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Best practices for defending Azure Virtual Machines

October 7th, 2020 No comments

One of the things that our Detection and Response Team (DART) and Customer Service and Support (CSS) security teams see frequently during investigation of customer incidents are attacks on virtual machines from the internet.

This is one area in the cloud security shared responsibility model where customer tenants are responsible for security. Security is a shared responsibility between Microsoft and the customer and as soon as you put just one virtual machine on Azure or any cloud you need to ensure you apply the right security controls.

The diagram below illustrates the layers of security responsibilities:

Image of the shared responsibility model showing customer, service, and cloud responsibilities

Fortunately, with Azure, we have a set of best practices that are designed to help protect your workloads including virtual machines to keep them safe from constantly evolving threats. This blog will share the most important security best practices to help protect your virtual machines.

The areas of the shared responsibility model we will touch on in this blog are as follows:

  • Tools
  • Identity and directory infrastructure
  • Applications
  • Network Controls
  • Operating System

We will refer to the Azure Security Top 10 best practices as applicable for each:

Best practices

1. Use Azure Secure Score in Azure Security Center as your guide

Secure Score within Azure Security Center is a numeric view of your security posture. If it is at 100 percent, you are following best practices. Otherwise, work on the highest priority items to improve the current security posture. Many of the recommendations below are included in Azure Secure Score.

2. Isolate management ports on virtual machines from the Internet and open them only when required

The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a remote access solution that is very popular with Windows administrators. Because of its popularity, it’s a very attractive target for threat actors. Do not be fooled into thinking that changing the default port for RDP serves any real purpose. Attackers are always scanning the entire range of ports, and it is trivial to figure out that you changed from 3389 to 4389, for example.

If you are already allowing RDP access to your Azure VMs from the internet, you should check the configuration of your Network Security Groups. Find any rule that is publishing RDP and look to see if the Source IP Address is a wildcard (*). If that is the case, you should be concerned, and it’s quite possible that the VM could be under brute force attack right now.

It is relatively easy to determine if your VMs are under a brute force attack, and there are at least two methods we will discuss below:

  • Azure Defender (formerly Azure Security Center Standard) will alert you if your VM is under a brute force attack.
  • If you are not using Security Center Standard tier open the Windows Event Viewer and find the Windows Security Event Log. Filter for Event ID 4625 (an account failed to log on). If you see many such events occurring in quick succession (seconds or minutes apart), then it means you are under brute force attack.

Other commonly attacked ports would include: SSH (22), FTP (21), Telnet (23), HTTP (80), HTTPS (443), SQL (1433), LDAP 389. This is just a partial list of commonly published ports. You should always be cautious about allowing inbound network traffic from unlimited source IP address ranges unless it is necessary for the business needs of that machine.

A couple of methods for managing inbound access to Azure VMs:

Just-in-time will allow you to reduce your attack service while also allowing legitimate users to access virtual machines when necessary.

Network security groups contain rules that allow or deny traffic inbound to, or outbound traffic from several types of Azure resources including VMs. There are limits to the number of rules and they can become difficult to manage if many users from various network locations need to access your VMs.

For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:

3. Use complexity for passwords and user account names

If you are required to allow inbound traffic to your VMs for business reasons, this next area is of critical importance. Do you have complete confidence that any user account that would be allowed to access this machine is using a complex username/password combination? What if this VM is also domain joined? It’s one thing to worry about local accounts, but now you must worry about any account in the domain that would have the right to log on to that Virtual Machine.

For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:

4. Keep the operating system patched

Vulnerabilities of the operating system are particularly worrisome when they are also combined with a port and service that is more likely to be published. A good example is the recent vulnerabilities affecting the Remote Desktop Protocol called “BlueKeep.” A consistent patch management strategy will go a long way towards improving your overall security posture.

5. Keep third-party applications current and patched

Applications are another often overlooked area, especially third-party applications installed on your Azure VMs. Whenever possible use the most current version available and patch for any known vulnerabilities. An example is an IIS Server using a third-party Content Management Systems (CMS) application with known vulnerabilities. A quick search of the Internet for CMS vulnerabilities will reveal many that are exploitable.

For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:

6. Actively monitor for threats

Utilize the Azure Security Center Standard tier to ensure you are actively monitoring for threats. Security Center uses machine learning to analyze signals across Microsoft systems and services to alert you to threats to your environment. One such example is remote desktop protocol (RDP) brute-force attacks.

For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:

7. Azure Backup Service

In addition to turning on security, it’s always a good idea to have a backup. Mistakes happen and unless you tell Azure to backup your virtual machine there isn’t an automatic backup. Fortunately, it’s just a few clicks to turn on.

Next steps

Equipped with the knowledge contained in this article, we believe you will be less likely to experience a compromised VM in Azure. Security is most effective when you use a layered (defense in depth) approach and do not rely on one method to completely protect your environment. Azure has many different solutions available that can help you apply this layered approach.

If you found this information helpful, please drop us a note at csssecblog@microsoft.com.

To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website. 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.

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Microsoft Digital Defense Report 2020: Cyber Threat Sophistication on the Rise

September 29th, 2020 No comments

Today, Microsoft is releasing a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware.

In addition to attacks becoming more sophisticated, threat actors are showing clear preferences for certain techniques, with notable shifts towards credential harvesting and ransomware, as well as an increasing focus on Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Among the most significant statistics on these trends:

  • In 2019 we blocked over 13 billion malicious and suspicious mails, out of which more than 1 billion were URLs set up for the explicit purpose of launching a phishing credential attack.
  • Ransomware is the most common reason behind our incident response engagements from October 2019 through July 2020.
  • The most common attack techniques used by nation-state actors in the past year are reconnaissance, credential harvesting, malware, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) exploits.
  • IoT threats are constantly expanding and evolving. The first half of 2020 saw an approximate 35% increase in total attack volume compared to the second half of 2019.

Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that we take steps to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace; that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA).  Our data shows that enabling MFA would alone have prevented the vast majority of successful attacks.

To read the full blog and download the Digital Defense Report visit the Microsoft On-the-issues Blog.

CTA: To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website.  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.

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New data from Microsoft shows how the pandemic is accelerating the digital transformation of cyber-security

August 19th, 2020 No comments

An image showing the pandemic's effect on budgets.

The importance of cybersecurity in facilitating productive remote work was a significant catalyst for the two years-worth of digital transformation we observed in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this era of ubiquitous computing, security solutions don’t just sniff out threats, they serve as control planes for improving productivity and collaboration by giving end-users easier access to more corporate resources. Microsoft recently concluded a survey of nearly 800 business leaders of companies of more than 500 employees in India (IN), Germany (DE), the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) to better understand their views of the pandemic threat landscape, implications for budgets and staffing, and how they feel the pandemic could reshape the cyber-security long-term.

Among the key insights are data showing that an alarming number of businesses are still impacted by phishing scams, security budgets, and hiring increased in response to COVID-19, and cloud-based technologies and architectures like Zero Trust are significant areas of investment moving forward.

Improving Productivity & Mitigating Threats

Security and IT teams have been working overtime to meet business goals while simultaneously staying ahead of new threats and scams. “Providing secure remote access to resources, apps, and data” is the #1 challenge reported by security leaders. For many businesses, the limits of the trust model they had been using, which leaned heavily on company-managed devices, physical access to buildings, and limited remote access to select line-of-business apps, got exposed early on in the pandemic. This paradigm shift has been most acute in the limitations of basic username/password authentication. As a result, when asked to identify the top security investment made during the pandemic the top response was Multi-factor authentication (MFA).

