Detecting Indications of Compromise and Decreasing Response Time
ISE 6100 – Security Project Practicum – CIO Report
Authors: Gordon Fraser, email@example.com
Tobias Mccurry, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wesley Earnest, email@example.com
Advisor: Stephen Northcutt
Accepted: November 23, 2016
GIAC Enterprises, a small to medium sized business specializing in Fortune Cookie sayings, is faced with the risk of its intellectual property being compromised. One of the most common vectors used by attackers to gain access to this intellectual property via phishing emails which lure users into executing malicious programs on their computers. To address this risk, GIAC’s CIO established a tiger team to investigate and examine ways to streamline the incident response process. Research shows that only 3% of users report possible phishing emails (Verizon, 2016). Because of this gap, the team focused on ways to automate detection. The team also looked for ways to decrease the amount of time it takes for an analyst to respond to a suspected incident. The proposed solution combines open source tools, Bro and Cuckoo, to analyze incoming email attachments and escalate only the attachments that deemed suspicious to the SOC Analyst. The proposed solution also includes updates to GIAC’s incident response procedures to quickly identify compromised systems using indicators of compromise.
GIAC Enterprises, a small to medium sized business specializing in Fortune Cookie sayings, is faced with the risk of its intellectual property being compromised. One of the most common vectors used by attackers to this data is phishing emails which lure users into executing malicious programs on their computers. To address this risk, GIAC’s CIO established a tiger team to examine the following use cases:
· Users receiving a phishing email with a malicious attachment.
· Users receiving a phishing email with a malicious URL.
· Drive-by attack resulting from a user visiting a malicious web site.
1.1. Current Environment
GIAC’s current detection and response processes require many inefficient manual steps which are unnecessarily burning incident response cycles. The current detection process relies heavily on the end user notifying the security team of suspicious emails. The Security Operation Center (SOC) analyst needs to extract the suspicious attachment, upload it to the sandbox, and wait for analysis to finish. However, research shows that only three percent of users report possible phishing emails (Verizon, 2016). Because of this gap in the detection process, the team focused on ways to streamline and automate previously documented incident response steps.
The team also looked for ways to decrease the amount of time it takes for an analyst to respond to a suspected incident. In the current process, the email administrators notify the SOC analysts of the individuals who may have read or opened the email. The SOC analyst would then take whatever action was necessary. Per the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Report (Verizon, 2016) 30% of people who receive a phishing email open it. Only 12% of the recipients opened the malicious attachment or clicked on the link. Quickly identifying the individuals who took the phishing bait would significantly reduce the scope of the investigation and time to resolution.
GIAC Enterprises recently implemented a pilot SIEM utilizing AlienVault’s Open Source Security Information Management (OSSIM) product to improve situational awareness and visibility by correlating log files and security events. Based on our team’s research and conversations with AlienVault, neither OSSIM nor AlienVault’s commercial solution Unified Security Management (USM) is designed to proactively examine files for malicious behavior. It can only detect the malicious activity once the compromise has happened. To protect GIAC’s intellectual property, a more proactive and automated solution must be implemented to mitigate the risk posed by these use cases.
2. Proposed Solution
Based on the scenario of a phishing email leading to ransomware, the team focused its research efforts on points in the existing process that could be performed proactively or automated to improve the efficiency of the SOC Analyst’s time. The proposed solution combines open source tools, Bro and Cuckoo, to analyze incoming email attachments and escalate only the attachments that deemed suspicious to the SOC Analyst. According to AlienVault, “You cannot stop ransomware [...] detecting [ransomware] within a timely fashion gives you the chance to respond effectively.” (AlienVault, 2016). The proposed solution also includes enhancements to GIAC’s incident response procedures to handle potential incidents. Figure 1 shows the workflow of the proof-of-concept built during this project.
Figure 1: Proposed Solution Workflow
1) Monitor network traffic (incoming SMTP traffic and outbound HTTP requests).
2) Parse SMTP and HTTP traffic with Bro and extract all files (based on configured list of MIME types) and URLs of interest.
3) Extracted files are saved on the Bro server. A service monitors for new files in a directory. When a new file is detected, a script will copy the file to the Cuckoo server for analysis.
