Archive for June, 2017

Security Data Scientists Without Borders – Thoughts from our first Colloquium

The move to the cloud is changing the security landscape. As a result, there is a surging interest in applying data-driven methods to security. In fact, there is a growing community of talented people focused on security data science. We’ve been shedding our respective “badges” and meeting informally for years, but recently decided to see how much progress we might make against some of our bigger challenges with a more structured and formal exchange of ideas in Redmond. The results far exceeded our expectations. Here’s a bit of what we learned.

The first thing to understand is that academia and industry both focus largely on security detection, but the emphasis is almost always on the algorithmic machinery powering the systems. We at Microsoft are transparent with our algorithm research and in fact are the only cloud provider to openly share the machine learning algorithms securing our cloud service. In order to build on that research and learn more about best practices for putting security data science solutions in production, we reached out to our peers in the industry.

We started by meeting with some friends at Google to swap ideas for keeping our cloud services and mutual customers secure. That one-time exercise proved so valuable that it soon turned into a recurring meeting wherein we learned that despite different approaches to data modeling, we face similar challenges. Last week, we opened the doors at Microsoft to the broader community. At first, we weren’t sure if companies would take us up the offer to discuss security data science issues in the open – nothing could have been farther from the truth. We quickly had delegates from Facebook, Salesforce, Crowdstrike, Google, LinkedIn, Endgame, Sqrrl, the Federal Reserve and researchers from the University of Washington. What was supposed to be an hour-long meetup, morphed into a full-blown conference – so much so, we had to give it a name – “Security Data Science Colloquium”.

The goal of the colloquium was simple: share learnings of how different cloud providers/services secure their systems using machine learning. No NDAs, no complicated back and forth paperwork. Our only constraint: keep it technical and be honest. This way, we could ensure that that the 300+ applied Machine Learning (ML) engineers, security analysts, and incident responders who signed up, had a collaborative environment to discuss freely!

Security Data Science > Security + Data Science

Operationalizing security and machine learning solutions is tricky, not only because security data science solutions are inherently complex from both fields, but also because their intersection poses new challenges. For instance, compliance restrictions that dictate data cannot be exported from specific geographic locations have a downstream effect on model design, deployment, evaluation, and management strategies (a data science constraint). As Adam Fuchs, CTO of Sqrrl, pointed out in his lecture, this complicated machinery requires a variety of actors to land an operational solution: threat hunters, data scientists, computer scientists and security analysts, in addition to the standard development crew of program managers, developers and service engineers.

Security Data Scientists ❤ Rules

To quote Sven Krasser (@SvenKrasser), Chief Scientist at Crowdstrike, “Rules are awesome”. This may come as a surprise to machine learning puritans who have long berated rules as futile tools. But as Sven noted in his talk, rules are very good at finding known maliciousness and we as a community must not shy away from them. During our smaller brainstorm discussions, we discussed various ways to combine rules and machine learning. For instance, at Microsoft, we have had success in using Markov Logic Networks to combine the domain knowledge of our security analysts and model them into probabilistic graphs.

Adversarial Machine Learning is Mainstream and We Don’t Know How to Solve It

Hyrum Anderson (@drhyrum) and Robert Filar’s (@filar) riveting talk on how adversaries can subvert machine learning solutions made defenders in the room uncomfortable (in a good way!). They showed different ways that attackers can successfully manipulate machine learning models, from partial to no access to the system. While instances of such attacks have been known since spammers have tried to evade detection, or when adversaries attempt to dodge antivirus systems, the biggest takeaway here is the Machine learning current system, like any system, is susceptible to attacks. For instance, attackers can use the labels alert outputs, or the decision label (such as malware or not), and work around these defenses. While this has been happening for some time, the game changer is that this feedback is instantaneous: the data that was designed as a way for defenders to act swiftly is now exploited by attackers. Research in this area is nascent, and we still don’t know how to bridge this gap.

Call for standardization and benchmarks

At our breakout sessions, we heard the need for a standardized benchmark dataset à la ImageNet – for instance, how do we know if the newest detection for anomalous process creation performs under various test cases. An interesting observation made by the “Security Platform” discussion group, was the need for something along the lines of “GitHub for feature engineering”. They reckoned that many teams waste time managing feature pipelines and sometimes re-computing the same feature, and wanted an effective management system that will make teams more efficient and code more maintainable.

The colloquium, thanks to the enthusiastic participation of our peers, ended up as a marketplace of security data science ideas – we discussed, agreed, and challenged one another with the intention of learning. My favorite quote about the conference, comes from a Salesforce participant, who remarked “we are all batting for the same team”. It particularly resonated with me, because despite our organizational boundaries, we all have a common goal: protect our customers from adversaries.

This is our commitment to share what we have learned – success and failures, so that you don’t have to waste time going down the wrong path. Given the overwhelming support from the security analytics community, my colleagues have already started planning on the next edition of the colloquium. If you are interested in participating, have ideas to make it better, or want to lend a helping hand in organizing, drop a note at or reach out to me on Twitter – @ram_ssk.

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What are Confidence building measures (CBMs) and how can they improve cybersecurity?