An graph of the Top 5 Cybersecurity Investments Since Beginning of Pandemic.

In other ways, pandemic security risks feel all too familiar. Asked to identify their best pre-pandemic security investment, most identified anti-phishing technology.  Microsoft Threat Intelligence teams reported a spike in COVID-19 attacks in early March as cybercriminals applied pandemic themed lures to known scams and malware. Business leaders reported phishing threats as the biggest risk to security in that same timeframe, with 90% of indicating that phishing attacks have impacted their organization. More than half said clicking on phishing emails was the highest risk behavior they observed and a full 28% admitted that attackers had successfully phished their users.  Notably, successful phishing attacks were reported in significantly higher numbers from organizations that described their resources as mostly on-premises (36%) as opposed to being more cloud-based.

A graphic of the prevalence of successful phishing attacks.

An image of prevalence of successful phishing attacks

Security Impacting Budgets and Staffing

The role of security in remote work is having a direct impact on security budgets and staffing in 2020 as businesses scale existing solutions, enabling critical new capabilities like MFA, and implement a Zero Trust strategy. In order to adapt to the many business implications of the pandemic, a majority of business leaders reported budget increases for security (58%) and compliance (65%). At the same time, 81% also report feeling pressure to lower overall security costs.  Business leaders from organizations with resources mostly on-premises are especially likely to feel budget pressure, with roughly 1/3rd feeling ‘very pressured.’

To rein in expenses in the short-term, leaders say they are working to improve integrated threat protection to reduce the risk of costly breaches and acquire security solutions with self-help options for users to drive efficiency. In the longer-term, nearly 40% of businesses say they are prioritizing investments in Cloud Security (Cloud Access Security Broker, Cloud Workload Protection Platform, Cloud Security Posture Management), followed by Data & Information Security (28%) and anti-phishing tools (26%).

A graph of cybersecurity budget changes in response to the pandemic.

Technology alone cannot keep pace with the threats and demands facing businesses and their largely remote workforces. Human security expertise is at a premium with more than 80% of companies adding security professionals in response to COVID-19.

A graph of changes to cybersecurity staffing due to pandemic.

5 Ways the Pandemic is Changing Cybersecurity long-term

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation is several ways that are likely to change the security paradigm for the foreseeable future.

1. Security has proven to be the foundation for digital empathy in a remote workforce during the pandemic. When billions of people formed the largest remote workforce in history, overnight, teams learned much more than how to scale Virtual Private Networks. Companies were reminded that security technology is fundamentally about improving productivity and collaboration through inclusive end-user experiences. Improving end-user experience and productivity while working remotely is the top priority of security business leaders (41%), with “extend security to more apps for remote work” identified as the most positively received action by users. Not surprisingly, then, “providing secure remote access to resources, apps, and data” is the biggest challenge. For many businesses, the journey begins with MFA adoption.

2. Everyone is on a Zero Trust journey. Zero Trust shifted from an option to a business priority in the early days of the pandemic. In light of the growth in remote work, 51% of business leaders are speeding up the deployment of Zero Trust capabilities. The Zero Trust architecture will eventually become the industry standard, which means everyone is on a Zero Trust journey. That reality is reflected in the numbers like 94% of companies report that they are in the process of deploying new Zero Trust capabilities to some extent.

An graph of the impact of pandemic on organizational view of Zero Trust.

3. Diverse data sets mean better Threat Intelligence. The pandemic illustrated the power and scale of the cloud as Microsoft tracked more than 8 trillion daily threat signals from a diverse set of products, services, and feeds around the globe. A blend of automated tools and human insights helped to identify new COVID-19 themed threats before they reached customers – sometimes in a fraction of a second. In other cases, cloud-based filters and detections alert security teams to suspicious behavior. Not surprisingly, 54% of security leaders reported an increase in phishing attacks since the beginning of the pandemic.

4. Cyber resilience is fundamental to business operations. Cybersecurity provides the underpinning to operationally resiliency as more organizations enable secure remote work options. To maintain cyber resilience, businesses need to regularly evaluate their risk threshold and ability to execute cyber resilience processes through a combination of human efforts and technology products and services. The cloud makes developing a comprehensive Cyber Resilience strategy and preparing for a wide range of contingencies simpler.

More than half of cloud forward and hybrid companies report having cyber-resilience strategy for most risk scenarios compared to 40% of primarily on-premises organization. 19% of companies relying primarily upon on-premises technology do not expect to maintain a documented cyber-resilience plan.

5. The cloud is a security imperative. Where people often thought about security as a solution to deploy on top of existing infrastructure, events like Covid-19 showcase the need for truly integrated security for companies of all sizes. As a result, integrated security solutions are now seen as imperative.

A graph of the top 5 cybersecurity investments through the end of 2020.

These insights from security leaders echo many of the best practices that Microsoft has been sharing with customers and working around the clock to help them implement. The bottom line is that the pandemic is clearly accelerating the digital transformation of cyber-security. Microsoft is here to help.  If any of the insights we’ve shared today resonate with you and your teams, here are a few things you should consider

  • Listen to employees and take steps to build digital empathy. Enabling self-help options is a win-win for end-users and IT.
  • Hire diverse security talent and empower them with great threat intelligence and tools.
  • Embrace the reality that remote work is having a lasting impact on the security paradigm. Lean into the power of the cloud for built-in security spanning endpoints to the cloud.

To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website.  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.

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Protecting your remote workforce from application-based attacks like consent phishing

July 8th, 2020 No comments

The global pandemic has dramatically shifted how people work. As a result, organizations around the world have scaled up cloud services to support collaboration and productivity from home. We’re also seeing more apps leverage Microsoft’s identity platform to ensure seamless access and integrated security as cloud app usage explodes, particularly in collaboration apps such as Zoom, Webex Teams, Box and Microsoft Teams. With increased cloud app usage and the shift to working from home, security and how employees access company resources are even more top of mind for companies.

While application use has accelerated and enabled employees to be productive remotely, attackers are looking at leveraging application-based attacks to gain unwarranted access to valuable data in cloud services. While you may be familiar with attacks focused on users, such as email phishing or credential compromise, application-based attacks, such as consent phishing, is another threat vector you must be aware of.  Today we wanted to share one of the ways application-based attacks can target the valuable data your organization cares about, and what you can do today to stay safe.

Consent phishing: An application-based threat to keep an eye on

Today developers are building apps by integrating user and organizational data from cloud platforms to enhance and personalize their experiences. These cloud platforms are rich in data but in turn have attracted malicious actors seeking to gain unwarranted access to this data. One such attack is consent phishing, where attackers trick users into granting a malicious app access to sensitive data or other resources. Instead of trying to steal the user’s password, an attacker is seeking permission for an attacker-controlled app to access valuable data.

While each attack tends to vary, the core steps usually look something like this:

  1. An attacker registers an app with an OAuth 2.0 provider, such as Azure Active Directory.
  2. The app is configured in a way that makes it seem trustworthy, like using the name of a popular product used in the same ecosystem.
  3. The attacker gets a link in front of users, which may be done through conventional email-based phishing, by compromising a non-malicious website, or other techniques.
  4. The user clicks the link and is shown an authentic consent prompt asking them to grant the malicious app permissions to data.
  5. If a user clicks accept, they will grant the app permissions to access sensitive data.
  6. The app gets an authorization code which it redeems for an access token, and potentially a refresh token.
  7. The access token is used to make API calls on behalf of the user.

