Network Critical - The Window to your Network

March Madness


Welcome to March Madness. In the United States, the major colleges engage in a 64 team single elimination basketball tournament. The teams are assigned to brackets early and in March and many Americans fill out their own version of which teams will progress and which will fall away.

As the tournament progresses, fans need to follow the bracket changes and root for their favorite teams. This is done day and night throughout the month meaning that work time is also used to update brackets, manage office betting pools and actually watch games. With games now being multicast across a variety of devices it is easy to watch any team at any time. The estimated productivity loss for U.S. businesses during the month of March is about US$2.1 billion.

Another form of March Madness that is expensive to U.S. businesses is data theft. This cyber crime takes on many different personas but distracted employees are a favorite target. On March 2, 2017 NSC Technologies Worldwide was breached by a phony email scheme and employees sent the W-2 tax forms of all the company employees to the hackers. The W-2 form contains important personal information for each employee including wages and social security number. This information can be used by cyber criminals to file false income tax returns in the names of these employees and have the refunds sent to false bank accounts.

March, 2015 Morongo Casino among others fell to this scam. March 2016 the Main School System, Sunrun, Sprouts Farmers Market, Seagate Technology among many other firms were targeted. In fact this W-2 phishing scam is growing by 25% according to the Vice President of Data Breach at Experian. Why March? Because that is “tax season” in the US when employees are compiling their income data and forms to file with the Internal Revenue Service.

Here is what happens. The hackers sent phony emails to employees that looked like they came from the CEO of the company. The CEO, in the email, asks the employees to download a file with all the employee W-2 forms and send it to him immediately. Of course, the email was not really from the CEO so the employees who thought the email was real, sent all the W-2 information to the hackers.

Now, if you think about this scam you wonder. What were these employees thinking…or, were they thinking? There are two solutions to this problem. One is technical and one is personal.

Personal

I you work in Payroll compiling employee data and filling our forms, how often do you get emails from the CEO? How often does he ask you to send him information for which he already has full access? What on earth would the CEO of the company want with the W-2 form for every employee in the company? If employees would just use a little common sense and think about these requests, it would be pretty obvious that this request, at a minimum, should be vetted prior to being executed. Further, why do these payroll and finance employees have download access to all the W-2 files in the company? This leads us to the technical part.

Technical

There is no substitute for hiring smart, inquisitive employees. There is also no substitute for continually training all employees in computer safety, security and how to recognize potential scams. All employees should also be given safe email policies and procedures to follow.

But there are technical solutions to network security that should also be investigated, budgeted and deployed. One particular solution that fits in nicely this March tax scheme is Data Loss Protection (DLP). Data Loss Protection appliances connect to network links and allow policies to be set for what data can be downloaded, to what devices and who has download privileges.

For example, a social security number has the format xxx-xx-xxxx. A company can set a policy in the DLP appliance restricting any data with this unique format from being sent to certain devices. This appliance deployed with the proper policies could eliminate the possibility that employees could inadvertently send this critical information to outside requestors regardless of who they thought they were.

Now these appliances also need to bp connected in-line and work real time on the network. In order to set up DLP appliances and not impact network availability or reliability, intelligent TAPs should be deployed as the connection between the DLP appliance and the network link.

Summary

Hire inquisitive employees, not drones. Set prudent email communication policies and train all employees in policy and consequences. Deploy technology to prevent embarrassing and expensive breaches. The cost of robust network protection equipment and employee training is far less than enduring the embarrassment and expense of remediating critical breaches.

The teams that will survive the early rounds of the tournament and play in the “Final Four” will be the teams with a good game plan, smart players and strong defense…and the team that wins it all will also have a little luck as well.

Good luck on your brackets!

Posted: 30/03/2017 15:18:43 by Network Critical with 0 comments

What's the Worst that could Happen?


That question could be aptly described as the modus operandi for almost every security professional I know. But today, ‘fearing the worst’ has begun to creep beyond the realms of hypothetical scenarios and is far closer to a real, meaningful possibility.

We all know why cyber-crime has earned its place on the political agenda and why the threat of cyber warfare on a global scale is also enjoying its share of headlines. In some ways, it’s reassuring that the potential threat of a devastating attack has the visibility it needs. It’s been a long-time coming.

My main concern is that the common tone of the debate suggests that it’s tomorrows problem; in reality, the size and scale of the threat is too big to dismiss.

Virtual doomsday

And for all we know, our ‘virtual doomsday’ (when it all hits the fan), may not be in amongst clear political turmoil. It could just turn out to be an ordinary day.

