Watering hole attack prevention

Watering hole attack prevention

A watering hole attack is an indirect attack on a victim. Rather than directly attacking the victim’s network, the attacker attacks a web site that the victim’s employees are likely to visit. Then the attacker attacks the victim’s network, via its own workstations, from that web site. A former colleague asked me how you protect against watering hole attacks, and I thought this was a good exercise. So here are some strategies for watering hole attack prevention.

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Common security attacks and countermeasures

As a security professional, I talk to a lot of people about common security attacks and countermeasures. I’m not always certain the people I’m talking to know what these things mean. I am almost certain they aren’t willing to ask.

I know it’s more complicated than it was when I took my Security+ exam a decade ago. The stakes are much higher now. The attacks I had to identify caused inconvenience, but someone conducting a successful smurf attack on your printer won’t get you in the headlines. Today’s attacks will.

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Simple tips to prevent ransomware

Last week at work, I noticed some odd events in an event log, and when I investigated them, I found they were part of a failed ransomware attack. This got me thinking about how to prevent ransomware at home.

Ransomware, if you aren’t familiar, is an attack that encrypts your data and demands a ransom, usually around $300, in bitcoins, and you get a short deadline until it destroys your files. More often than not, paying the ransom is the only way to get the files back, so it’s much better to prevent it.

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Spot phishing e-mails with Outlook

I got e-mail the other day from Turbotax saying someone had filed my taxes for me. Obviously a cause for concern, right? Here’s how I determined the message was fake in about three minutes. You can spot phishing e-mails with Outlook the same way.

Some people will tell you not to even open a message like this, but if you’re a computer professional, at some point someone is going to want you to prove the message was fake. I think this is something every e-mail administrator, desktop support professional, security professional, and frankly, every helpdesk professional ought to be able to do.

So here’s how you can get the proof. And generally speaking, Outlook 2010’s default configuration is paranoid enough that this procedure will be safe to do. If you want an extra layer of protection, make sure you have EMET installed and protecting Outlook.

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Whitelist Java to provide better security and a better user experience

One of the best things you can do to improve your security in a corporate environment is to limit the use of Java, or whitelist Java. Undoubtedly there will be one or more legacy web applications your company uses that require Java, and it’s almost inevitable that at least two of them will be certified for one and only one version of the JRE, and it won’t be the same one.

Believe it or not there’s a solution to the problem of conflicting JREs, but it took me years to find it, because I had no idea that Oracle called it “Deployment Rule Set.” The secret’s out now. If you run Java, and you want security, you need Deployment Rule Set.

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Unchecky is another tool to help with staying out of trouble with malware

I found a mention of a tool called Unchecky as a minor point in a story about something else entirely. Unchecky helps to solve the problem with downloaded programs including a bunch of extra junk you don’t want.

I won’t be running it myself. But the next time I fix a computer, I’ll probably install it on that one.

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The new firewall

Monthly patches and upgrades don’t always go well, but getting them down is increasingly critical, especially for applications like Flash, Reader, and the major web browsers. This week I called it “the new firewall.”

Twenty years ago, home users almost never bothered with firewalls. My first employer didn’t bother with them either. That changed in the late 1990s, when worms exploiting weaknesses in Microsoft software devastated the nascent Internet. Firewalls soon became commonplace, along with some unfortunate hyperbole that led some people to believe firewalls make you invisible and invincible, a myth that persists in some circles even today.

For this reason I’m a bit hesitant to declare anything a new firewall, but firewalls are necessary. So is protecting key software.
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A watering hole attack example from the real world

You may have heard people like me talk about watering-hole attacks. It’s an indirect attack on someone by compromising a third party and using that to get in. Here’s a watering hole attack example from the real world.

In this case, back in November, attackers got a Forbes ad server, and from there, attacked visitors from government and bank networks.

Here’s the logic: Since ad servers tend to be much less secure than your target company, you compromise an ad server from a site someone on the target network is likely to visit, then infect them from there. The attackers jumped to the ad network first. That put them into position to jump onto government and bank networks.

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