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Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks—Part 2: Securing hardware and software

March 23rd, 2020 No comments

Artificial intelligence (AI) and connected devices have fueled digital transformation in the utilities industry. These technological advances promise to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of energy generation, transmission, and distribution. They’ve also created new vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals, nation state actors, and hackers have demonstrated that they are capable of attacking a nation’s power grid through internet-connected devices. As utilities and their suppliers race to modernize our infrastructure, it’s critical that cybersecurity measures are prioritized.

In the first blog in the “Defending the power grid against cyberattacks” series, I walked through how the accelerated adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) puts utilities and citizens at risk of attack from nation state actors. In this post, I’ll provide guidance for how utilities manufacturers can better protect the connected devices that are deployed in the energy industry.

Protect identities

If your organization supplies the energy industry, you may be targeted by adversaries who want to disrupt the power supply. One way they will try to access your company resources is by stealing or guessing user credentials with tactics like password spray or phishing. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 80 percent of breaches are the result of weak or compromised passwords. Attackers target multiple people at a time, but they only need to succeed once to gain access.

Securing your company starts with safeguarding your identities. At the bare minimum, you should apply multi-factor authentication (MFA) to your administrative accounts. A better option is to require all users to authenticate using MFA. MFA requires that users sign in with more than just a password. The second form of authentication can be a one-time code from a mobile device, biometrics, or a secure FIDO2 key, among other options. MFA reduces your risk significantly because it’s much harder for an attacker to compromise two or more authentication factors.

Figure 1: You can use Conditional Access policies to define when someone is promoted to sign in with MFA.

Secure privileged access

In a supply chain attack, adversaries attack your organization to gain access to data and applications that will allow them to tamper with your product or service before it reaches its intended destination. Bad actors want to infiltrate your build environment or the servers that you use to push software updates. To accomplish this, they often target administrator accounts. Securing your administrative accounts is critical to protect your company resources. Here are a few steps you can take to safeguard these accounts:

  • Separate administrative accounts from the accounts that IT professionals use to conduct routine business. While administrators are answering emails or conducting other productivity tasks, they may be targeted by a phishing campaign. You don’t want them signed into a privileged account when this happens.
  • Apply just-in-time privileges to you administrator accounts. Just-in-time privileges require that administrators only sign into a privileged account when they need to perform a specific administrative task. These sign-ins go through an approval process and have a time limit. This will reduce the possibility that someone is unnecessarily signed into an administrative account.

Figure 2: A “blue” path depicts how a standard user account is used for non-privileged access to resources like email and web browsing and day-to-day work. A “red” path shows how privileged access occurs on a hardened device to reduce the risk of phishing and other web and email attacks.

  • Set up privileged access workstations for administrative work. A privileged access workstation provides a dedicated operating system with the strongest security controls for sensitive tasks. This protects these activities and accounts from the internet. To encourage administrators to follow security practices, make sure they have easy access to a standard workstation for other more routine tasks.

Safeguard your build and update environment

Bad actors don’t just target user accounts. They also exploit vulnerabilities in software. Many attacks take advantage of known vulnerabilities for which there are available patches. Keep software and operating systems up-to-date and patched to reduce your risk. Retire any technology that is no longer supported by the publisher and implement mandatory integrity controls to ensure only trusted tools run.

You also need to protect the software that your team writes. A proven and robust Secure Development Lifecycle (SDL) will guide your developers to build software that includes fewer vulnerabilities. Microsoft’s SDL includes 12 practices. For example, Microsoft SDL recommends that security and privacy requirements be defined at the beginning of every project. The guidelines also provide tips for managing the security risk of third-party software, performing threat modeling, and penetration testing, among other recommendations. By building security into the entire software process, the software you release will be more secure and less vulnerable to attack.

Assume breach

My recommendations will reduce your risk, but they won’t eliminate it entirely. To protect your company and customers, you’ll need to adopt an assume breach mindset. It’s not a matter of if you’ll be breached but when. Once you’ve accepted that you can’t prevent all attacks, put processes and tools in place that enable you to detect and respond to an incident as quickly as possible.

