The "No Network is 100% Secure" series
- Cyber Crime Trends -
A White Paper

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Cybercrime Trends in 2010 and beyond:

Here are five security trends to watch for over the next ten years:

1. The Industrialization of Hacking: There is a clear definition of roles within the cyber crime community in developing a supply chain that closely resembles that of drug cartels:

- Botnet growers. Cultivators whose sole concern is maintaining and increasing botnet communities.

- Attackers who purchase botnets for attacks aimed at extracting sensitive information (or other more specialized tasks).

- Cyber criminals who acquire sensitive information for the sole purpose of committing fraudulent transactions.

As with any industrialization process, automation is the key factor for success. We will continue to see more and more automated tools being used at all stages of the hacking process. Proactive searches for potential victims will increasingly rely on search engine bots rather than random scanning of the network. Massive attack campaigns will continue to rely on zombies sending a predefined set of attack vectors to a list of designated victims. Attack coordination will be done through servers that host a list of commands and targets. SQL Injection attacks, "Remote File Include" and other application level attacks, once considered the cutting edge techniques manually applied by savvy hackers are now bundled into software tools available for download and use by the new breed of industrial hackers. Search engines (like Google) are becoming an increasingly vital piece in every attack campaign starting from the search for potential victims, the promotion of infected pages and even as a vehicle for launching the attack vectors themselves.

Attack campaigns are increasingly being launched against any available target, not just against high profile applications as was done in the past. An application may be attacked for the value of the information it stores or for the purpose of turning it into yet another attack platform. Protecting web applications using application level security solutions will become a must for large and small organizations alike. End users who want to protect their own personal data and avoid becoming part of a botnet must learn to rely on automatic OS updates and anti-malware software.

2. A Move from Application to Data Security: The effectiveness of network layer attacks has decreased dramatically in this past decade largely due better network layer defenses. This gave raise to application level attacks such as SQL Injection, Cross Site Scripting and Cross Site Request Forgery. As these are being gradually addressed by the use of web application firewalls, attackers will turn their attention to more sophisticated attacks either from the outside (business logic attacks) or from the inside (direct attacks against the database). Together with the fast growth in the number of applications that access enterprise data pools these will drive the evolution of data-centric security.

While organizations invest in protecting their major applications using application level tools, many of the smaller applications are still unprotected. Additionally, we see no apparent decrease on the part of internal threats. Disgruntled employees, dubious individuals with internal network access and attackers who control (through Trojans) internal workstations all present a direct threat on enterprise data pools.

It will become apparent to organizations that controls must be put not only around applications accessing the data but also around the data itself. This holds true to data in its structured format within relational databases as well as unstructured data stored in files on organisational file servers.

To protect these vital assets, Organizations must have a complete change of mindset focusing on protecting data at its source, regardless of the application accessing it. This will require a combination of technologies such as a data based firewall, data and file activity monitoring and the next generation of DLP products.

3. Mainstream Social Networks and Associated Applications: Previously attracting student communities, the growing popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is fast infiltrating mainstream populations with practically every man and his dog now being "on Facebook". As a consequence, large populations not previously exposed to online attackers can now be targeted by massive campaigns. Elderly people as well as younger children. People who did not grow up with an inherent distrust in web content may find it very difficult to distinguish between messages of true social nature and widespread attack campaigns. Attackers will also take advantage of the social networking information made accessible by social platforms to create more credible campaigns (e.g. make sure you get your Phishing email from your grandchildren). The capabilities offered by the social platform and their growing outreach into other applications (webmail, online games) allow attackers to launch huge campaigns with a viral nature and at the same time pinpoint specific individuals.

It has been proven that specific ads carrying attack vectors can be presented to named individuals at an attacker's will. This in turn allows attackers to easily get a foothold inside specific organizations by targeting individuals within those organizations. Much like searching through the Google search engine for potentials target applications, attackers will scan social networks (using automated tools) for susceptible individuals, further increasing the effectiveness of their attack campaigns.

4. Password grabbing/password stealing attacks: Recent statistics show a surge in personal information leakage incidents as well as the compromise of huge amounts of credit card numbers. Leakage incidents were attributed to either media loss (or theft) or deliberate attacks such as SQL injection or sniffing on internal transaction processing networks.

As stolen personal information is increasingly available, the price it commands on the black market is falling, thereby forcing attackers to seek more profitable data. To this extent, the last few months has seen hackers target application credentials. Application credentials hold more value for certain types of attackers as they can be further used in automated schemes. While fraud schemes involving stolen personally identifiable information (PII) usually require manual procedures, an attack that makes use of valid credentials for an online banking system can be fully automated.

Attackers use many different techniques for obtaining application credentials. These include Phishing campaigns, Trojans and KeyLoggers on the consumer side and SQL injection, directory traversal and sniffers on the application end.

5. Transition from Reactive To Proactive Security: Up until recently, the security concept has been largely reactive - waiting for a vulnerability to be disclosed; creating a signature (or some other security rule) then cross referencing requests against these attack methods, regardless of their context in time or source. As a consequence a lot of resources are invested in distinguishing "bad" requests from "good" requests based on request content alone. This chore is becoming increasingly difficult due to advanced evasion techniques and sophisticated attack schemes. This in turn yields solutions that are forced to make difficult trade-offs between the rates of false detection and no detection.

Rather than waiting to be attacked, security teams must start to proactively look for attacker activity as it is being initialized over the network, identifying dangerous sources or malicious activity before it gets to attack a protected server.

About the Author

Frank Saxton is a computer network security engineer and Easyrider LAN Pro principle. Home-based in Portland, Oregon, Frank has been designing remote diagnostic and network enterprise monitoring centers since the late 1970s. Prior to becoming a professional systems engineering consultant in 1990, Frank had a 20 year career in computer systems field engineering and field engineering management. Frank has a BSEE from Northeastern University and holds several certifications including Network General's Certified Network Expert (CNX). As a NOC design engineer and architect, Frank works regularly with enterprise-class monitoring tools such as HP Openview Operations, BMC Patrol and others. In his enterprise security audit work, Frank uses sniffers and other professional grade monitoring tools on a daily basis.

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Last modified December 16, 2009
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