June 29th, 2017 No comments

Cyberspace security is too often viewed through a prism of technological terms and concepts. In my experience, even supposedly non-technical discussions of cyberspace quickly devolve into heated debates about “vulnerability coordination”, “the latest malware”, “the best analytical tools”, “threat information sharing”, and so on. While these are interesting and important topics, it is ultimately people and their personal perspectives – not technology – that largely shape governments’ political, diplomatic and military choices in cyberspace.

At the heart of government’s “human” decision-making in cyberspace are understanding and trust. The two are not the same. It’s possible for one state to understand another’s capabilities in cyberspace but not to trust their intentions. The reverse is also true, with trust existing outside of understanding another’s capabilities. But, by and large, some level of understanding about what another state can and can’t do in cyberspace should at least reduce distrust. And that can help governments make rational judgments about each other’s behaviors as well as de-escalate tensions between and among states.

One significant complication in building understanding and diffusing distrust is the fact that many systems useful in cyber-defense can also be used in cyber-offense. When a state invests in cyber to defend itself, its rivals might instead see a growth in offensive capabilities. This is not a question of technical understanding but rather of reading the intent of others. A very human response to someone seemingly gearing up for conflict is to build at the very least one’s own defenses (and to, potentially, even increase one’s offensive as well as retaliatory capabilities). Such a move is, however, equally liable to misinterpretation by others. Thus, escalation spreads, trust evaporates, and distrust balloons, leaving cyberspace, on which so much of modern life depends, akin to a powder keg, ready to explode. The potential for a cyber arms race is as real as it is dangerous.

An essential response to this critical challenge is the use of confidence building measures (CBMs) between states. Today, CBMs are still generally seen as vectors for instilling good cybersecurity practices, especially during a country’s early entry into cyberspace. Certainly, CBMs can help such countries counter the threat of cybercrime, and can also help promote international consistency in cybersecurity approaches, which is an essential part of combating cybercrime. However, CBMs are much more than this.

Coming of age under the threat of Cold War nuclear annihilation, CBMs enable states to minimize exactly the kind of misunderstandings that fuel distrust and exacerbate tensions. In many ways, they are akin to pressure valves for states to use before a situation escalates into conflict. CBMs can help states step back from thinking, “We need to get our cyber-retaliation in first”. They may not lead directly to trust but what they provide is manifestly better than its absence. They have a manifest role to play in ensuring the safety and stability of cyberspace by reducing the risk of cyberwar from breaking out. As such, they can be a necessary prerequisite to building trust.

CBMs are already being built into critical state-to-state cyberspace agreements. The UNGGE 2015 (voluntary) norms placed CBMs at the core of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. In the UNGGE’s words, they “allow the international community to assess the activities and intention of States”. That assessment of actions and intent is absolutely essential to addressing the human perspective. The UNGGE leveraged previous work done in the framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), namely its 2013 CBMs. In this respect, it is significant that just last year the OSCE expanded on its CBM work precisely because, “events in cyberspace often leave room for ambiguity, speculation and misunderstanding. The worry is that miscalculations and misperceptions between states arising from activities in cyberspace could escalate, leading to serious consequences for citizens as well as for the economy and administration, and potentially fueling political tensions.”

A failure to mature and refine CBMs globally adds to distrust and militarization in cyberspace, i.e. the aforementioned cyber arms race. The consequences of the “miscalculations and misperceptions” that the OSCE warned of can easily move from the virtual world to the real one. For example, 2010’s so-called “Pakistan-India cyberwar” saw “cyber armies” from each country vandalizing official websites, exacerbating serious diplomatic and military tensions after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Furthermore, recent tensions between parts of the West and Russia, North Korea or even China all feature strong elements of “cyber-distrust”. The danger, of course, is that once there is “cyber-distrust” among states it is likely spread into other spheres, if left unchecked, and vice versa.

So, if the human perspective matters at least as much as the technology when it comes to government decision-making about cyberspace, all parties should take every opportunity to promote understanding and reduced distrust between states. We should use whatever tools seem most appropriate to do so, . CBMs are essential in this regard. They are and remain a key tool in the cyber peacebuilder’s toolkit.


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4033453 – Vulnerability in Azure AD Connect Could Allow Elevation of Privilege – Version: 1.0

Revision Note: V1.0 (June 27, 2017): Advisory published.
Summary: Microsoft is releasing this security advisory to inform customers that a new version of Azure Active Directory (AD) Connect is available that addresses an Important security vulnerability.

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4033453 – Vulnerability in Azure AD Connect Could Allow Elevation of Privilege – Version: 1.0

Revision Note: V1.0 (June 27, 2017): Advisory published.
Summary: Microsoft is releasing this security advisory to inform customers that a new version of Azure Active Directory (AD) Connect is available that addresses an Important security vulnerability.

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Tips for protecting your information and privacy against cybersecurity threats

This post is authored by Steven Meyers, security operations principal, Microsoft Cyber Defense Operations Center.

