he has a package from UPS and needs to install this .EXE file to get it.



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