If the user accepts, the attacker can gain access to their mail, forwarding rules, files, contacts, notes, profile and other sensitive data and resources.

An image of a Consent screen from a sample malicious app named “Risky App."

Consent screen from a sample malicious app named “Risky App”

How to protect your organization

At Microsoft, our integrated security solutions from identity and access management, device management, threat protection and cloud security enable us to evaluate and monitor trillions of signals to help identify malicious apps. From our signals, we’ve been able to identify and take measures to remediate malicious apps by disabling them and preventing users from accessing them. In some instances, we’ve also taken legal action to further protect our customers.

We’re also continuing to invest in ways to ensure our application ecosystem is secure by enabling customers to set policies on the types of apps users can consent to as well as highlighting apps that come from trusted publishers. While attackers will always persist, there are steps you can take to further protect your organization. Some best practices to follow include:

  • Educate your organization on consent phishing tactics:
    • Check for poor spelling and grammar. If an email message or the application’s consent screen has spelling and grammatical errors, it’s likely to be a suspicious application.
    • Keep a watchful eye on app names and domain URLs. Attackers like to spoof app names that make it appear to come from legitimate applications or companies but drive you to consent to a malicious app. Make sure you recognize the app name and domain URL before consenting to an application.
  • Promote and allow access to apps you trust:
    • Promote the use of applications that have been publisher verified. Publisher verification helps admins and end-users understand the authenticity of application developers. Over 660 applications by 390 publishers have been verified thus far.
    • Configure application consent policies by allowing users to only consent to specific applications you trust, such as application developed by your organization or from verified publishers.
  • Educate your organization on how our permissions and consent framework works:

The increased use of cloud applications has demonstrated the need to improve application security. At Microsoft, we’re committed to building capabilities that proactively protect you from malicious apps while giving you the tools to set policies that balance security and productivity. For additional best practices and safeguards review the Detect and Remediate Illicit Consent Grants in Office 365 and Five steps to securing your identity infrastructure.

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.

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Success in security: reining in entropy

May 20th, 2020 No comments

Your network is unique. It’s a living, breathing system evolving over time. Data is created. Data is processed. Data is accessed. Data is manipulated. Data can be forgotten. The applications and users performing these actions are all unique parts of the system, adding degrees of disorder and entropy to your operating environment. No two networks on the planet are exactly the same, even if they operate within the same industry, utilize the exact same applications, and even hire workers from one another. In fact, the only attribute your network may share with another network is simply how unique they are from one another.

If we follow the analogy of an organization or network as a living being, it’s logical to drill down deeper, into the individual computers, applications, and users that function as cells within our organism. Each cell is unique in how it’s configured, how it operates, the knowledge or data it brings to the network, and even the vulnerabilities each piece carries with it. It’s important to note that cancer begins at the cellular level and can ultimately bring down the entire system. But where incident response and recovery are accounted for, the greater the level of entropy and chaos across a system, the more difficult it becomes to locate potentially harmful entities. Incident Response is about locating the source of cancer in a system in an effort to remove it and make the system healthy once more.

Let’s take the human body for example. A body that remains at rest 8-10 hours a day, working from a chair in front of a computer, and with very little physical activity, will start to develop health issues. The longer the body remains in this state, the further it drifts from an ideal state, and small problems begin to manifest. Perhaps it’s diabetes. Maybe it’s high blood pressure. Or it could be weight gain creating fatigue within the joints and muscles of the body. Your network is similar to the body. The longer we leave the network unattended, the more it will drift from an ideal state to a state where small problems begin to manifest, putting the entire system at risk.

Why is this important? Let’s consider an incident response process where a network has been compromised. As a responder and investigator, we want to discover what has happened, what the cause was, what the damage is, and determine how best we can fix the issue and get back on the road to a healthy state. This entails looking for clues or anomalies; things that stand out from the normal background noise of an operating network. In essence, let’s identify what’s truly unique in the system, and drill down on those items. Are we able to identify cancerous cells because they look and act so differently from the vast majority of the other healthy cells?

Consider a medium-size organization with 5,000 computer systems. Last week, the organization was notified by a law enforcement agency that customer data was discovered on the dark web, dated from two weeks ago. We start our investigation on the date we know the data likely left the network. What computer systems hold that data? What users have access to those systems? What windows of time are normal for those users to interact with the system? What processes or services are running on those systems? Forensically we want to know what system was impacted, who was logging in to the system around the timeframe in question, what actions were performed, where those logins came from, and whether there are any unique indicators. Unique indicators are items that stand out from the normal operating environment. Unique users, system interaction times, protocols, binary files, data files, services, registry keys, and configurations (such as rogue registry keys).

Our investigation reveals a unique service running on a member server with SQL Server. In fact, analysis shows that service has an autostart entry in the registry and starts the service from a file in the c:\windows\perflogs directory, which is an unusual location for an autostart, every time the system is rebooted. We haven’t seen this service before, so we investigate against all the systems on the network to locate other instances of the registry startup key or the binary files we’ve identified. Out of 5,000 systems, we locate these pieces of evidence on only three systems, one of which is a Domain Controller.

This process of identifying what is unique allows our investigative team to highlight the systems, users, and data at risk during a compromise. It also helps us potentially identify the source of attacks, what data may have been pilfered, and foreign Internet computers calling the shots and allowing access to the environment. Additionally, any recovery efforts will require this information to be successful.

This all sounds like common sense, so why cover it here? Remember we discussed how unique your network is, and how there are no other systems exactly like it elsewhere in the world? That means every investigative process into a network compromise is also unique, even if the same attack vector is being used to attack multiple organizational entities. We want to provide the best foundation for a secure environment and the investigative process, now, while we’re not in the middle of an active investigation.

The unique nature of a system isn’t inherently a bad thing. Your network can be unique from other networks. In many cases, it may even provide a strategic advantage over your competitors. Where we run afoul of security best practice is when we allow too much entropy to build upon the network, losing the ability to differentiate “normal” from “abnormal.” In short, will we be able to easily locate the evidence of a compromise because it stands out from the rest of the network, or are we hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack? Clues related to a system compromise don’t stand out if everything we look at appears abnormal. This can exacerbate an already tense response situation, extending the timeframe for investigation and dramatically increasing the costs required to return to a trusted operating state.

To tie this back to our human body analogy, when a breathing problem appears, we need to be able to understand whether this is new, or whether it’s something we already know about, such as asthma. It’s much more difficult to correctly identify and recover from a problem if it blends in with the background noise, such as difficulty breathing because of air quality, lack of exercise, smoking, or allergies. You can’t know what’s unique if you don’t already know what’s normal or healthy.

To counter this problem, we pre-emptively bring the background noise on the network to a manageable level. All systems move towards entropy unless acted upon. We must put energy into the security process to counter the growth of entropy, which would otherwise exponentially complicate our security problem set. Standardization and control are the keys here. If we limit what users can install on their systems, we quickly notice when an untrusted application is being installed. If it’s against policy for a Domain Administrator to log in to Tier 2 workstations, then any attempts to do this will stand out. If it’s unusual for Domain Controllers to create outgoing web traffic, then it stands out when this occurs or is attempted.