Introducing a new video on best practices from the Microsoft Cyber Defense Operations Center

In 2016, 4.2+ billion records were stolen by hackers. The number of cyberattacks and breaches in 2017 have risen 30 percent.

The business sector leads in the number of records compromised so far, with more than 7.5 million exposed records in 420 reported incidents. These cybercrimes are often intended for financial gain, such as opening a fraudulent credit card or accessing a company’s financial records. Today, a growing market exists in the dark web for selling credentials and sensitive information to other cybercriminals.

To help Protect your information and privacy against cyberthreats, the Microsoft Cyber Defense Operations Center has published a series of best practices videos that will help consumers, businesses and organizations enable a safer online environment. This video shares some of the policies and practices that can be used to better protect information and privacy inside and outside of your operational perimeters.

Protection starts with classifying information and then putting appropriate protections in place based on its value. Some information is meant to be public, some data is sensitive but not highly valued to outside entities, but some data is mission critical and/or could cause tremendous financial hardship if shared externally.

Cybersecurity technologies and policies such as multifactor authentication, the principles of least privilege access, just-in-time-and just-enough administrator access, and Microsoft’s cybersecurity products and services can help safeguard access to data and applications.

Some cybersecurity tips discussed include:

  • Classifying emails and data according to their level of sensitivity
  • Employing multifactor authentication for access to sensitive information
  • Only providing administrator access to individuals for the time needed to complete a task
  • Restricting access to only the information needed for the task
  • Keeping your software up-to-date

Please take a few minutes to watch the video and share it with your colleagues, friends and family. We all need to be diligent in the face of this growing and ever-more sophisticated threat.

Also, be sure to watch part one of the video series, Protecting your identity from cybersecurity threats. Check back next week for our third video, Protecting your devices from cybersecurity threats.

Additional resources:

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Tips for securing your identity against cybersecurity threats

This post is authored by Simon Pope, Principal Security Group Manager, Microsoft Security Response Center.

Introducing new video on best practices from the Microsoft Cyber Defense Operations Center

Ask any CISO or cybersecurity professional about their greatest security challenge, and it’s a good chance the answer will be “the actions of our people.”

While virtually all employees, contractors, and partners have the best of intentions, the fact is that protecting their online credentials, identifying and avoiding phishing scams, and evading cybercriminals is getting more difficult each day. More of our time each day is spent online, and as more financial transactions and social activities are conducted online, adversaries are becoming ever-more sophisticated in their cyberattacks.

Microsoft faces these same threats, and we have made deep investments in training our people to be more aware and diligent in the face of such dangers. Our cybersecurity success depends on our customers’ trust in our products and services, and their confidence that they can be safe on the internet. To help keep our customers and the global online community safe, we want to share some of our Cyber Defense Operations Center’s best practices for Securing your identity against cybersecurity threats in this video.

In this video, we discuss some best practices around securing your identity, such as avoiding social engineering scams that trick people into giving up their most sensitive secrets, recognizing phishing emails that falsely represent legitimate communications, and how to spot false impersonations of your trusted colleagues or friends. We also discuss some of the types of information you don’t want to share broadly (i.e. credentials, financial information and passwords), and tips for protecting your sensitive data.

Some cybersecurity tips that we discuss include:

  • Be vigilant against phishing emails
  • Be cautious when sharing sensitive information
  • Don’t automatically trust emails from people you know, it may not be from them
  • Keep your software up-to-date

Please take a few minutes to watch the video and share it with your colleagues, friends and family. We all need to be diligent in the face of this growing and ever-more sophisticated threat. And check back next week for our second video on Protecting your devices from cybersecurity threats, and in two weeks, we will share more on Protecting your information and data from cybersecurity threats on the Microsoft Secure blog.

Additional resources:

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TLS 1.2 support at Microsoft

This post is authored by Andrew Marshall, Principal Security Program Manager, Trustworthy Computing Security.

In support of our commitment to use best-in-class encryption, Microsoft’s engineering teams are continually upgrading our cryptographic infrastructure. A current area of focus for us is support for TLS 1.2, this involves not only removing the technical hurdles to deprecating older security protocols, but also minimizing the customer impact of these changes. To share our recent experiences in engaging with this work we are today announcing the publication of the “Solving the TLS 1.0 Problem” whitepaper to aid customers in removing dependencies on TLS 1.0/1.1. Microsoft is also working on new functionality to help you assess the impact to your own customers when making these changes.

What can I do today?

Microsoft recommends customers proactively address weak TLS usage by removing TLS 1.0/1.1 dependencies in their environments and disabling TLS 1.0/1.1 at the operating system level where possible. Given the length of time TLS 1.0/1.1 has been supported by the software industry, it is highly recommended that any TLS 1.0/1.1 deprecation plan include the following:

  • Application code analysis to find/fix hardcoded instances of TLS 1.0/1.1.
  • Network endpoint scanning and traffic analysis to identify operating systems using TLS 1.0/1.1 or older protocols.
  • Full regression testing through your entire application stack with TLS 1.0/1.1 and all older security protocols disabled.
  • Migration of legacy operating systems and development libraries/frameworks to versions capable of negotiating TLS 1.2.
  • Compatibility testing across operating systems used by your business to identify any TLS 1.2 support issues.
  • Coordination with your own business partners and customers to notify them of your move to deprecate TLS 1.0/1.1.
  • Understanding which clients may be broken by disabling TLS 1.0/1.1.