Before you even have the chance to shower or grab some breakfast, one arbitrary glance at your phone to check your various social networks or news channels could notify you that they are all being held to ransom by denial of service.

With exception of course, to one dedicated channel which tells you that we are being attacked on a national scale.

Then you go to switch on a light, only to realize that the electricity supply has also been compromised and your local grid has been taken down. You’d like to make a pot of coffee to give yourself a sense of calm but the one remaining controlled newsfeed also tells you that there may have also been a chemical attack, so using the water supply could also be a bad idea.

By this point, you’ll probably have realized that it’s going to be a long day in the office and an even longer one if you represent our military forces. Our highly-networked U.S. Defense system has turned out to be a double-edged sword that (if an attack is well-timed or undetected) could do us as much damage as we could do to our enemies.

And with the potential for our combat systems to be affected, there’s a lot more at stake than being able to check your timeline.

With all this disarray, you may figure that there is strength in numbers, so you decide to brave-it and head into work, but the trouble is all public services have also been affected. The entire subway network is disabled, the roads are gridlocked in panic, gas stations are depleted and all airports are on high-alert because air traffic control has also been compromised.

On the one hand, you could dismiss this as a weak sequel to the Die-Hard series. On the other and in the cold light of day, it is well within the realms of possibility.

Strength in sophisticated numbers

If you take-into-account real-world attacks, that have included the ceasing of US Military email used by joint Chiefs of Staff, it shows how easily we are potentially brought to our knees in panic.

History says the bad guys like to hit us where it hurts and the devastating capability of cyber-attacks is only gaining strength.

One clear area where we can marginalize our risk is by beginning to share best practice more proactively and by bringing ideas to the table that instigate change for the better.

We may be increasing our ability to react in the event of an attack, but in order to go toe-to-toe with the bad guys, we need to diversify our approach and share ideas within what is, without exception an industry awash with intelligent, forward-thinking professionals.

The worst thing that can happen has become a possibility - the best thing we can do is to outsmart, outpace and outmaneuver; and that needs proactive ideas, followed by action.

You can join my closed-door LinkedIn Group – ‘The Cyber Defense Forum’, here.

Posted: 30/03/2017 13:18:10 by Network Critical with 0 comments

It's a Mod Mod World


With apologies to William Shakespeare, “To be (modular) or not to be (modular). That is the question.” Many network products from TAPs and Packet Brokers to security appliances and switches offer varying levels of modularity in their design. The associated advantages and risks with each design approach make for an interesting discussion.

Modularity The primary advantage to a modular design is flexibility. A product that is designed with groupings of ports in modules is a chameleon. A single chassis can support a variety of applications, speeds, media and connections. After the initial design, when needs and/or speeds change down the road, a complete system change is not usually required. One can simply replace one module with an different version to accommodate the new requirement.

A modular TAP is a good example. TAPs are used to efficiently connect security and analysis appliances to network links. TAPs offer secure and fail safe tool connections so network managers can protect, analyze and enhance network performance. However, many networks have a variety of physical connections, speeds and media throughout the network. Modular TAPs embrace a variety of connection requirements by making standard modules that fit in a single chassis. This way multi-mode fiber connections, single mode fiber copper connections, 1Gbps connections, 10Gbps, can all be accommodated by a single chassis.

This design also simplifies power requirements. Rather than racking up a number of different chassis each with its own power requirement, a single modular chassis can be racked and powered using different modules as required.

Another benefit is growth accommodation. Since the chassis is usually the least expensive component in this design, managers can deploy a larger chassis than what is currently required and add ports as needed down the line for growth.

Reliability is another consideration. While the design of a modular system may be very reliable, modular systems have more opportunity for human error by improper insertion of modules damaging connectors. Once everything is installed and connected, modular and fixed systems have similar reliability results. So, with proper training and care, modular systems can closely match reliability of fixed systems but human error must be more closely managed.

Modular systems add a little to manufacturing costs because there are more components and a more complicated design than a single use fixed platform. This extra cost may be mitigated by the benefits noted above. Over the long run, total cost of ownership may actually be lower than a fixed system.

Fixed Systems Even though modularity has many benefits, fixed systems have a place in the network equipment market as well.

Fixed systems are cheaper to design and manufacture. There are fewer connection points and fewer components needed to perform the required function. So, if the application is fixed and not expected to grow or change, some budget money may be saved using a fixed configuration system.

Reliability is generally good with fixed systems. There are fewer components and connectors that can cause problems. The installation and deployment functions are usually simpler with fewer opportunities for human error. Not that I say fewer opportunities for human error. We all know that no product is completely “human proof.”