Centralize the security process. Enable that process. Standardize security configuration, monitoring, and expectations across the organization. Enforce those standards. Enforce the tenet of least privilege across all user levels. Understand your ingress and egress network traffic patterns, and when those are allowed or blocked.

In the end, your success in investigating and responding to inevitable security incidents depends on what your organization does on the network today, not during an active investigation. By reducing entropy on your network and defining what “normal” looks like, you’ll be better prepared to quickly identify questionable activity on your network and respond appropriately. Bear in mind that security is a continuous process and should not stop. The longer we ignore the security problem, the further the state of the network will drift from “standardized and controlled” back into disorder and entropy. And the further we sit from that state of normal, the more difficult and time consuming it will be to bring our network back to a trusted operating environment in the event of an incident or compromise.

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Mitigating vulnerabilities in endpoint network stacks

May 4th, 2020 No comments

The skyrocketing demand for tools that enable real-time collaboration, remote desktops for accessing company information, and other services that enable remote work underlines the tremendous importance of building and shipping secure products and services. While this is magnified as organizations are forced to adapt to the new environment created by the global crisis, it’s not a new imperative. Microsoft has been investing heavily in security, and over the years our commitment to building proactive security into products and services has only intensified.

To help deliver on this commitment, we continuously find ways to improve and secure Microsoft products. One aspect of our proactive security work is finding vulnerabilities and fixing them before they can be exploited. Our strategy is to take a holistic approach and drive security throughout the engineering lifecycle. We do this by:

  • Building security early into the design of features.
  • Developing tools and processes that proactively find vulnerabilities in code.
  • Introducing mitigations into Windows that make bugs significantly harder to exploit.
  • Having our world-class penetration testing team test the security boundaries of the product so we can fix issues before they can impact customers.

This proactive work ensures we are continuously making Windows safer and finding as many issues as possible before attackers can take advantage of them. In this blog post we will discuss a recent vulnerability that we proactively found and fixed and provide details on tools and techniques we used, including a new set of tools that we built internally at Microsoft. Our penetration testing team is constantly testing the security boundaries of the product to make it more secure, and we are always developing tools that help them scale and be more effective based on the evolving threat landscape. Our investment in fuzzing is the cornerstone of our work, and we are constantly innovating this tech to keep on breaking new ground.

Proactive security to prevent the next WannaCry

In the past few years, much of our team’s efforts have been focused on uncovering remote network vulnerabilities and preventing events like the WannaCry and NotPetya outbreaks. Some bugs we have recently found and fixed include critical vulnerabilities that could be leveraged to exploit common secure remote communication tools like RDP or create ransomware issues like WannaCry: CVE-2019-1181 and CVE-2019-1182 dubbed “DejaBlue“, CVE-2019-1226 (RCE in RDP Server), CVE-2020-0611 (RCE in RDP Client), and CVE-2019-0787 (RCE in RDP client), among others.

One of the biggest challenges we regularly face in these efforts is the sheer volume of code we analyze. Windows is enormous and continuously evolving 5.7 million source code files, with more than 3,500 developers doing 1,100 pull requests per day in 440 official branches. This rapid cadence and evolution allows us to add new features as well proactively drive security into Windows.

Like many security teams, we frequently turn to fuzzing to help us quickly explore and assess large codebases. Innovations we’ve made in our fuzzing technology have made it possible to get deeper coverage than ever before, resulting in the discovery of new bugs, faster. One such vulnerability is the remote code vulnerability (RCE) in Microsoft Server Message Block version 3 (SMBv3) tracked as CVE-2020-0796 and fixed on March 12, 2020.

In the following sections, we will share the tools and techniques we used to fuzz SMB, the root cause of the RCE vulnerability, and relevant mitigations to exploitation.

Fully deterministic person-in-the-middle fuzzing

We use a custom deterministic full system emulator tool we call “TKO” to fuzz and introspect Windows components.  TKO provides the capability to perform full system emulation and memory snapshottting, as well as other innovations.  As a result of its unique design, TKO provides several unique benefits to SMB network fuzzing:

  • The ability to snapshot and fuzz forward from any program state.
  • Efficiently restoring to the initial state for fast iteration.
  • Collecting complete code coverage across all processes.
  • Leveraging greater introspection into the system without too much perturbation.

While all of these actions are possible using other tools, our ability to seamlessly leverage them across both user and kernel mode drastically reduces the spin-up time for targets. To learn more, check out David Weston’s recent BlueHat IL presentation “Keeping Windows secure”, which touches on fuzzing, as well as the TKO tool and infrastructure.

Fuzzing SMB

Given the ubiquity of SMB and the impact demonstrated by SMB bugs in the past, assessing this network transfer protocol has been a priority for our team. While there have been past audits and fuzzers thrown against the SMB codebase, some of which postdate the current SMB version, TKO’s new capabilities and functionalities made it worthwhile to revisit the codebase. Additionally, even though the SMB version number has remained static, the code has not! These factors played into our decision to assess the SMB client/server stack.

After performing an initial audit pass of the code to understand its structure and dataflow, as well as to get a grasp of the size of the protocol’s state space, we had the information we needed to start fuzzing.

We used TKO to set up a fully deterministic feedback-based fuzzer with a combination of generated and mutated SMB protocol traffic. Our goal for generating or mutating across multiple packets was to dig deeper into the protocol’s state machine. Normally this would introduce difficulties in reproducing any issues found; however, our use of emulators made this a non-issue. New generated or mutated inputs that triggered new coverage were saved to the input corpus. Our team had a number of basic mutator libraries for different scenarios, but we needed to implement a generator. Additionally, we enabled some of the traditional Windows heap instrumentation using verifier, turning on page heap for SMB-related drivers.

We began work on the SMBv2 protocol generator and took a network capture of an SMB negotiation with the aim of replaying these packets with mutations against a Windows 10, version 1903 client. We added a mutator with basic mutations (e.g., bit flips, insertions, deletions, etc.) to our fuzzer and kicked off an initial run while we continued to improve and develop further.

Figure 1. TKO fuzzing workflow

A short time later, we came back to some compelling results. Replaying the first crashing input with TKO’s kdnet plugin revealed the following stack trace:

> tkofuzz.exe repro inputs\crash_6a492.txt -- kdnet:conn 127.0.0.1:50002

Figure 2. Windbg stack trace of crash

We found an access violation in srv2!Smb2CompressionDecompress.

Finding the root cause of the crash

While the stack trace suggested that a vulnerability exists in the decompression routine, it’s the parsing of length counters and offsets from the network that causes the crash. The last packet in the transaction needed to trigger the crash has ‘\xfcSMB’ set as the first bytes in its header, making it a COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM packet.

Figure 3. COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM packet details

The SMBv2 COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM packet starts with a COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM_HEADER, which defines where in the packet the compressed bytes begin and the length of the compressed buffer.

typedef struct _COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM_HEADER

{

UCHAR   Protocol[4]; // Contains 0xFC, 'S', 'M', 'B'

ULONG    OriginalMessageSize;

USHORT AlgorithmId;

USHORT Flags;

ULONG Length;

}

In the srv2!Srv2DecompressData in the graph below, we can find this COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM_HEADER struct being parsed out of the network packet and used to determine pointers being passed to srv2!SMBCompressionDecompress.