Coming soon

To help customers deploy the latest security protocols, we are announcing today that Microsoft will provide support for TLS 1.2 in Windows Server 2008 later this summer.

In conclusion

Learn more about removing dependencies on TLS 1.0/1.1 with this helpful resource:
Solving the TLS 1.0 Problemwhitepaper.

Stay tuned for upcoming feature announcements in support of this work.

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Cybercrime and freedom of speech – A counterproductive entanglement

This post is authored by Gene Burrus, Assistant General Counsel.

As cybercrime becomes ever more pervasive, the need for states to devote law enforcement resources to battling the problem is apparent. However, states should beware using cybercrime legislation and enforcement resources as a vehicle for restricting speech or controlling content. Doing so risks complicating essential international cooperation and will risk de-legitimizing cybercrime legislation and enforcement. With the growing need for enforcement to thwart cybercriminals, without which the economic and social opportunities of the Internet may well flounder, using “cybercrime” as a label for attacking speech and controlling content may only serve to dilute support, divert resources, and make international cooperation more difficult.

At present over 95 countries either have or are working on cybercrime legislation. This is a good thing, as the more states that have cybercrime laws, especially laws that are largely harmonized to better enable international cooperation, the better for everyone (except the criminals). Cybercrime thrives across borders and between jurisdictions, relying on the internet’s global reach and anonymity, but if cybercriminals are based in a country without adequate cybercrime laws, it becomes even harder to bring them to justice. But defining cybercrime properly is important.

Cybercrime is a word we have all encountered more of in recent years. It tends, rightly so, to bring to mind “hackers”, infiltrating computer systems and disrupting them or stealing from them. However , most cybercrime statutes are actually broader than that. They also cover a whole slew of criminal activity mediated by information communication technology (ICT). They deal with the theft of personal information, from credit card details to social security numbers, which can be used for fraud. It includes acts against property, albeit virtual property, from simple vandalism to sophisticated ransomware. (If “virtual property” sounds too abstract to be a concern, bear in mind that this is the form in which many of our most valuable ideas, from patented designs and trade secrets to copyrighted creative material, are now to be found.) It will increasingly bleed into the real world too, thanks to devices connected to the Internet (will cybercriminals soon be stealing self-drive cars through the Internet of Things?) and due to attacks on critical infrastructures such as power grids (which will also affect issues of national security).

This broad swathe of cybercrime is widely accepted to be “a bad thing” by most governments and on that basis, cooperation among and between governments in pursuing cybercriminals is possible.

However, many countries’ cybercrime legislation also categorizes publishing or transmission of illegal content in a particular country via computer networks or the internet as “cybercrime”. And on this, countries are not in wide agreement. When state’s laws criminalize content that other countries don’t recognize as criminal, and then devote cybercrime enforcement resources to chasing this kind of “crime” rather than what people generally think of as cybercrime, it complicates or prevents international cooperation, discredits cybercrime legislation and enforcement efforts, and diverts resources from solving the serious problem of cybercrime. While there is certainly content that is universally reviled, i.e. child pornography, there are many disagreements about the creation and dissemination of other content, e.g. political materials or art work. For some states, free speech is an exceptionally important principle. For others, the control of offensive or dangerous content is essential. Achieving agreement on how to approach these differences is, frankly, going to be a challenge. Once again the Budapest Convention provides a salient example. In 2006, the Convention was added to by a Protocol that criminalized acts spreading racist and xenophobic content. Even some states that signed up to and ratified the original Convention have proved reluctant to add themselves to the Protocol. This is almost certainly not because of they approve of racist or xenophobic content, it’s simply a complicated issue in the context of their own laws or their perspectives on free speech or legal sovereignty.

If these kinds of disagreements are expanded across other types of content and then brought into the heart of global cooperation against cybercrime, the whole process runs a serious risk of breaking down. States may well be unwilling to cooperate in cybercrime investigations, fearing they might expose people whose actions are in no way criminal by their own standards. And, once again, the only ones to benefit will be the cybercriminals who can play off jurisdictions against one another, ducking and diving across borders and through gaps in legal enforcement.

In many ways, the “cyber” in these “content crimes” is just about distribution and they do not have to be included in cybercrime statutes and enforcement efforts. Because states have different types of speech they want to regulate and different levels free speech they are willing to tolerate, these issues need to be kept separate from efforts to address what everyone agrees on as cybercrime: attacks on data, on property, on infrastructure. Crimes of content creation and distribution, beyond the most universally reviled such as child exploitation, should be dealt with outside of the essential cooperation on cybercrime itself. This will allow governments to work together globally to protect citizens, businesses and their own national security from cybercriminals.