Endpoint detection and response solutions, like Microsoft Threat Protection, leverage AI to automate detection and response and correlate threats across domains. When incidents are detected, you will need an appropriate response. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides an incident response guide. You can also learn from Microsoft’s Security Response Center (MSRC), which shared how it developed an incident response plan.

Figure 3: An overview of an incident in Microsoft Threat Protection.

A good communication plan is an important component of a response plan. You will need to let customers know there was an incident and how you plan to address it. As the MSRC notes, “Clear, accurate communication builds confidence in the incident response process, maintains trust with customers, protects your brand, and is essential for fast effective response.”

Centralized IoT device management

In addition to operating a number of generation plants, utilities operate a network of thousands of substations and hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines. This requires them to deploy a large number of IoT devices to safely and efficiently deliver electricity to their customers. To effectively manage this network of IoT devices, suppliers should provide their customers with centralized IoT device management to update firmware, install security updates, and manage accounts and passwords.

Build trust

Protecting critical infrastructure from a destabilizing attack will require collaboration among utilities and suppliers in the industry. Device manufacturers and software publishers have a vital role to play in protecting critical infrastructure. By instituting and maintaining the security practices that I’ve recommended, you can dramatically reduce the risk to your organization and to the power grid.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, “Part 3: Risk management strategies for the utilities industry,” where I’ll provide recommendations specifically for utilities.

Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

The post Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks—Part 2: Securing hardware and software appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks—Part 1: The risk defined

February 18th, 2020 No comments

Most people don’t think about electricity. If the internet works, their food is refrigerated, and their debit card is approved, why should they? Its ubiquity and reliability render it invisible—a bit of magic that powers much of modern life. That is, until a large storm passes through. Localized outages can be quite disruptive to those impacted, and the utility industry has learned to respond rapidly and effectively to these events. But what happens if service interruptions become more unpredictable and affect large geographical regions with huge populations?

This is a risk that utilities and their supply chain must continue to address. Nation state actors and other adversaries have demonstrated that they possess the ambition and the skills necessary to launch cyberattacks that could cause widescale and continuous power outages. Whether your organization is a utility or a supplier of the industry, you may be vulnerable.

This blog series, “Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks,” analyzes how these attacks are conducted and the steps utilities, device manufacturers, and software providers can take to better secure critical infrastructure.

Why it matters

Modern warfare is no longer conducted exclusively on the battlefield. Nation-state actors also deploy sophisticated cybercampaigns to disrupt daily life or sow confusion. The power grid is one such target. The financial system, sewer and water lines, transportation networks, computers, cellphones, kitchen appliances, and more run on electricity. Several hours of disrupted power can grind economic activity to a halt in the affected areas. An outage of days or weeks could incite greater unrest.

Accelerated adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) compounds the risk. IoT innovations allow the utility industry to harness the power of the internet, data, and artificial intelligence to optimize its operations and deliver energy more efficiently and reliably to its customers. But these devices can introduce new vulnerabilities. Existing sensors often don’t have security or centralized management built into them. Some devices are so small, it’s difficult to place traditional protections on them. Manufacturers, who feel pressured to deliver solutions quickly, may fail to incorporate critical security controls and safeguards in their products. Bad actors are skilled at uncovering these weaknesses and exploiting them.

How attacks are executed

A typical cyberattack includes lengthy reconnaissance to uncover all the vendors that serve a utility and their vulnerabilities. Bad actors even go after suppliers who exist outside the software and hardware space but have vital access. A few examples:

  • Software libraries and frameworks—Modern software relies on open source and industry libraries and frameworks to reduce time to market and take advantage of pre-tested solutions. This is fertile ground for hackers to insert malware that wreaks havoc once the software reaches its destination.
  • Digitally signed software—Much software is digitally signed by the vendor to prove its legitimacy. Hackers who break into servers may be able to infect software before it’s digitally signed or spoof the signature after altering the software.
  • Software update servers—Bad actors hack into the servers that distribute software updates. This can be very effective since many applications auto-update.
  • Hardware interdiction—While hardware and parts are in-transit, a cybercriminal intercepts the shipment and inserts malicious code in the hardware or firmware.
  • Hardware seeding—Cybercriminals infect IoT devices, such as phones, cameras, sensors, drones and USB drives, with malware inserted on the manufacturing floor.
  • Onsite vendors—Companies that come on site to provide services may not be as security focused as software and hardware companies. Attackers exploit this vulnerability and then use the relationship to gain access to the ultimate target.
  • Remote servicing vendors—Bad actors also attack the companies who provide remote support to the systems at the target organization.

Looking ahead

The next two installments of the Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks series will offer practical advice for both the utilities and their vendors.

Stay tuned for:

  • Part 2: Secure the hardware and software used by utilities
  • Part 3: Risk management strategies for the utilities industry

In the meantime, whether you are a utility or one its suppliers, you can begin to address these risks by inventorying your vendors. Where do you buy software, what processes do you use to select software libraries? Who builds your hardware? Where do your hardware manufacturers source parts?

Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

The post Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks—Part 1: The risk defined appeared first on Microsoft Security.

How to secure your IoT deployment during the security talent shortage

December 17th, 2019 No comments

Businesses across industries are placing bigger and bigger bets on the Internet of Things (IoT) as they look to unlock valuable business opportunities. But time and time again, as I meet with device manufacturers and businesses considering IoT deployments, there are concerns over the complexity of IoT security and its associated risks—to the company, its brands, and its customers. With the growing number and increased severity of IoT attacks, these organizations have good reason to be cautious. With certainty, we can predict that the security vulnerabilities and requirements of IoT environments will continue to evolve, making them difficult to frame and address. It’s complex work to clearly define a security strategy for emerging technologies like IoT. To compound the challenge, there’s a record-setting 3-million-person shortage of cybersecurity pros globally. This massive talent shortage is causing the overextension of security teams, leaving organizations without coverage for new IoT deployments.

Despite the risks that come with IoT and the strain on security teams during the talent shortage, the potential of IoT is too valuable to ignore or postpone. Decision makers evaluating how to pursue both IoT innovation and security don’t need to steal from one to feed the other. It isn’t a binary choice. There is a way to augment existing security teams and resources, even amidst the talent shortage. Trustworthy solutions can help organizations meet the ongoing security needs of IoT without diminishing opportunity for innovation.

As organizations reach the limit of their available resources, the key to success becomes differentiating between the core activities that require specific organizational knowledge and the functional practices that are common across all organizations.

Utilize your security teams to focus on core activities, such as defining secure product experiences and building strategies for reducing risk at the app level. This kind of critical thinking and creative problem solving is where your security teams deliver the greatest value to the business—this is where their focus should be.

Establishing reliable functional practices is critical to ensure that your IoT deployment can meet the challenges of today’s threat landscape. You can outsource functional practices to qualified partners or vendors to gain access to security expertise that will multiply your team’s effectiveness and quickly ramp up your IoT operations with far less risk.

When considering partners and vendors, find solutions that deliver these essential capabilities:

Holistic security design—IoT device security is difficult. To do it properly requires the expertise to stitch hardware, software, and services into gap-free security systems. A pre-integrated, off-the-shelf solution is likely more cost-effective and more secure than a proprietary solution, and it allows you to leverage the expertise of functional security experts that work across organizations and have a bird’s-eye view of security needs and threats.

Threat mitigation—To maintain device security over time, ongoing security expertise is needed to identify threats and develop device updates to mitigate new threats as they emerge. This isn’t a part-time job. It requires dedicated resources immersed in the threat landscape and who can rapidly implement mitigation strategies. Attackers are creative and determined, the effort to stop them needs to be appropriately matched.