Figure 4. Srv2DecompressData graph

We can see that at 0x7e94, rax points to our network buffer, and the buffer is copied to the stack before the OriginalCompressedSegmentSize and Length are parsed out and added together at 0x7ED7 to determine the size of the resulting decompressed bytes buffer. Overflowing this value causes the decompression to write its results out of the bounds of the destination SrvNet buffer, in an out-of-bounds write (OOBW).

Figure 5. Overflow condition

Looking further, we can see that the Length field is parsed into esi at 0x7F04, added to the network buffer pointer, and passed to CompressionDecompress as the source pointer. As Length is never checked against the actual number of received bytes, it can cause decompression to read off the end of the received network buffer. Setting this Length to be greater than the packet length also causes the computed source buffer length passed to SmbCompressionDecompress to underflow at 0x7F18, creating an out-of-bounds read (OOBR) vulnerability. Combining this OOBR vulnerability with the previous OOBW vulnerability creates the necessary conditions to leak addresses and create a complete remote code execution exploit.

Figure 6. Underflow condition

Windows 10 mitigations against remote network vulnerabilities

Our discovery of the SMBv3 vulnerability highlights the importance of revisiting protocol stacks regularly as our tools and techniques continue to improve over time. In addition to the proactive hunting for these types of issues, the investments we made in the last several years to harden Windows 10 through mitigations like address space layout randomization (ASLR), Control Flow Guard (CFG), InitAll, and hypervisor-enforced code integrity (HVCI) hinder trivial exploitation and buy defenders time to patch and protect their networks.

For example, turning vulnerabilities like the ones discovered in SMBv3 into working exploits requires finding writeable kernel pages at reliable addresses, a task that requires heap grooming and corruption, or a separate vulnerability in Windows kernel address space layout randomization (ASLR). Typical heap-based exploits taking advantage of a vulnerability like the one described here would also need to make use of other allocations, but Windows 10 pool hardening helps mitigate this technique. These mitigations work together and have a cumulative effect when combined, increasing the development time and cost of reliable exploitation.

Assuming attackers gain knowledge of our address space, indirect jumps are mitigated by kernel-mode CFG. This forces attackers to either use data-only corruption or bypass Control Flow Guard via stack corruption or yet another bug. If virtualization-based security (VBS) and HVCI are enabled, attackers are further constrained in their ability to map and modify memory permissions.

On Secured-core PCs these mitigations are enabled by default.  Secured-core PCs combine virtualization, operating system, and hardware and firmware protection. Along with Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection, Secured-core PCs provide end-to-end protection against advanced threats.

While these mitigations collectively lower the chances of successful exploitation, we continue to deepen our investment in identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before they can get into the hands of adversaries.

 

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Zero Trust Deployment Guide for Microsoft Azure Active Directory

April 30th, 2020 No comments

Microsoft is providing a series of deployment guides for customers who have engaged in a Zero Trust security strategy. In this guide, we cover how to deploy and configure Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) capabilities to support your Zero Trust security strategy.

For simplicity, this document will focus on ideal deployments and configuration. We will call out the integrations that need Microsoft products other than Azure AD and we will note the licensing needed within Azure AD (Premium P1 vs P2), but we will not describe multiple solutions (one with a lower license and one with a higher license).

Azure AD at the heart of your Zero Trust strategy

Azure AD provides critical functionality for your Zero Trust strategy. It enables strong authentication, a point of integration for device security, and the core of your user-centric policies to guarantee least-privileged access. Azure AD’s Conditional Access capabilities are the policy decision point for access to resources based on user identity, environment, device health, and risk—verified explicitly at the point of access. In the following sections, we will showcase how you can implement your Zero Trust strategy with Azure AD.

Establish your identity foundation with Azure AD

A Zero Trust strategy requires that we verify explicitly, use least privileged access principles, and assume breach. Azure Active Directory can act as the policy decision point to enforce your access policies based on insights on the user, device, target resource, and environment. To do this, we need to put Azure Active Directory in the path of every access request—connecting every user and every app or resource through this identity control plane. In addition to productivity gains and improved user experiences from single sign-on (SSO) and consistent policy guardrails, connecting all users and apps provides Azure AD with the signal to make the best possible decisions about the authentication/authorization risk.

  • Connect your users, groups, and devices:
    Maintaining a healthy pipeline of your employees’ identities as well as the necessary security artifacts (groups for authorization and devices for extra access policy controls) puts you in the best place to use consistent identities and controls, which your users already benefit from on-premises and in the cloud:

    1. Start by choosing the right authentication option for your organization. While we strongly prefer to use an authentication method that primarily uses Azure AD (to provide you the best brute force, DDoS, and password spray protection), follow our guidance on making the decision that’s right for your organization and your compliance needs.
    2. Only bring the identities you absolutely need. For example, use going to the cloud as an opportunity to leave behind service accounts that only make sense on-premises; leave on-premises privileged roles behind (more on that under privileged access), etc.
    3. If your enterprise has more than 100,000 users, groups, and devices combined, we recommend you follow our guidance building a high performance sync box that will keep your life cycle up-to-date.
  • Integrate all your applications with Azure AD:
    As mentioned earlier, SSO is not only a convenient feature for your users, but it’s also a security posture, as it prevents users from leaving copies of their credentials in various apps and helps avoid them getting used to surrendering their credentials due to excessive prompting. Make sure you do not have multiple IAM engines in your environment. Not only does this diminish the amount of signal that Azure AD sees and allow bad actors to live in the seams between the two IAM engines, it can also lead to poor user experience and your business partners becoming the first doubters of your Zero Trust strategy. Azure AD supports a variety of ways you can bring apps to authenticate with it:

    1. Integrate modern enterprise applications that speak OAuth2.0 or SAML.
    2. For Kerberos and Form-based auth applications, you can integrate them using the Azure AD Application Proxy.
    3. If you publish your legacy applications using application delivery networks/controllers, Azure AD is able to integrate with most of the major ones (such as Citrix, Akamai, F5, etc.).
    4. To help migrate your apps off of existing/older IAM engines, we provide a number of resources—including tools to help you discover and migrate apps off of ADFS.
  • Automate provisioning to applications:
    Once you have your users’ identities in Azure AD, you can now use Azure AD to power pushing those user identities into your various cloud applications. This gives you a tighter identity lifecycle integration within those apps. Use this detailed guide to deploy provisioning into your SaaS applications.
  • Get your logging and reporting in order:
    As you build your estate in Azure AD with authentication, authorization, and provisioning, it’s important to have strong operational insights into what is happening in the directory. Follow this guide to learn how to to persist and analyze the logs from Azure AD either in Azure or using a SIEM system of choice.