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MS16-AUG – Microsoft Security Bulletin Summary for August 2016 – Version:

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MS16-095 – Critical: Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (3177356) – Version: 2.0

Severity Rating: Critical
Revision Note: V2.0 (June 13, 2017): To comprehensively address CVE-2016-3326, Microsoft is releasing June security updates for all affected Microsoft browsers. Microsoft recommends that customers running affected Microsoft browsers should install the applicable June security update to be fully protected from this vulnerability. See the applicable Release Notes or Microsoft Knowledge Base article for more information.
Summary: This security update resolves vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. The most severe of the vulnerabilities could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted webpage using Internet Explorer. An attacker who successfully exploited the vulnerabilities could gain the same user rights as the current user. If the current user is logged on with administrative user rights, an attacker could take control of an affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.

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4025685 – Guidance related to June 2017 security update release – Version: 1.0

Revision Note: V1.0 (June 13, 2017): Advisory published
Summary: Microsoft is announcing the availability of additional guidance for critical security updates, that are at heightened risk of exploitation due to past and threatened nation-state attacks and disclosures. Some of the releases are new, and some are for older platforms that we are making publicly available today.

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MS16-AUG – Microsoft Security Bulletin Summary for August 2016 – Version:

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MS16-095 – Critical: Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (3177356) – Version: 2.0

Severity Rating: Critical
Revision Note: V2.0 (June 13, 2017): To comprehensively address CVE-2016-3326, Microsoft is releasing June security updates for all affected Microsoft browsers. Microsoft recommends that customers running affected Microsoft browsers should install the applicable June security update to be fully protected from this vulnerability. See the applicable Release Notes or Microsoft Knowledge Base article for more information.
Summary: This security update resolves vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. The most severe of the vulnerabilities could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted webpage using Internet Explorer. An attacker who successfully exploited the vulnerabilities could gain the same user rights as the current user. If the current user is logged on with administrative user rights, an attacker could take control of an affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.

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4025685 – Guidance related to June 2017 security update release – Version: 1.0

Revision Note: V1.0 (June 13, 2017): Advisory published
Summary: Microsoft is announcing the availability of additional guidance for critical security updates, that are at heightened risk of exploitation due to past and threatened nation-state attacks and disclosures. Some of the releases are new, and some are for older platforms that we are making publicly available today.

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The CISO Perspective: Putting lessons from WannaCrypt into practice to avoid future threats

This post is authored by Bret Arsenault, Corporate Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer.

Last month, customers and companies around the world were impacted by the WannaCrypt ransomware attack. Even those not impacted are assessing their risk and taking steps to help prevent such attacks. For everyone, including Microsoft, the attack is a stark reminder of the need for continued focus on security and proven operational techniques. So, after many conversations with my peers in the industry about the attacks in recent weeks and the steps we are each taking to better protect our environments, I wanted to share the common themes that have emerged. I’ve included best practices, technologies and links to more information.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it is a helpful starting point for those looking for more guidance on how to help protect their environments from present and future threats:

  1. Implement robust update deployment technologies and operational practices so you can deploy updates as consistently and quickly as possible. Companies with complex deployment needs might consider working with IBM BigFix, Landesk/Ivanti, or Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager. Our customers can use Windows Update and Windows Update for Business, free of charge. (This is a multi-faceted issue so I’ve added more thoughts below.)
  2. Limit the impact of email as an infection vector. This is particularly important given that more than 90% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email. Developing strong user education and awareness programs can help individual employees identify and avoid phishing emails. Barracuda, FireEye, and Office 365’s Exchange Online Protection and Advanced Threat Protection all provide technology to help prevent phishing and spam emails and other links to malware from getting through to your users.
  3. Ensure the broad deployment of up-to-date anti-malware software. Solutions from industry partners like those in the Microsoft Active Protections Program, as well as technologies like Windows Defender and Advanced Threat Protection, can help protect users and systems from attacks and exploits.
  4. Implement protected backups in the cloud or on-premises, also known as a data protection service. Having multiple versions of your data backed up and protected by measures such as dual factor authentication is a critical layer of protection to help prevent ransomware or malware from compromising your data. Companies can look to vendors like NetApp, CommVault, or Microsoft with Azure Backup for solutions.
  5. Implement multi-factor authentication to protect user identities and minimize the probability of unauthorized access to company resources and data with technologies like RSA SecurID, Ping Identity, Microsoft Authenticator and Windows Hello.
  6. Improve your team’s situational awareness and response capability across your enterprise all the way to the cloud. Cybersecurity attacks are increasingly complex, so businesses need a holistic view of their environment, vulnerability, real-time threat detection, and ideally, the ability to quarantine compromised users and systems. Several companies offer cutting edge capabilities in this regard, including Qualys, Tenable, Rapid7 and Microsoft’s own Azure Security Center and Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (WDATP).
  7. Store and analyze your logs to track where an infection starts, how far into your enterprise it went and how to remediate it. Splunk, ArcSight, IBM and Microsoft with our Operations Management Suite – Security all offer capabilities in this area.

Keeping systems up to date is critical so I want to share a few more thoughts about how we approach it as part of our overall security posture. First, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. A comprehensive approach to operational security – with layers of offense and defense – is critical because attackers will go after every chink in your armor they can find. That said, updating can be difficult in complex environments, and admittedly no environment is 100% secure, but keeping your software up to date is still the number one way to stay secure in a world of motivated attackers and constantly evolving threats.