Update deploymentWithout the right infrastructure and dedicated operational hygiene, organizations commonly postpone or deprioritize security updates. Look for providers that streamline or automate the delivery and deployment of updates. Because zero-day attacks require quick action, the ability to update a global fleet of devices in hours is a must.

When you build your IoT deployment on a secure platform, you can transform the way you do business: reduce costs, streamline operations, light up new business models, and deliver more value to your customers. We believe security is the foundation for lasting innovation that will continue to deliver value to your business and customers long into the future. With this in mind, we designed Microsoft Azure Sphere as a secured platform on which you can confidently build and deploy your IoT environment.

Azure Sphere is an end-to-end solution for securely connecting existing equipment and creating new IoT devices with built-in security. Azure Sphere’s integrated security spans hardware, software, and cloud, and delivers active security by default with ongoing OS and security updates that put the power of Microsoft’s expertise to work for you every day.

With Azure Sphere, you can design and create innately secured IoT devices, as well as securely connect your existing mission-critical equipment. Connecting equipment for the first time can introduce incredible value to the business—as long as security is in place.

Through a partnership with Azure Sphere, Starbucks is connecting essential coffee equipment in stores around the globe for the first time. The secured IoT implementation is helping Starbucks improve their customer experience, realize operational efficiency, and drive cost savings. To see how they accomplished this, watch the session I held with Jeff Wile, Starbucks CIO of Digital Customer and Retail Technology, at Microsoft Ignite 2019.

Learn more

With a secured platform for IoT devices, imagination is the only limit to what innovation can achieve. I encourage you to read Secure your IoT deployment during the security talent shortage to learn more about how you can build comprehensive, defense-in-depth security for your IoT initiatives, so you can focus on what you’re in business to do.

Also, bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters and follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

Azure Sphere

A comprehensive IoT security solution—including hardware, OS, and cloud components—to help you innovate with confidence.

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The post How to secure your IoT deployment during the security talent shortage appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Categories: Azure Security, IoT, Threat protection Tags:

Welcome to the second stage of BlueHat!

October 24th, 2019 No comments

We’ve finished two incredible days of security trainings at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle. Now it’s time for the second part of BlueHat: the briefings at ShowBox SoDo. We’ve got a big day planned, so head on down. Please join us for breakfast (we have doughnuts! and bacon! and cereal!) when the doors open …

Welcome to the second stage of BlueHat! Read More »

The post Welcome to the second stage of BlueHat! appeared first on Microsoft Security Response Center.

Building the Azure IoT Edge Security Daemon in Rust

September 30th, 2019 No comments

Azure IoT Edge is an open source, cross platform software project from the Azure IoT team at Microsoft that seeks to solve the problem of managing distribution of compute to the edge of your on-premise network from the cloud. This post explains some of the rationale behind our choice of Rust as the implementation programming …

Building the Azure IoT Edge Security Daemon in Rust Read More »

The post Building the Azure IoT Edge Security Daemon in Rust appeared first on Microsoft Security Response Center.

Top security trends in IoT

The continuous connection of smart devices across networks, commonly called the Internet of Things (IoT) is driving a transformation in how enterprises all over the world manage network infrastructure and digital identities.

With such rapid change comes new cybersecurity challenges. Many organizations are hesitant to tap into the power of the IoT due to the complexities and risk associated with managing such a diverse – and sometimes unclear – environment. But it is possible to secure your networks, enhance productivity, and protect customers in this evolving digital landscape.

IoT security doesn’t have to be overwhelming. But it does require a proactive and strategic mindset, and the first step is to understand IoT security trends.

Top trends

IoT offers an expanding horizon of opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored due to security concerns. With foresight into these current trends, practical planning, and persistence implementation, you can move your organization vision for IoT forward with confidence in your security practices.

For insights to help you improve your security posture, visit us at Microsoft Secure.

Categories: cybersecurity, IoT, security, Trends Tags:

Managing cloud security: Four key questions to evaluate your security position

As cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to transform the global economy, businesses recognize that securing enterprise data must be viewed as an ongoing process. Securing the ever-expanding volume, variety, and sources of data is not easy; however, with an adaptive mindset, you can achieve persistent and effective cloud security.