4) Cuckoo server has a directory that is being watched for new files to analyze. When a new file is detected in the directory, Cuckoo analyzes the file and generates a text output.
5) A script parses the Cuckoo output. If no outbound network connectivity is detected, the file is considered benign and discarded. If outbound network connectivity is detected, then the file requires further analysis. An Analyst Report text file is created and sent to the Bro server.
6) On the Bro server, a script runs for each Analyst Report file which parses the Bro logs for the details of the HTTP connection or the SMTP email (to/from/subject) and appends a set of Powershell scripts to the Analyst Report file.
7) The Powershell scripts can be used to search through the Exchange server mailboxes based on:
a. Messages that contain either the same sender, subject, or attachment.
b. Archive and/or delete the message containing the suspect file.
8) Notify SOC analyst of the new Analyst Report for further review and initiate the incident response process if necessary.
9) Create a ticket in OSSIM to track the analysis of the suspicious file or URL, and any remediation effort.
2.1. Streamlining Incident Response Process
To efficiently streamline the incident response process, the team identified three sources of network data to include DNS logs, netflows, and full packet capture. PassiveDNS logs DNS requests and responses. The nfdump suite of tools helps capture the netflow data, which is a summary of network traffic. Tcpdump is used to collect full packet captures.
3. Use Case Validation
The team constructed a lab environment to conduct simulated attacks. To test the first use case, a phishing email with a malicious attachment, an email was sent with a word document that contained a Visual Basic script that executed a malicious payload that connected back to the attacker’s machine. The second and third use cases, a phishing email with a malicious URL and drive-by attack, was tested by sending an email that contained a link to a web site that compromised the browser, connected back to the attacker, downloaded and executed a malicious payload.
The Analyst Report was generated due to the outbound connection initiated by the word document and separately the drive-by attack. Bro appended details from the original vector and the Analyst Report to help with eradication portion of the incident response process. The eradication phase was validated by using the Powershell scripts generated from the details provided in the steps above. These scripts removed the malicious emails from any users’ inboxes.
Given the indicators of compromise from the Analyst Report, we quickly identified the systems that were compromised. This would support the incident response team during triage and allow them to focus their efforts on those systems which pose the most risk to the organization. During testing, full network traffic was captured for analysis.
This new workflow provides a much more comprehensive solution to dealing both phishing emails and attachments and files downloaded via HTTP. Bro and Cuckoo working together showed promise in detecting potentially malicious files. Using the DNS logs, netflow data, and full packet captures proved valuable in streamlining the identification of compromised systems.
4.1. Future Enhancements
There are several aspects within this proof-of-concept that could be enhanced during future phases of this project. First, this proof-of-concept is currently only able to rule out benign files based on the absence of outbound network connectivity. If only 3% of suspect files are currently being reported by end users, it is likely that promoting this new process to production will substantially increase the SOC analyst’s workload. Further research is needed to improve the quality of detection capabilities in Cuckoo. One such approach may be YARA. YARA is a tool that could be integrated with Cuckoo to identify and classify malware (YARA, 2016).
Integration with Exchange is another area where the process could be further streamlined. Removing the manual process of the identifying users that received the email via Powershell would be beneficial. Execution of the Powershell scripts could be automated and the output included in the Analyst Report.
The integration with OSSIM could also be enhanced to provide the SOC analyst with additional visibility into the environment by creating custom plugins and correlation directives with the log data from Bro, Cuckoo, and Exchange. Creation of incident tickets could be automated to help raise awareness to a possible incident.
Like all intrusion detection systems, this new process is still limited to the traffic it can monitor. Encrypted files, secure email, and HTTPS websites would require SSL/TLS termination at the border for the network monitoring tools such as Bro and nfdump to work.
AlienVault. (2016) Detect Ransomeware Before It’s Too Late with AlienVault USM. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from https://www.alienvault.com/forms/webcast-thank-you/detect-ransomware-before-its-too-late-with-alienvault-usm
Verizon. (2016) 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report. Retrieved October 5, 2016, from www.verizonenterprise.com/resources/reports/rp_DBIR_2016_Report_en_xg.pdf
YARA. (2016) YARA in a nutshell. Retrieved October 7, 2016 from http://virustotal.github.io/yara/