As you may have noticed, we have posted a lot on LinkedIn recently about new cyber attacks. The biggest link between these is that those attacks are commonly caused by not following best practices, or relying only on “legacy” security tools and/​or the use of weak passwords.

Even with the use of today’s most advanced security tools, it can all fail at the weakest link of the security chain — people. According to csoonline, 56% of IT decision-makers claim that targeted phishing attacks are their top security threat. And this fear isn’t wrong. Everyone can be conned, even conmen. In many cases, it’s easier to get inside of the network if you abuse that fact. The most commonly used methods of exploiting people are phishing and blackmailing.

Phishing in its simplest form can be easily detected by regular humans. Because it’s not targeted, people on the receiving end can simply ask question “why did I get this email when it has nothing to do with me?” When it comes to more advanced phishing forms, like “whale” (going for the big target, e.g. top management or CEO) or spear phishing (targeted attacks against certain group/​ individual), the attacker does the research and gets to know as much as possible about victims, which can be done with a search on the Internet or dumpster diving (think about what you throw away — are there any documents?). Once equipped with knowledge about the target, those attempts are way more effective.

Let’s examine it the security context. In this example, paraphrased from Christopher Hadnagy’s book “Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking,” an overconfident CEO is the target. The CEO thought that it’s not possible to hack him mainly for two reasons: he doesn’t utilize much technology in his personal life, and he thought that he was too smart to fall for phishing. Turns out he wasn’t that smart after all. In this example, the CEO expected an audit and readied himself for it. After scouring various sources of information, attackers decided to go with: the name of his favorite baseball team, favorite restaurant, and that he contributed funding to cancer research. On one Friday evening, a phone call took place. In it, the attacker approached the CEO with a plea asking about small contribution to the cancer cure research stating that here will be also a contest for contributors — winners will get two tickets to CEO’s favorite baseball team match (claiming that they know that baseball is not everyone’s cup of tea) and a voucher to one of three restaurants, including CEO’s favorite one. The CEO was willing to contribute, motivated by his desire to cure cancer and the possibility of winning tickets and a voucher, he told the attacker his email address, so they would be able to send him a .pdf file. That file contained a malicious code and CEO opened it, thus providing the attacker with access to his computer and everything in its reach.

Now that his computer has been compromised, as well as access to everything within the organization his authority (and passwords) will let him touch. So what to do? The attacker has access from his computer, so access rights to sensitive files are not an issue, nor is it an issue for the security team that the CEO is accessing files throughout the company. Is there a way to identify that the “CEO” accessing sensitive data is not actually the “real” CEO? Here’s where NTA technology can help. The next step following gaining access to the CEO’s accounts is to exfiltrate data. Network traffic analysis identifies that the computer in question is transmitting data where it shouldn’t, and/​or in volumes that it shouldn’t. The computer can then be quarantined, the CEO alerted, and the attacker caught. 

But while phishing may be the attack that’s on the mind of management, IT teams understand that “legacy” security tools, like sandbox, IDS, endpoint security or even a firewall, are not sufficient anymore. Let’s look at why.

Modern malware has many methods of detecting if it has infiltrated a “real” environment, or in cases of targeted attacks, if it has hit the right target. When such malware determines that it could be exposed, it lies dormant. This means that if you check everything that enters your company using a sandbox, malicious software can still enter the network if it is sufficiently advanced.

Known threats are usually detected by known patterns or hashes used by endpoint security or IDS, which makes them ineffective against new or advanced threats. Some endpoint security tools use AI to determine malicious behavior and are better equipped to fight new threats, but not every device can have endpoint security. Personal or “bring your own device (BYOD)” are a great example — like a laptop that an employee brings from home and connects to the network — or an IoT sensor where endpoint software cannot be installed. These devices are connected, but not secured by endpoint security.

Firewalls are essential to any networks security infrastructure, and stop communication that goes through them, meaning that generally they are able to protect the company for any threat that comes from the external network. But what if the attack starts after a user accidentally opens a communication link which allows the attacker to get behind the firewall and inside the network? What if the threat was brought inside the company by other means than through the Internet and then tries to spread in the internal network?

While the technology is different in each of these possible attacks, they all have one thing in common — attackers who exploit a gap in the security. The best gap fillers currently available are NTA solutions, like GREYCORTEX Mendel. Mendel monitors all network traffic and analyzes changes of behavior in hosts, detects policy violations, data leaks, and much more. Not every unauthorized entry can be prevented before hit happens. Relying on legacy security tools means it can take months (some statistics reference nearly 200 days) to detect attackers as they move in the network. NTA solutions like Mendel lower this time to between minutes and a few hours, often before actual damage happens in the network or the attacker knows they’ve gained access. 

The question is not if you will get hacked. The question is when you will get hacked. And when that happens, are you ready for it and can you stop it, or will you still rely solely on best practices, as the CEO did, or on “legacy” security tools?