The first step is knowing the key risk areas in cloud computing and IoT processes and assessing whether and where your organization may be exposed to data leaks. File sharing solutions improve the way people collaborate but pose a serious point of vulnerability. Mobile workforces decentralize data storage and dissolve traditional business perimeters.

SaaS solutions turn authentication and user identification into an always-on and always-changing topic. Second, it’s worth developing the habit—if you haven’t already—of reviewing and adapting cloud security strategy as an ongoing capability. To that end, here are eight key questions to revisit regularly, four of which we dive deeper into below.

 

Is your security budget scaling appropriately?

Security teams routinely manage numerous security solutions on a daily basis and typically monitor thousands of security alerts. At the same time, they need to keep rapid response practices sharp and ready for deployment in case of a breach. Organizations must regularly verify that sufficient funds are allocated to cover day-to-day security operations as well as rapid, ad hoc responses if and when a breach is detected.

Do you have both visibility into and control of critical business data?

With potential revenue loss from a single breach in the tens of millions of dollars, preventing data leaks is a central pillar of cloud security strategy. Regularly review how, when, where, and by whom your business data is being accessed. Monitoring whether permissions are appropriate for a user’s role and responsibilities as well as for different types of data must be constant.

Are you monitoring shadow IT adequately?

Today, the average employee uses 17 cloud apps, and mobile users access company resources from a wide variety of locations and devices. Remote and mobile work coupled with the increasing variety of cloud-based solutions (often free) raises concerns that traditional on-premises security tools and policies may not provide the level of visibility and control you need. Check whether you can identify mobile device and cloud application users on your network, and monitor changes in usage behavior. To mitigate risks of an accidental data breach, teach current and onboarding employees your organization’s best practices for using ad hoc apps and access.

Is your remote access security policy keeping up?

Traditional remote access technologies build a direct channel between external users and your apps, and that makes it risky to publish internal apps to external users. Your organization needs a secure remote access strategy that will help you manage and protect corporate resources as cloud solutions, platforms, and infrastructures evolve. Consider using automated and adaptive policies to reduce time and resources needed to identify and validate risks.

Checklist

These are just a few questions to get you thinking about recursive, adaptive cloud security. Stay on top of your security game by visiting resources on Microsoft Secure.

Categories: Cloud Computing, IoT, SaaS, security Tags:

ABB Automation & Power World 2015 – Cybersecurity in the evolving threat landscape

March 12th, 2015 No comments

In early March, I had the fortunate opportunity to speak at the ABB Automation & Power World 2015 conference in Houston, TX. This event is like a “Disneyland” for critical infrastructure providers (CIPs)!

This was my first time attending the bi-annual event and I was blown away by the innovative power and automation technologies that ABB and others had on display on the show floor—everything from electric cars to the latest in robotics.

ABB Event

Markus Braendle and Tim Rains being introduced at the ABB Automation & Power World 2015 event.

I was also impressed with the level of interest that so many CIPs had around cybersecurity and the adoption of cloud services. The general session I spoke to had a couple thousand people in attendance. During this lunchtime presentation, I spoke about the impact of cybersecurity in the ever-evolving threat landscape, and how we think the Internet will transform over the next 10 years. I showed the audience how the Microsoft Digital Crime Unit uses big data analytics to take down botnets, helping make the Internet a safer place for everyone, including CIPs. Markus Braendle, Group Head of Cyber Security at ABB, moderated audience questions and provided his own great industry insights. Questions around the threat landscape, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and risk management proved to me that cybersecurity is top of mind for this critical industry.

Key themes I heard from the audience during the session included:

  • How adopting cloud services increases the security protections for most organizations and helps them maintain compliance,
  • The security considerations for IoT,
  • How a risk-based management approach helps minimize the emotions that often accompanies security conversations,
  • Best practices for working with security researchers, and
  • Today’s attackers, their evolved motivations, and the difficulty of attribution.