In terms of how we approach patching and updating at Microsoft, I’m fortunate to have passionate teams working around the clock to limit the impact of infections and update vulnerable systems as quickly as possible. I also know that the Windows team works hard to ensure that they consistently deliver high quality updates that can be trusted by hundreds of millions of users. They conduct thousands of manual and automated tests that cover the core Windows functionality, the most popular and critical applications used by our customers, and the APIs used by our broad ecosystem of Windows apps and developers. The team also reasons over the data, problem and usage reports received from hundreds of millions of devices and triages that real world usage information to proactively understand and fix application compatibility issues as quickly as possible. With all of this context in mind, I want to acknowledge that even more work is needed to make updates easier to deploy and we have teams across the company hard at work improving the experience.

Whether you are a vendor like Microsoft or one of the billions of businesses who count on IT to function, security is a journey, not a destination. That means constant vigilance is required. I hope you find this information helpful on your own journey and as you assess you readiness in light of recent attacks.

You can read more about the WannaCrypt attack in the MSRC Blog, as well as Microsoft President Brad’s Smiths perspective on the need for collaboration across industry, government and customers to improve cybersecurity. Visit our Get Secure, Stay Secure page regularly for additional guidance, including new insights on ransomware prevention in Windows 10.

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Cross-border cooperation: The road to a more stable and secure Internet

June 8th, 2017 No comments

Australia and China have recently agreed to strengthen their bilateral cooperation in cybersecurity. Cooperation between states on cybersecurity is essential in order to combat cross-border cybercrime and to reduce the risks of inter-state cyberwar. Bilateral cybersecurity agreements between states can help build that cooperation. The real goal, however, should be to achieve multi-lateral consensus and agreement as a basis for a much needed Digital Geneva Convention.

The internet is a multi-stakeholder environment. Not only has it become central to businesses and individuals that operate across borders, but thanks to cyberspace the interactions of states are no longer as constrained by geography as they once. A network of bilateral agreements between multiple states can attempt to model that complexity and depth of relationships. However, differences between individual agreements and gaps of coverage between certain states that have no agreements can be exploited by cybercriminals and can also promote misunderstanding or mistrust between states. Multilateral approaches avoid this problem by creating a single, coherent approach, although they are harder to organize, as reconciling the needs and concerns of multiple states is not straightforward.

The Australia-China deal is a good thing, as both countries are undertaking to not conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property (IP), trade secrets, etc. with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage. It echoes the US-China cyber agreement in many ways, which has been credited with a decline in attacks on the US emanating from China (notably those attacks have not stopped altogether).

Significantly Australia and China were clear that alongside their bilateral agreement they would observe  multilateral “norms of behavior” that were created in July 2015 by the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE). These norms are the culmination of work over many years (with key reports in 2010 and 2013) to build a genuine international consensus on what responsible states should do and not do in cyberspace. They, and the work the UNGGE has continued to do since then, are extraordinarily important for delivering a workable Digital Geneva Convention.

The UNGGE is preparing for a further report in September of this year, which should be another important step on the road to a more stable and secure Internet. It is not the only international group helping to shape how states behave in cyberspace, and when you look at the range of organizations involved you can begin to detect a broad momentum towards a genuine multilateral agreement on cyberspace. Since 2013 the OSCE, for example, has worked through a series of confidence building measure (CBMs) that should enable states to minimize the risks of misunderstandings and reduce their fear of attack via cyberspace. Equally significant, in early April 2017 the G7 made a major declaration on responsible states behavior in cyberspace, calling explicitly on governments active in cyberspace to abide by laws, to respect norms of behavior, and to foster trust and confidence with other states.

Outside of the “West”, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has made its own contributions, which were built on by the Sino-Russian cybersecurity agreement that emerged at around the same time as the bilateral US-China cybersecurity deal, with a similar bilateral pledge not to hack one another. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) has also stepped up its engagement with the state-to-state engagement in cyberspace, running an ASEAN Cyber Capacity Program (ACCP) that builds member states’ capacities, skills base and incident response capabilities. And another regional group, the Organization of American States (OAS), passed a resolution the only a few weeks ago that committed members to increasing cooperation, transparency, predictability and stability in cyberspace through alignment with the UNGGE’s work.

These states and international fora have to be given immense credit for laying the essential foundations for the next, pressing step: the creation of a binding, multilateral agreement between states that protects civilians and civilian infrastructure in cyberspace. In other words, a Digital Geneva Convention. Bilateral agreements, such as those between China and Australia, are helpful and important, of course, but the emphasis for all those involved in cyberspace should be to support the UNGGE and other multilateral fora as they work to create and spread rules, principles and norms for governing state behavior in cyberspace.