Overall reliability relies on many factors including the engineering and manufacturing quality of the vendor. One of the critical issues with fixed systems is that if the product fails, there is no way to partially fix it. The solution to a failure is usually to return the entire system for repair or replacement. Depending on the criticality of the function, a failure may bring the network down or require severe work arounds until the product can be replaced or repaired. Modular systems, by comparison, may have replacement modules in local stock for simple and fast replacement of failed components.

Hybrids Many systems offer a hybrid solution providing basic port connections augmented by slots for a variety of application and connection requirements. The systems provide the best of both worlds in flexibility and growth and also similar, although less critical, problems associated with fixed systems.

There are some cost savings by integrating base connection functionality with the chassis. If the base configuration fits your needs this solution can be attractive. The extra slots, if flexible in speed, connectivity and media can provide for easy management of growth and network changes. Problems with the connections in the integrated base chassis may still require a system change but problems in the modules may be easily mitigated.

Conclusion The conclusion here is that “it depends.” There is actually no right or wrong solution when it comes to the fixed vs modular discussion. Like many other design issues, your specific requirements will guide the decision. It is important to look at all options in relation to what you are trying to accomplish and available budget.

The message here is that there is no substitute for thorough, thoughtful and meticulous planning. Chart our your needs for speed, media, connectivity, reliability, future flexibility, growth and cost. Search out a vendor that provides the solutions that meet your requirements grid.

Fortunately, companies like Network Critical offer solutions that are completely modular, completely fixed and hybrids. You will find a wide variety of network monitoring solutions in the Network Critical portfolio supported by a team of experts to help you develop and support your specific network needs. For more information or to talk with a network monitoring expert go to www.networkcritical.com.

Posted: 17/03/2017 13:44:07 by Network Critical with 0 comments

Is America Dreaming?


We may be one of the most (if not the leading) technologically advanced nations in the world. But I can promise you this:

It’s highly likely we’re not as prepared as we think we are.

Just this morning, I read an article that suggested our country is the most appealing target for cyber criminals. This targeting of our systems and infrastructure is not just because of our wealth and wide access to technology. We are also targeted for our ideological views as well, a factor which I believe is the most vital factor in the war on virtual crime.

While we’re left picking up the pieces after the latest cyber attack attack, the criminals are already planning their next 3. It’s almost impossible to prepare ourselves for the latest threat, because exactly what that threat is stretches beyond definition. The constant process of evolution and refinement based upon how successful it is, is never ending, making what we’re fighting against hard to pinpoint.

I know this. You know this. Our community knows this, and yet, the majority of our industry is still far too reactive.

And with the stock markets consequently suffering a sobering loss of $136.5 billion in value back in 2013 because of a fake tweet from the Associated Press (accessed via a successful spear-phishing email opened by an Associated Press journalist), it has become clear that there is a lot more at stake than our pride.

Despite our collective experience, most of us are already on the back foot; I appreciate not everyone in the community will agree with me given our marked progress in recent years, but can we really afford to risk complacency? The phishing attack intended to influence Iran’s most recent presidential election proves that national infrastructures are being lined up and told to face the wall; you don’t need me to tell you our country’s safety is at risk..

Sharing is caring

Just because they’re getting increasingly smarter however, doesn’t mean we’re forced to simply wait and scramble to repair the damage whenever they choose to attack next. On the contrary, we should be fighting fire with fire.

Let’s face it, cyber criminals aren’t the type to retreat when they fail, and they certainly aren’t the type to rest on their laurels once they succeed.

They’ll be collaborating, sharing which approaches have worked (as well as which haven’t) and they’ll have started planning their next attack before long. In fact, it’s probably what they’re doing right now, and we’d be foolish not to explore the possibilities of using a similar approach.

They’re working together and discovering new methods of best practice, so we need to start working together.
They’re sharing previous experiences, so we need to start sharing experiences.
It’s not a matter of being extra secure. We no longer have a choice.

We’re dealing with an ever-evolving enemy which presents consequences which no longer just affect us. With our national security on the line, we can’t afford to simply win today’s battle and ignore tomorrow’s war.

The private LinkedIn forum I recently created isn’t the sole answer to all our problems, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction. By bringing together like-minded individuals to discuss how we’ve overcome cyber-attacks and what methods of defense have paid off, as well as the future of our industry, we can turn the tables and put the cyber criminals on the back foot.

It’s time we stopped talking about the latest high profile cyber security breach, and started making moves to prevent them from happening. If you’re on the same page, then click through below and get involved in combatting the criminals threatening our virtual security.