Enacting the 1st principle: least privilege

Giving the right access at the right time to only those who need it is at the heart of a Zero Trust philosophy:

  • Plan your Conditional Access deployment:
    Planning your Conditional Access policies in advance and having a set of active and fallback policies is a foundational pillar of your Access Policy enforcement in a Zero Trust deployment. Take the time to configure your trusted IP locations in your environment. Even if you do not use them in a Conditional Access policy, configure these IPs informs the risk of Identity Protection mentioned above. Check out our deployment guidance and best practices for resilient Conditional Access policies.
  • Secure privileged access with privileged identity management:
    With privileged access, you generally take a different track to meeting the end users where they are most likely to need and use the data. You typically want to control the devices, conditions, and credentials that users use to access privileged operations/roles. Check out our detailed guidance on how to take control of your privileged identities and secure them. Keep in mind that in a digitally transformed organization, privileged access is not only administrative access, but also application owner or developer access that can change the way your mission critical apps run and handle data. Check out our detailed guide on how to use Privileged Identity Management (P2) to secure privileged identities.
  • Restrict user consent to applications:
    User consent to applications is a very common way for modern applications to get access to organizational resources. However, we recommend you restrict user consent and manage consent requests to ensure that no unnecessary exposure of your organization’s data to apps occurs. This also means that you need to review prior/existing consent in your organization for any excessive or malicious consent.
  • Manage entitlements (Azure AD Premium P2):
    With applications centrally authenticating and driven from Azure AD, you should streamline your access request, approval, and recertification process to make sure that the right people have the right access and that you have a trail of why users in your organization have the access they have. Using entitlement management, you can create access packages that they can request as they join different teams/project and that would assign them access to the associated resources (applications, SharePoint sites, group memberships). Check out how you can start a package. If deploying entitlement management is not possible for your organization at this time, we recommend you at least enable self-service paradigms in your organization by deploying self-service group management and self-service application access.

Enacting the 2nd principle: verify explicitly

Provide Azure AD with a rich set of credentials and controls that it can use to verify the user at all times.

  • Roll out Azure multi-factor authentication (MFA) (P1):
    This is a foundational piece of reducing user session risk. As users appear on new devices and from new locations, being able to respond to an MFA challenge is one of the most direct ways that your users can teach us that these are familiar devices/locations as they move around the world (without having administrators parse individual signals). Check out this deployment guide.
  • Enable Azure AD Hybrid Join or Azure AD Join:
    If you are managing the user’s laptop/computer, bringing that information into Azure AD and use it to help make better decisions. For example, you may choose to allow rich client access to data (clients that have offline copies on the computer) if you know the user is coming from a machine that your organization controls and manages. If you do not bring this in, you will likely choose to block access from rich clients, which may result in your users working around your security or using Shadow IT. Check out our resources for Azure AD Hybrid Join or Azure AD Join.
  • Enable Microsoft Intune for managing your users’ mobile devices (EMS):
    The same can be said about user mobile devices as laptops. The more you know about them (patch level, jailbroken, rooted, etc.) the more you are able to trust or mistrust them and provide a rationale for why you block/allow access. Check out our Intune device enrollment guide to get started.
  • Start rolling out passwordless credentials:
    With Azure AD now supporting FIDO 2.0 and passwordless phone sign-in, you can move the needle on the credentials that your users (especially sensitive/privileged users) are using on a day-to-day basis. These credentials are strong authentication factors that can mitigate risk as well. Our passwordless authentication deployment guide walks you through how to roll out passwordless credentials in your organization.

Enacting the 3rd principle: assume breach

Provide Azure AD with a rich set of credentials and controls that it can use to verify the user.

  • Deploy Azure AD Password Protection:
    While enabling other methods to verify users explicitly, you should not forget about weak passwords, password spray and breach replay attacks. Read this blog to find out why classic complex password policies are not tackling the most prevalent password attacks. Then follow this guidance to enable Azure AD Password Protection for your users in the cloud first and then on-premises as well.
  • Block legacy authentication:
    One of the most common attack vectors for malicious actors is to use stolen/replayed credentials against legacy protocols, such as SMTP, that cannot do modern security challenges. We recommend you block legacy authentication in your organization.
  • Enable identity protection (Azure AD Premium 2):
    Enabling identity protection for your users will provide you with more granular session/user risk signal. You’ll be able to investigate risk and confirm compromise or dismiss the signal which will help the engine understand better what risk looks like in your environment.
  • Enable restricted session to use in access decisions:
    To illustrate, let’s take a look at controls in Exchange Online and SharePoint Online (P1): When a user’s risk is low but they are signing in from an unknown device, you may want to allow them access to critical resources, but not allow them to do things that leave your organization in a non-compliant state. Now you can configure Exchange Online and SharePoint Online to offer the user a restricted session that allows them to read emails or view files, but not download them and save them on an untrusted device. Check out our guides for enabling limited access with SharePoint Online and Exchange Online.
  • Enable Conditional Access integration with Microsoft Cloud App Security (MCAS) (E5):
    Using signals emitted after authentication and with MCAS proxying requests to application, you will be able to monitor sessions going to SaaS Applications and enforce restrictions. Check out our MCAS and Conditional Access integration guidance and see how this can even be extended to on-premises apps.
  • Enable Microsoft Cloud App Security (MCAS) integration with identity protection (E5):
    Microsoft Cloud App Security is a UEBA product monitoring user behavior inside SaaS and modern applications. This gives Azure AD signal and awareness about what happened to the user after they authenticated and received a token. If the user pattern starts to look suspicious (user starts to download gigabytes of data from OneDrive or starts to send spam emails in Exchange Online), then a signal can be fed to Azure AD notifying it that the user seems to be compromised or high risk and on the next access request from this user; Azure AD can take correct action to verify the user or block them. Just enabling MCAS monitoring will enrich the identity protection signal. Check out our integration guidance to get started.
  • Integrate Azure Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) with Microsoft Cloud App Security:
    Once you’ve successfully deployed and configured Azure ATP, enable the integration with Microsoft Cloud App Security to bring on-premises signal into the risk signal we know about the user. This enables Azure AD to know that a user is indulging in risky behavior while accessing on-premises, non-modern resources (like File Shares) which can then be factored into overall user risk to block further access in the cloud. You will be able to see a combined Priority Score for each user at risk to give a holistic view of which ones your SOC should focus on.
  • Enable Microsoft Defender ATP (E5):
    Microsoft Defender ATP allows you to attest to Windows machines health and whether they are undergoing a compromise and feed that into mitigating risk at runtime. Whereas Domain Join gives you a sense of control, Defender ATP allows you to react to a malware attack at near real time by detecting patterns where multiple user devices are hitting untrustworthy sites and react by raising their device/user risk at runtime. See our guidance on configuring Conditional Access in Defender ATP.

Conclusion

We hope the above guides help you deploy the identity pieces central to a successful Zero Trust strategy. Make sure to check out the other deployment guides in the series by following the Microsoft Security blog.

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Protecting your organization against password spray attacks

April 23rd, 2020 No comments

When hackers plan an attack, they often engage in a numbers game. They can invest significant time pursing a single, high-value target—someone in the C-suite for example and do “spear phishing.” Or if they just need low-level access to gain a foothold in an organization or do reconnaissance, they target a huge volume of people and spend less time on each one which is called “password spray.” Last December Seema Kathuria and I described an example of the first approach in Spear phishing campaigns—they’re sharper than you think! Today, I want to talk about a high-volume tactic: password spray.

In a password spray attack, adversaries “spray” passwords at a large volume of usernames. When I talk to security professionals in the field, I often compare password spray to a brute force attack. Brute force is targeted. The hacker goes after specific users and cycles through as many passwords as possible using either a full dictionary or one that’s edited to common passwords. An even more targeted password guessing attack is when the hacker selects a person and conducts research to see if they can guess the user’s password—discovering family names through social media posts, for example. And then trying those variants against an account to gain access. Password spray is the opposite. Adversaries acquire a list of accounts and attempt to sign into all of them using a small subset of the most popular, or most likely, passwords. Until they get a hit. This blog describes the steps adversaries use to conduct these attacks and how you can reduce the risk to your organization.

