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Cybersecurity strategies badly need to be overhauled: Cisco

January 20, 2015  

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The Cisco 2015 Annual Security Report released today, which examines both threat intelligence and cybersecurity trends, reveals that organizations must adopt an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to defend against cyber attacks.

According to the company, attackers have become more proficient at taking advantage of gaps in security to evade detection and conceal malicious activity.

Defenders, namely, security teams, must be constantly improving their approach to protect their organization from these increasingly sophisticated cyber attack campaigns. These issues are further complicated by the geopolitical motivations of the attackers and conflicting requirements imposed by local laws with respect to data sovereignty, data localization and encryption, Cisco said.

Cyber criminals are expanding their tactics and adapting their techniques to carry out cyber attack campaigns in ways that make it harder to detect and analyze. The top three trends last year that Cisco’s threat intelligence has identified are:


* Snowshoe Spam: Emerging as a preferred strike method, attackers are sending low volumes of spam from a large set of IP addresses to avoid detection, creating an opportunity to leverage compromised accounts in multiple ways.

* Web Exploits Hiding in Plain Sight: Widely used exploit kits are getting dismantled by security companies in short order. As a result, online criminals are using other less common kits to successfully carry out their tactics — a sustainable business model as it does not attract too much attention.

* Malicious Combinations: Flash and JavaScript have historically been insecure on their own, but with advances in security detection and defenses, attackers have adapted by deploying exploits which combine their respective weaknesses. Sharing exploits over two different files — one Flash and one JavaScript — can make it more difficult for security devices to identify and block the exploit and to analyze it with reverse engineering tools.

Users, the company said, are caught in the middle. “Not only are they the targets, but end-users are unknowingly aiding cyber attacks. Throughout 2014, Cisco threat intelligence research revealed that attackers have increasingly shifted their focus from seeking to compromise servers and operating systems to seeking to exploit users at the browser and e-mail level. Users downloading from compromised sites contributed to a 228% increase in Silverlight attacks along with a 250% increase in spam and malvertising exploits.”

Results from the study, which surveyed chief information security officers (CISOs) and security operations (SecOps) executives at 1,700 companies in nine countries reveals a widening gap in defender perceptions of their likely security capabilities. Specifically, the study indicates that 75% of CISOs see their security tools as very or extremely effective. However, less than 50% of respondents use standard tools such as patching and configuration to help prevent security breaches and ensure that they are running the latest versions. Heartbleed was the landmark vulnerability last year, yet 56% of all installed OpenSSL versions are over four years old. That is a strong indicator that security teams are not patching.

The report findings conclude that it’s time for corporate boards to take a role in setting security priorities and expectations.

“Security needs an all hands on deck approach, where everybody contributes, from the board room to individual users,” said John Stewart, chief security and trust officer at Cisco. “We used to worry about DoS, now we also worry about data destruction. We once worried about IP theft, now we worry about critical services failure. Our adversaries are increasingly proficient, exploit our weaknesses and hide their attacks in plain sight.

“Security must provide protection across the full attack continuum and technology must be bought that is designed and built with that in mind. Online services must be run with resiliency in mind, and all of these moves must happen now to tip the scales and protect our future. It requires leadership, cooperation, and accountability like never seen before in our industry.”

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