Posted: 16/03/2017 19:37:12 by Network Critical with 0 comments

Moaning and Droning in the Asia Pacific Region


The Asia Pacific region has had a particularly difficult year when it comes to cyber crime. According to Security Asia, some of the high profile attacks in the region include cyber attacks on the database of 55 million voters at the Philippines Commission on Elections, the National Payment Corporation of India, the Bangladesh Central Bank, and massive data leaks as shown by the Yahoo data incidents. This small sample includes attacks on the financial industry, government and technology.

A Frost and Sullivan’s 'Asia Pacific Cyber Security practice' reports that Singapore lost about US$19 million through Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks during the first nine months of 2016. Growing at 20% YoY, this type of cyber crime is predicted to overtake Ransomware in 2017. The report goes on to speculate that BEC attacks can potentially become the main type of cyber threat in Asia Pacific.

We know that DDoS attacks have become a menace and are being enabled by the growing global popularity of IoT and its corresponding lack of device security. Internet attacks accomplished by creating huge volumes of traffic from thousands of unsecured, connected devices such as traffic cameras have the potential to shut down urban intelligent transport systems, airport traffic control systems and other critical infrastructures.

Cyber attacks including BEC, Ransomware and DDoS attacks are growing and becoming a big business in APAC as well as other regions around the world. Many areas in the APAC region that are technologically advanced are actually more vulnerable due to the volume of connected devices and systems. Intelligent transit, WiFi and WiMax, digital street surveillance, web enabled government services are all great conveniences to local populations. However as the population adjusts and learns to depend on these new technologies, they become more vulnerable to attacks.

One of the newer cyber attack modes is using drones to scan for unsecured WiFi networks. Singapore University of Technology and Design has demonstrated that it is possible to launch cyber attacks using only a drone and a smart phone. As drone technology develops and improves, the criminals will certainly use it as another tool in their criminal arsenal.

So, there is no shortage of scary stories about cyber crime and its potential for mass carnage against large populations. The question is what are we going to do about it? Whose responsibility is it to protect us from this devious and largely anonymous threat? The answer is ours.

Governments must increase information sharing and cooperation. Laws and enforcement agencies must work hard to catch up and keep up with this fast evolving threat. Device makers must design security measures into connected equipment. Sure, yes, and absolutely for all those ideas. However, right here, right now in the Asia Pacific Region, businesses and individuals must be educated and vigilant against these crimes.

Business networks need to establish and enhance their cyber security departments. Security budgets must expand to include the introduction of new appliances that help anticipate attacks by learning normal network patterns and isolating anomalies.

Appliances such as Data Loss Protection, Intrusion Protection and Next Generation Firewalls must be deployed through independent TAPs on network links. Other specialized appliances should also be considered for specific vulnerabilities. There are appliances that will isolate all emails with an attachment to a “sandbox” and test the attachment for malware prior to sending it on to the recipient. This is a potential defense for BEC attacks. It is always prudent to regularly backup and store critical data off-line.

TAPs and Packet Brokers can help manage the maze of specialized appliances by allowing fail-safe connection to links, mapping what data goes where, and filtering out packets and ports that are not relevant to each appliance. These security devices simplify deployment and make it easy to make additions and changes to your security stack as new technologies advance.

So, don’t moan about the drone. Enhance your security profile, educate your employees, and deploy strong defenses to block breaches rather than repairing the damage after a devastating attack.

Posted: 10/03/2017 15:15:10 by Network Critical with 0 comments

Network Critical Moves USA Headquarters


Network Critical, a global innovator of network access and visibility products, announced today that they are moving their USA headquarters in Alpharetta, GA. The move will enable an increase in support and services to their growing customer base in The Americas: North, Central and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Alpharetta is known as the Technology City of the South, and for good reason. Over 77% of the workforce is employed in professional/technical positions. Major global tech companies such as HP, Microsoft, Lancope and Verizon have a significant presence in the area. Further, companies can draw talent from outstanding universities such as Georgia Tech, University of Georgia and Georgia State University among others. Alastair Hartrup, CEO of Network Critical said, “We are now very familiar with the rich talent and activity which surrounds Alpharetta. The new move will ensure that our relationship with the local tech industry remains strong, whilst allowing us to extend the global reach of the produts and services we provide.”