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NIST Cybersecurity Framework: Building on a foundation everyone should learn from

June 7th, 2017 No comments

On May 16-17, Microsoft participated in a workshop organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on its recently released Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (“Cybersecurity Framework”) Draft Version 1.1. It was a useful discussion, not least because it showed NIST’s continuing commitment to engage in genuine multi-stakeholder dialogue in the development of cybersecurity guidelines and risk management practices. As a colleague of mine wrote some time ago, “Proactive, structured engagements, using public consultation, open workshops with diverse stakeholders, including industry experts, and iterative drafts, really does yield products that are more relevant to the challenges at hand and useful to stakeholders.”

The topical additions to Draft Version 1.1 of the Framework, specifically supply chain security and cybersecurity metrics, show both the durability of the overall approach and its ability to accommodate evolving needs. However, changes must be incorporated in a way that preserves and strengthens the Framework’s broad usability. In particular, Microsoft identified two key areas that should be revised consistent with that goal:

  1. Approaches for understanding risk management posture and goals, including the measurement and metrics guidance, should be developed in supplementary documents rather than in the Framework itself because these approaches are not yet sufficiently stable nor adequately mature.
  2. Supply chain risk management should be integrated throughout the Core’s Subcategories and Informative References rather than within the Implementation Tiers to reduce confusion about how to use the Tiers.

Microsoft has supported the Framework since its inception, and it is integrated into our enterprise risk management program. It influences our security risk culture and informs how we communicate about security capability maturity across our senior management and with our Board of Directors. In conversations with customers, partners, and other industry stakeholders, Microsoft has learned that our positive experience is not unique. In fact, since 2014, the Framework has gained broad recognition as effective guidance for cybersecurity risk management due to its applicability across sectors and organizations of different sizes.

This broad usability has meant that the Framework has gained traction internationally. As governments around the world develop, update, and implement legislation, regulation, or guidelines to protect critical infrastructures, the Framework – as a cross-sector baseline to manage cybersecurity risks – can inform these national efforts and promote interoperability across jurisdictions. Italy and Australia, for example, have already done so.  But more can be done. Microsoft continues to advocate for the U.S. Government to promote use of the Framework domestically and abroad. There is not only an opportunity, but rather a need to internationalize the approach of the Framework. Greater use of will help to enhance cybersecurity across the globe, and importantly, advance economic growth.

To do so, the U.S. Government should promote the Framework globally as the keystone economic objective of this Administration’s international strategy and engagements on cyber. Its efforts should be coordinated across agencies and the opportunities afforded by their missions. For example, the Department of Commerce should highlight the benefits of interoperability to other countries’ economies and security in bilateral, multi-lateral, and regional trade missions and negotiations; NIST should move relevant parts of the Framework into an international standards body; and the State Department should translate the Framework into at least the six official languages of the United Nations and promote the Framework in bilateral engagements, regional and multilateral forums.

As a provider of technology products and services to more than one billion customers and around the world, Microsoft is immensely supportive of approaches such as the Cybersecurity Framework. We have collaborated with domestic and international partners on the Framework, and remain committed to working with industry and government to use, promote, and strengthen approaches that are based on both international standards and public-private dialogue and partnership, which this May’s workshop exemplified.

Microsoft submitted comments on Framework Draft Version 1.1.

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Three basic security hygiene tips from Microsoft’s Identity Team

This post is authored by Alex Weinert from the Identity Division’s Security and Protection Team.

Hey there!

I want to share three basic hygiene tips for account protection that every organization should consider. Applying these will go a long way in making sure that only the right users get into to their accounts (and all the things those accounts give access to). While there are many great security features available from Microsoft and our partners, in this blog post I am going to focus on three basic hygiene account security tasks:

  1. Ensure your users are registered and ready for multi-factor authentication (MFA) challenges;
  2. Detect and challenge risky logins; and
  3. Detect and change compromised credentials.

While these don’t guarantee you’ll never deal with account compromises, we find that in most cases implementing these simple practices would have prevented attackers from getting initial intrusion. For account security, it really is true that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So here is your “ounce of prevention.”

Basic hygiene part 1: Ensure your users are registered for MFA challenges

In a perfect world, no one would ever complete a multi-factor challenge. We would get rid of static rules (“MFA always”) which cause user friction, and replace them with perfect risk detection. Good users would never see MFA challenges – we’d always figure out we were working with a trusted person – and bad guys would never be able to solve them.

Alas, despite many years of hard work on the problem (and substantial improvements), we still have “false positives,” where the system detects risk on a login that belongs to a good user. This could be because

  • the person is travelling to a new location and on a new machine,
  • because they are remoting into a machine in a datacenter far away, or
  • because they are intentionally using anonymizing software and routing (such as TOR).

These are simple examples, but this “grey area” will exist even as our detection gets more sophisticated, because, unfortunately, the bad guys are evolving too. It is their job – through phishing, malware, and the use of botnets – to act more and more like the people whose accounts they are trying to hack. Because of that, we must be able to challenge when we aren’t sure they are good – and that will mean some false positives that challenge good users.

If your users aren’t set up for multi-factor authentication, then your security policy will effectively block them from signing in and doing their jobs. Now, good security enables better productivity, but when organizations (and individual users) are faced with the choice between security and productivity, they choose productivity. MFA readiness allows users to solve the occasional challenge from a false positive, which in turn allows you to have a great security posture. That is why a good MFA registration policy is first on our list for basic hygiene.

