The Art of Intelligent Deception in Cyber Security

By
  • Doron Kolton
Published
  • June 03 2016, 6:30am EDT
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While tools that protect a network’s perimeter are undoubtedly an important part of an organization’s security architecture, no solution – whether it’s a firewall or antivirus software – can prevent every attack. This is because it’s not an even fight.

Hackers only need to be successful once, while organizations protecting sensitive information need to successfully thwart threats on a daily basis.

Given that it is virtually a guarantee that someone will make it past the security protecting the perimeter, every organization must have a plan in place to identify external and internal intruders as quick as possible. Unfortunately, this is not what typically transpires.

According to Verizon’s 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), it takes four out of five victims weeks (or even longer) to realize that they have been breached. By that time the hackers are often long gone. So what can be done? By implementing attractive, but realistic decoys, traps and mini-traps inside the organization, it is possible to con, lure and confuse intruders before valuable information is stolen.

How decoys work

Decoys counter sophisticated types of attack by applying techniques that entice attackers, fool and feed them false data, and provide an organization a forensic trail of the attacker’s movements and the option to react before the data is stolen.

Attackers that are able to get through the perimeter of a network are typically shrewd and familiar with the layout of a common corporate network. However, even the most experienced hackers are initially working with a handicap as they are still learning the inner workings of a specific network.

This is a weakness that organizations must exploit quickly by creating a mirage to confuse and lure in the attacker. This deception strategy is similar to what has been used in combat for centuries. Strategically placed decoys in the form of fake equipment and communications confuse the opposition and lure them away from their target, providing the opposition the advantage.

There are many aspects to creating a good decoy strategy, but ultimately, the most important component is making the decoys attractive and believable and placing them in the right locations.

It is also key to distribute the traps and mini-traps in a manner that lures attackers into the decoy. The mini-traps can be cookies, registry values, files, mounted drives, ARP table values – but all have fake credentials and fake data that attackers want and are searching for. However, it is important to make sure they aren’t too good to be true – they must mimic valuable assets that the company really has. Ultimately, the goal should be to trap the intruder within the initial activities.

Setting mini-traps

One of the key challenges in setting mini-traps to lure cybercriminals is to identify the best assets in the organization in which they should be planted. In order to do this, one should scan network traffic and analyze applications being used on each asset and profile the behavior associated with each network asset, and in turn, weigh the risks posed by its access. For example: an asset that never accesses any server in the organization – this is low risk. However, an asset that shows traces of mobile connectivity is high risk. To keep up with increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks, it is important for IT to get into the mindset of intruders. Decoys are only effective if attackers enter them, and the most powerful mini-trap is useless in a server that’s rarely even used.

To draw attackers in, one need to look through their eyes to truly understand what assets are most attractive and what direction they might take to explore the organization. Once one knows the level of risk associated with each asset, mini-traps can be placed with little overhead and virtually no interference where they’ll be most effective, and ultimately provide the best protection.

(About the author: Doron Kolton is founder and CEO of TopSpin, is a 25-year veteran of the data security market. Prior to founding TopSpin Security in 2013, Doron was in charge of web application firewall development at Breach Security, a position he continued to hold after the company was acquired by Trustwave. Prior to that he held a number of senior management positions in the software industry).

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