After a long list of high-profile security breaches that culminated in the widely publicized Sony Pictures Entertainment hack last November, everyone has gradually become used to this type of news. If anything, they only confirm the fact that security experts have known for years: the struggle between hackers and corporate security teams is fundamentally asymmetrical. Regardless of its size and budgets, no company is safe from such attacks simply because a security team has to cover all possible attack vectors, and a hacker needs just a single overlooked one.
Another important factor is the ongoing trend in the IT industry of rapidly growing interconnectivity and gradual erosion of network perimeters caused by adoption of cloud and mobile services, with trends such as “Industry 4.0”, i.e. connected manufacturing, and IoT with billions of connected devices adding to this erosion. All this makes protecting sensitive corporate data increasingly difficult and this is why the focus of information security is now shifting from protecting the perimeter towards real-time security intelligence and early detection of insider threats within corporate networks. Firewalls still play a useful role in enterprise security infrastructures, but, to put it bluntly, the perimeter is dead.
Having that in mind, the latest news regarding a hack of the French television network TV5Monde last Wednesday look even more remarkable. Apparently, not just their web site and social media accounts were taken over by hackers calling themselves “Cybercaliphate” and claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, they also managed to disrupt their TV broadcasting equipment for several hours. Political implications of the hack aside, the first thing in the article linked above that attracted my attention was the statement of the network’s director Yves Bigot: “At the moment, we’re trying to analyse what happened: how this very powerful cyber-attack could happen when we have extremely powerful and certified firewalls.”
Now, we all know that analyzing and attributing a cyber-attack is a very difficult and time-consuming process, so it’s still too early to judge whether the attack was indeed carried out by a group of uneducated jihadists from a war-torn Middle-Eastern region or is was a job of a hired professional team, but one thing that’s immediately clear is that it has nothing to do with firewalls. The technical details of the attack are still quite sparse, but according to this French-language publication, the hackers utilized a piece of malware written in Visual Basic to carry out their attack. In fact, it’s a variation of a known malware that is detected by many antivirus products and its most probable delivery vectors could be an unpatched Java vulnerability or even an infected email message. Surely, the hackers probably needed quite a long time to prepare their attack, but they are obviously not highly-skilled technical specialists and were not even good enough at hiding their tracks.
In fact, it would be completely safe to say that the only people to blame for the catastrophic results of the hack are TV5Monde’s own employees. After deploying their “extremely powerful firewalls” they seemingly didn’t pay much attention to protecting their networks from insider threats. According to this report, they went so far as to put sticky notes with passwords on walls and expose them on live TV!
We can also assume with certain confidence that their other security practices were equally lax. For example, the fact that all their social media accounts were compromised simultaneously probably indicates that the same credentials were used for all of them (or at least that the segregation of duties principle isn’t a part of their security strategy). And, of course, complete disruption of their TV service is a clear indication that their broadcasting infrastructure simply wasn’t properly isolated from their corporate network.
We will, of course, be waiting for additional details and new developments to be published, but it is already clear that the case of Sony hack apparently wasn’t as educational for TV5Monde as security experts have probably hoped. Well, some people just need to learn from their own mistakes. You, however, don't have to.
The first thing every organization’s security team has to realize is that the days of perimeter security are over. The number of possible attack vectors on corporate infrastructure and data has increased dramatically, and the most critical ones (like compromised privileged accounts) are actually working from within the network. Combined with much stricter compliance regulations, this means that not having a solid information security strategy can have dramatic financial and legal consequences.
For a quick overview of top 10 security mistakes with potentially grave consequences I recommend having a look at the appropriately titled KuppingerCole’s Leadership Brief: 10 Security Mistakes That Every CISO Must Avoid published just a few days ago. And of course, you’ll find much more information on our website in form of research documents, blog posts and webinar recording.
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