In Azure Active Directory, you can use Azure AD Identity Protection to set up a policy to cover your users for MFA registration. Azure AD MFA will allow MFA challenges using voice, SMS, push-notification, or OAUTH token challenges. The registration policy will offer whatever you have configured in Azure AD MFA.

To set up a registration policy with Azure AD Identity Protection, just look at the menu on the left, and under “Configure” choose “Multi-factor authentication registration”.

Once you do this, you can choose the users to include in the policy, see the current state of MFA registration in your organization, and enable the policy.

Now, when a user who hasn’t yet registered for MFA logs in, they will see this:

This process has a few major benefits:

  • The process is “self-help” and built into Azure Active Directory
  • Users can be challenged with multi-factor authentication whenever we see risk in the login
  • Users are familiarized with the process of receiving a challenge

Ok, now that everyone is registered, let’s put all this MFA goodness to work.

Basic hygiene part 2: Detect and challenge risky logins

There are many tools out there for telling you when a login has gone wrong, and a bad guy got in to your resources by pretending to be a good user. While helpful for forensics and improving your security posture for future events, the second step in your “Basic Hygiene” is to prevent bad guys from logging in at all. Azure Active Directory Identity Protection can detect risky logins in real time. Examples are logins from TOR browsers, new or impossible locations, or Botnet infected devices. To see the events impacting your organization, check the “Risk Events” area in Azure AD Identity Protection.

An unfortunate reality is that password leaks are happening daily (the biggest recorded breach was reported last week, at over 1B cred pairs), and 60% of people reuse their usernames and passwords. We detect and block tens of millions of credential replay attacks every day.

Our detection algorithms are based on our experience defending Microsoft’s consumer and enterprise assets, and the assets of our customers. They benefit from the supervised machine learning system which processes 20TB of data a day and self-adapts to new attack patterns, as well as many applied data scientists. Applying this evaluation to conditional access is your path to ensuring that bad actors are stopped in their tracks. That’s where Azure AD Conditional Access comes in. Azure AD Conditional Access is your Swiss army knife for making sure all logins are secure and compliant. It allows you to specify conditions of a login which impose more requirements before a resource can be accessed. With login risk assessment, you can apply a policy to challenge risky logins. Pick “Sign-in Risk Policy” and enable the policy.

With this policy enabled, you can apply a real-time intercept when risk is detected. The end user experience is as follows:

If a bad guy logs in (in this case, emulated from TOR):

The mobile app then gets the approval notification:

And the user simply doesn’t approve (or, if it *is* the good user, can get in), with the same approval process as previously described.

Basic hygiene part 3: Detect and challenge compromised credentials

Users regularly fall for phishing scams, get malware, reuse their credentials on other systems, and use easily guessed passwords. As a result, we see a lot of cases where we are confident that the valid user is not the only one in possession of their password.

If we are seeing a lot of attempted logins or bad activity in a login, or find your users’ credentials leaked on the black market, we notify you of this by setting the “User Risk” score, indicating a probability that the user’s password is known to a bad actor. You can see which users the system is detecting as “At Risk” and why in Azure AD Identity Protection under “Users flagged for risk”. Notice my account about mid-way down on the right is marked as being at medium risk with six events.

(Please note that for hybrid environment, our ability to detect leaked credentials from black market finds requires that you have enabled password hash sync from your on-premises environment to Azure AD.)

I am frequently asked if compromise of the password is significant if the user is configured for MFA – the answer is emphatically yes! Multi-factor authentication is multi-factor if it utilizes at least two different mechanisms (choosing from a secret you know, what you have, and what you are). If the password is compromised, then you really don’t have a valid secret anymore. So, once we detect a compromised credential, it is important to lock out that user until the credential can be remediated, or better, we can have the user change the password themselves as soon as they can do so safely (with MFA). We do this on our consumer (Microsoft account) side, and find that we can get the user to safely change their password before the bad guys have a chance to act about 80% of the time. Our investigations in the enterprise cases show roughly the same results in terms of stopping attacks even when the password is known to the attacker.

Here again, Azure AD Conditional Access is your friend. When the condition includes users at risk of compromised credentials, we can challenge for MFA and require a password change. Look for “User Risk Policy”. In this case, I have configured the policy to require password change when user credential risk is medium or above. For this to work, you need to be mastering your passwords in the cloud, so if you are in a hybrid deployment, be sure password writeback is enabled!

When a user logs in with a user risk score that triggers this policy, they see the following:

On clicking next, they are asked to do multi-factor authentication:

And upon approving the login, the user can change their password.

And importantly – they can carry on with their work! Which emphasizes again the importance of getting those users registered!

So, there you have it! Three easy steps to VASTLY better account protection by doing basic hygiene! In summary:

  1. Ensure your users are registered and ready for multi-factor authentication (MFA) challenges;
  2. Detect and challenge risky logins; and
  3. Detect and change compromised credentials.

Azure Active Directory makes it easy!

Be safe!

Alex (@alex_t_weinert)

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