Three steps to a successful password spray attack

Step 1: Acquire a list of usernames

It starts with a list of accounts. This is easier than it sounds. Most organizations have a formal convention for emails, such as firstname.lastname@company.com. This allows adversaries to construct usernames from a list of employees. If the bad actor has already compromised an account, they may try to enumerate usernames against the domain controller. Or, they find or buy usernames online. Data can be compiled from past security breaches, online profiles, etc. The adversary might even get some verified profiles for free!

Step 2: Spray passwords

Finding a list of common passwords is even easier. A Bing search reveals that publications list the most common passwords each year. 123456, password, and qwerty are typically near the top. Wikipedia lists the top 10,000 passwords. There are regional differences that may be harder to discovery, but many people use a favorite sports teams, their state, or company as a password. For example, Seahawks is a popular password choice in the Seattle area. Once hackers do their research, they carefully select a password and try it against the entire list of accounts as shown in Figure 1. If the attack is not successful, they wait 30 minutes to avoid triggering a timeout, and then try the next password.

Protecting your organization against password spray attacks

Figure 1:  Password spray using one password across multiple accounts.

Step 3: Gain access

Eventually one of the passwords works against one of the accounts. And that’s what makes password spray a popular tactic—attackers only need one successful password + username combination. Once they have it, they can access whatever the user has access to, such as cloud resources on OneDrive. Or use the exploited account to do internal reconnaissance on the target network and get deeper into the systems via elevation of privilege.

Even if the vast majority of your employees don’t use popular passwords, there is a risk that hackers will find the ones that do. The trick is to reduce the number of guessable passwords used at your organization.

Configure Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) Password Protection

Azure AD Password Protection allows you to eliminate easily guessed passwords and customize lockout settings for your environment. This capability includes a globally banned password list that Microsoft maintains and updates. You can also block a custom list of passwords that are relevant to your region or company. Once enabled, users won’t be able to choose a password on either of these lists, making it significantly less likely that an adversary can guess a user’s password. You can also use this feature to define how many sign-in attempts will trigger a lockout and how long the lockout will last.

Simulate attacks with Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection (Office 365 ATP)

Attack Simulator in Office 365 ATP lets you run realistic, but simulated phishing and password attack campaigns in your organization. Pick a password and then run the campaign against as many users as you want. The results will let you know how many people are using that password. Use the data to train users and build your custom list of banned passwords.

Begin your passwordless journey

The best way to reduce your risk of password spray is to eliminate passwords entirely. Solutions like Windows Hello or FIDO2 security keys let users sign in using biometrics and/or a physical key or device. Get started by enabling Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) across all your accounts. MFA requires that users sign in with at least two authentication factors: something they know (like a password or PIN), something they are (such as biometrics), and/or something they have (such as a trusted device).

Learn more

We make progress in cybersecurity by increasing how much it costs the adversary to conduct the attack. If we make guessing passwords too hard, hackers will reduce their reliance on password spray.

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. For more information about our security solutions visit our website. Or reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

The post Protecting your organization against password spray attacks appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks: Part 3 – Risk management strategies for the utilities industry

April 22nd, 2020 No comments

Over the last fifteen years, attacks against critical infrastructure (figure1) have steadily increased in both volume and sophistication. Because of the strategic importance of this industry to national security and economic stability, these organizations are targeted by sophisticated, patient, and well-funded adversaries.  Adversaries often target the utility supply chain to insert malware into devices destined for the power grid. As modern infrastructure becomes more reliant on connected devices, the power industry must continue to come together to improve security at every step of the process.

Aerial view of port and freeways leading to downtown Singapore.

Figure 1: Increased attacks on critical infrastructure

This is the third and final post in the “Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks” series. In the first blog I described the nature of the risk. Last month I outlined how utility suppliers can better secure the devices they manufacture. Today’s advice is directed at the utilities. There are actions you can take as individual companies and as an industry to reduce risk.

Implement operational technology security best practices

According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 80 percent of hacking-related breaches are the result of weak or compromised passwords. If you haven’t implemented multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all your user accounts, make it a priority. MFA can significantly reduce the likelihood that a user with a stolen password can access your company assets. I also recommend you take these additional steps to protect administrator 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 your 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.

 

Image 2

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. 

  • You also don’t want the occasional security mistake like clicking on a link when administrators are tired or distracted to compromise the workstation that has direct access to these critical systems.  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.

The following security best practices will also reduce your risk:

  • Whitelist approved applications. Define the list of software applications and executables that are approved to be on your networks. Block everything else. Your organization should especially target systems that are internet facing as well as Human-Machine Interface (HMI) systems that play the critical role of managing generation, transmission, or distribution of electricity
  • Regularly patch software and operating systems. Implement a monthly practice to apply security patches to software on all your systems. This includes applications and Operating Systems on servers, desktop computers, mobile devices, network devices (routers, switches, firewalls, etc.), as well as Internet of Thing (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Thing (IIoT) devices. Attackers frequently target known security vulnerabilities.
  • Protect legacy systems. Segment legacy systems that can no longer be patched by using firewalls to filter out unnecessary traffic. Limit access to only those who need it by using Just In Time and Just Enough Access principles and requiring MFA. Once you set up these subnets, firewalls, and firewall rules to protect the isolated systems, you must continually audit and test these controls for inadvertent changes, and validate with penetration testing and red teaming to identify rogue bridging endpoint and design/implementation weaknesses.
  • Segment your networks. If you are attacked, it’s important to limit the damage. By segmenting your network, you make it harder for an attacker to compromise more than one critical site. Maintain your corporate network on its own network with limited to no connection to critical sites like generation and transmission networks. Run each generating site on its own network with no connection to other generating sites. This will ensure that should a generating site become compromised, attackers can’t easily traverse to other sites and have a greater impact.
  • Turn off all unnecessary services. Confirm that none of your software has automatically enabled a service you don’t need. You may also discover that there are services running that you no longer use. If the business doesn’t need a service, turn it off.
  • Deploy threat protection solutions. Services like Microsoft Threat Protection help you automatically detect, respond to, and correlate incidents across domains.
  • Implement an incident response plan: When an attack happens, you need to respond quickly to reduce the damage and get your organization back up and running. Refer to Microsoft’s Incident Response Reference Guide for more details.

Speak with one voice

Power grids are interconnected systems of generating plants, wires, transformers, and substations. Regional electrical companies work together to efficiently balance the supply and demand for electricity across the nation. These same organizations have also come together to protect the grid from attack. As an industry, working through organizations like the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), utilities can define security standards and hold manufacturers accountable to those requirements.

It may also be useful to work with The Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC), The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), or The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S. NRC) to better regulate the security requirements of products manufactured for the electrical grid.

Apply extra scrutiny to IoT devices

As you purchase and deploy IoT devices, prioritize security. Be careful about purchasing products from countries that are motivated to infiltrate critical infrastructure. Conduct penetration tests against all new IoT and IIoT devices before you connect them to the network. When you place sensors on the grid, you’ll need to protect them from both cyberattacks and physical attacks. Make them hard to reach and tamper-proof.