The new office address is:

Network Critical NA LLC.
3755 Marconi Drive
Suite 107
Alpharetta
GA 30005
USA

About Network Critical:

Network Critical is an industry leader in network access technology. Our technology ensures 100% continuous network visibility. Network Critical products eliminate any concerns of downtime and scale easily as the network grows. The health of your network is always secure with Network Critical products. Our range of TAPs and Packet Brokers are used with IDS, IPS, network traffic monitoring tools, sniffers and more, to provide 100% network visibility with zero packet loss. For more information, visit http://www.networkcritical.com.

Posted: 02/03/2017 17:05:06 by Network Critical with 0 comments

Something Needs to Change


Before I weigh in with my two cents worth, I’d like to share a personal experience. Way back in spring 2006, I was awarded a contract to assist the Department of Transportation as they worked to submit the required systems Certification and Accreditation to OMB.

It was a tall order, but nonetheless I looked forward to the assignment; I assumed the only downside would be the pages of Government paperwork that I was required to submit before I could even step inside DoT headquarters. In order to obtain my ID badge, I had to provide personal details not just about myself, but my family and friends as well.

Fast forward to summer 2015, when OPM notified me that their database had been compromised; as many as 21.5 million individual records had been stolen and there was a “strong possibility” that the personal data included in my DoT paperwork was amongst them. Now it’s fair to say that this ‘strong possibility’ wasn’t an absolute certainty. But given that my family and close friends information was stolen as well as my own, let’s just say that I wasn’t very open to considering the ‘possibility’ that my data had been untouched. Would you have been?

Sure, I’ve since been offered a prepaid subscription to an identity theft monitoring program, but let’s be candid. That’s the virtual equivalent of deciding to install smoke detectors in your home, after it’s been burned to the ground. Taking steps to protect the people you’re responsible for, only after they’ve been compromised, means you’ve failed. It’s that simple.

I’ve since heard that OPM has introduced two-factor authentication as a common working practice since the incident. But given that’s a feature found on most iPhones, why did it take so long for a Government department to implement it as a basic security measure?

No matter where you stand politically, no one can deny that we share a mutual concern; virtual criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated by the day, so a level paranoia comes with the territory in the Public Sector. What continues to alarm me is that we’re all seem to be victims waiting for the next headline to hit. We are so preoccupied with fixing the destruction caused by the last attack we didn’t see coming, that we don’t have time to be proactive about preventing the next one.

There tends to be a reliance on assumptions and ‘what we know’. But given the increasingly unpredictable and unparalleled nature of these attacks, is what we know good enough anymore?

With far more exciting targets such as the NSA and the Pentagon, I for one would’ve completely dismissed anyone who predicted the possibility that a Government agency such as the OPM would be targeted, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

Back in 2011, Iran admitted to overriding and taking control of a US drone and amazingly, the story once reported seems to have disappeared from our minds. Clearly, the political and military consequences were discussed but surely there should be more time committed to asking “if a drone can be hacked, what else can?”

We need to consider the far-fetched, worst-case scenario given our current climate. If a drone can be overridden, who can absolutely guarantee the same wouldn’t happen to a plane with a pilot onboard? Is a commercial air traffic control tower just as at risk of being compromised as the OPM? Are similar, low visibility departments at risk, like the Department of Veteran Affairs?

More recently the Chinese military unveiled their latest fighter aircraft the Chengdu-J20. The aircraft bears a striking resemblance to our F-22 advanced fighter. Anyone who has seen the J-20 can’t dismiss the fact that somehow the Chinese were able to hack into either a DoD or subcontractor network and steal proprietary specifications and designs for the F-22. Fortunately stealing the designs appears to be a simpler task than duplicating the sophisticated technology that provides the F-22 pilot the ability to see and fire upon enemy aircraft even if the enemy is behind them.

Fighting fires once the damage has been done is an all too common practice. But as for best practice? That comes with discussion, sharing our experiences and bouncing ideas off each other - and I’m not referring just to our world and industry leaders.

It’s time we took a more proactive role in actually preventing the constant threat of cyber criminals that we face daily, instead of simply waiting for the latest breach to make the news, and reacting to it.

For an industry that operates in the background to ensure our information is protected, we’re being caught in the headlines way too often, and for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes it’s on a global scale, sometimes it’s personal. But one things for certain, something needs to change.

Last week I created a LinkedIn closed group to bring together informed, like-minded people who want to take a different, more proactive approach to combatting cyber security.

The group isn’t designed to be a passive, voyeuristic forum. Its purpose is for those that want to come to the table with strong ideas, share best practice in a trusted environment and are ready to hit the issues head-on together.

That way, we have a fighting chance of preventing more disastrous headlines.

You can join ‘The Cyber Security Forum’ here.

Posted: 01/03/2017 03:38:45 by Network Critical with 0 comments