Collaborate on solutions

Reducing the risk of a destabilizing power grid attack will require everyone in the utility industry to play a role. By working with manufacturers, trade organizations, and governments, electricity organizations can lead the effort to improve security across the industry. For utilities in the United States, several public-private programs are in place to enhance the utility industry capabilities to defend its infrastructure and respond to threats:

Read Part 1 in the series: “Defending the power grid against cyberattacks

Read “Defending the power grid against supply chain attacks: Part 2 – Securing hardware and software

Read how Microsoft Threat Protection can help you better secure your endpoints.

Learn how MSRC developed an incident response plan

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

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Microsoft and Zscaler help organizations implement the Zero Trust model

January 23rd, 2020 No comments

While digital transformation is critical to business innovation, delivering security to cloud-first, mobile-first architectures requires rethinking traditional network security solutions. Some businesses have been successful in doing so, while others still remain at risk of very costly breaches.

MAN Energy Solutions, a leader in the marine, energy, and industrial sectors, has been driving cloud transformation across their business. As with any transformation, there were challenges—as they began to adopt cloud services, they quickly realized that the benefits of the cloud would be offset by poor user experience, increasing appliance and networking costs, and an expanded attack surface.

In 2017, MAN Energy Solutions implemented “Blackcloud”—an initiative that establishes secure, one-to-one connectivity between each user and the specific private apps that the user is authorized to access, without ever placing the user on the larger corporate network. A virtual private network (VPN) is no longer necessary to connect to these apps. This mitigates lateral movement of bad actors or malware.

This approach is based on the Zero Trust security model.

Understanding the Zero Trust model

In 2019, Gartner released a Market Guide describing its Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) model and making a strong case for its efficacy in connecting employees and partners to private applications, simplifying mergers, and scaling access. Sometimes referred to as software-defined perimeter, the ZTNA model includes a “broker” that mediates connections between authorized users and specific applications.

The Zero Trust model grants application access based on identity and context of the user, such as date/time, geolocation, and device posture, evaluated in real-time. It empowers the enterprise to limit access to private apps only to the specific users who need access to them and do not pose any risk. Any changes in context of the user would affect the trust posture and hence the user’s ability to access the application.

Access governance is done via policy and enabled by two end-to-end, encrypted, outbound micro-tunnels that are spun on-demand (not static IP tunnels like in the case of VPN) and stitched together by the broker. This ensures apps are never exposed to the internet, thus helping to reduce the attack surface.

As enterprises witness and respond to the impact of increasingly lethal malware, they’re beginning to transition to the Zero Trust model with pilot initiatives, such as securing third-party access, simplifying M&As and divestitures, and replacing aging VPN clients. Based on the 2019 Zero Trust Adoption Report by Cybersecurity Insiders, 59 percent of enterprises plan to embrace the Zero Trust model within the next 12 months.

Implement the Zero Trust model with Microsoft and Zscaler

Different organizational requirements, existing technology implementations, and security stages affect how the Zero Trust model implementation takes place. Integration between multiple technologies, like endpoint management and SIEM, helps make implementations simple, operationally efficient, and adaptive.

Microsoft has built deep integrations with Zscaler—a cloud-native, multitenant security platform—to help organizations with their Zero Trust journey. These technology integrations empower IT teams to deliver a seamless user experience and scalable operations as needed, and include:

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD)—Enterprises can leverage powerful authentication tools—such as Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), conditional access policies, risk-based controls, and passwordless sign-in—offered by Microsoft, natively with Zscaler. Additionally, SCIM integrations ensure adaptability of user access. When a user is terminated, privileges are automatically modified, and this information flows automatically to the Zscaler cloud where immediate action can be taken based on the update.

Microsoft Endpoint Manager—With Microsoft Endpoint Manager, client posture can be evaluated at the time of sign-in, allowing Zscaler to allow or deny access based on the security posture. Microsoft Endpoint Manager can also be used to install and configure the Zscaler app on managed devices.

Azure Sentinel—Zscaler’s Nanolog Streaming Service (NSS) can seamlessly integrate with Azure to forward detailed transactional logs to the Azure Sentinel service, where they can be used for visualization and analytics, as well as threat hunting and security response.

Implementation of the Zscaler solution involves deploying a lightweight gateway software, on endpoints and in front of the applications in AWS and/or Azure. Per policies defined in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, Zscaler creates secure segments between the user devices and apps through the Zscaler security cloud, where brokered micro-tunnels are stitched together in the location closest to the user.

Infographic showing Zscaler Security and Policy Enforcement. Internet Destinations and Private Apps appear in clouds. Azure Sentinel, Microsoft Endpoint Manager, and Azure Active Directory appear to the right and left. In the center is a PC.

If you’d like to learn more about secure access to hybrid apps, view the webinar on Powering Fast and Secure Access to All Apps with experts from Microsoft and Zscaler.

Rethink security for the cloud-first, mobile-first world

The advent of cloud-based apps and increasing mobility are key drivers forcing enterprises to rethink their security model. According to Gartner’s Market Guide for Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) “by 2023, 60 percent of enterprises will phase out most of their remote access VPNs in favor of ZTNA.” Successful implementation depends on using the correct approach. I hope the Microsoft-Zscaler partnership and platform integrations help you accomplish the Zero Trust approach as you look to transform your business to the cloud.

For more information on the Zero Trust model, visit the Microsoft Zero Trust page. 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.

The post Microsoft and Zscaler help organizations implement the Zero Trust model appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Traditional perimeter-based network defense is obsolete—transform to a Zero Trust model

October 23rd, 2019 No comments

Digital transformation has made the traditional perimeter-based network defense obsolete. Your employees and partners expect to be able to collaborate and access organizational resources from anywhere, on virtually any device, without impacting their productivity. Customers expect personalized experiences that demonstrate you understand them and can adapt quickly to their evolving interests. Companies need to be able to move with agility, adapting quickly to changing market conditions and take advantage of new opportunities. Companies embracing this change are thriving, leaving those who don’t in their wake.

As organizations drive their digital transformation efforts, it quickly becomes clear that the approach to securing the enterprise needs to be adapted to the new reality. The security perimeter is no longer just around the on-premises network. It now extends to SaaS applications used for business critical workloads, hotel and coffee shop networks your employees are using to access corporate resources while traveling, unmanaged devices your partners and customers are using to collaborate and interact with, and IoT devices installed throughout your corporate network and inside customer locations. The traditional perimeter-based security model is no longer enough.

The traditional firewall (VPN security model) assumed you could establish a strong perimeter, and then trust that activities within that perimeter were “safe.” The problem is today’s digital estates typically consist of services and endpoints managed by public cloud providers, devices owned by employees, partners, and customers, and web-enabled smart devices that the traditional perimeter-based model was never built to protect. We’ve learned from both our own experience, and the customers we’ve supported in their own journeys, that this model is too cumbersome, too expensive, and too vulnerable to keep going.

We can’t assume there are “threat free” environments. As we digitally transform our companies, we need to transform our security model to one which assumes breach, and as a result, explicitly verifies activities and automatically enforces security controls using all available signal and employs the principle of least privilege access. This model is commonly referred to as “Zero Trust.”

Today, we’re publishing a new white paper to help you understand the core principles of Zero Trust along with a maturity model, which breaks down requirements across the six foundational elements, to help guide your digital transformation journey.

Download the Microsoft Zero Trust Maturity Model today!

Learn more about Zero Trust and Microsoft Security.

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.

To learn more about how you can protect your time and empower your team, check out the cybersecurity awareness page this month.

 

The post Traditional perimeter-based network defense is obsolete—transform to a Zero Trust model appeared first on Microsoft Security.