External Threat Management

As Cyber Security Awareness Month Comes to a Close, Let’s Reflect on the Real Battlefield for Cybercrime

With Cyber Security Awareness Month coming to a close, lots of the narrative was around network and perimeter defense. However, competition and shifting business strategies hasten the need for digital business initiatives that involve developing and deploying digital assets that bring closer contact with customers and partners, enable collaborations with third-parties, and reduce costs. Meanwhile, as network and perimeter security advance, threat actors continue to shift to this softer perimeter outside the firewall.

A recent RiskIQ study of the 30 largest UK businesses showed that each had an average of 3,315 web properties. The majority of these were outside the corporate firewall. These findings are similar, if not substantially lower, to what one would expect of US businesses.

Digital business initiatives often move quickly, and often without the involvement of the company’s security team. Business units may act on their own volition, and groups may choose to partner with other firms to take advantage of optimal timing. Individual employees may also act on their own to establish external digital assets. Intuitively, business leaders may know that resources would be more secure run from inside the corporate perimeter, but the potential gains and strategic stakes mean “Damn the torpedoes; we’re going in!”

Digital assets may take the form of a traditional website or microsite, but they also may exist as a social media property or a portion of an existing third-party site. Additionally, with the great advantages and expectations for mobile apps, the asset may take the form of a new or modified app.

The first challenge this presents to an organization’s security—and, at the same time, the generous opportunity for threat actors—is simply knowing what digital assets exist at any given moment. Ask any corporate security leader how many of their company’s digital assets exist outside their firewall, and the number is likely a half to a tenth of the real number.

Discovering these assets takes considerable resources. And the number is always changing, with new assets coming online with regular frequency. Mobile apps are also difficult to monitor and manage, with distribution being so varied and complex. In one recent study, RiskIQ performed, based on having continuous knowledge of internet and mobile traffic, 90 percent of the apps from 45 companies we analyzed resided in unofficial, unsanctioned app stores. Only 10 percent were in official stores and fully under the control of the company that owned them. This is a typical ratio. Today, there are more than 500 app stores or distribution portals. Unmonitored and unmanaged apps fall prey to attackers who can modify code or add components to the download package. App delivery has become the new Wild West.

Cyber Security Awareness Month came to a close, but the battle in digital channel is ramping up, and will define the future of cyber security.

Fig-1 The state of digital threats

Do you know your firm’s true digital footprint, including mobile app and social channels? Threat actors are likely currently examining your real digital footprint, looking for new entry points to the corporate network as well as places to steal credentials and data, redirect and monetize traffic, infect unsuspecting visitors, or hijack interactions.

The second challenge is managing all of the digital assets. First, you have to know about them; then you need to monitor and manage to ensure that software and certificates are patched and up-to-date and that attackers have not gained access and made changes to code. A growing tactic used by attackers is to modify the third-party code that is typically employed in a digital asset—for instance, shopping cart software or data collection tools. It is relatively easy to modify code to redirect traffic or download files and programs onto a visitor’s computing device. On October 12, an Equifax website was compromised, redirecting visitors to a site that downloads a fake Adobe Flash app. The attackers apparently had modified a piece of third-party Javascript from Fireclick Media to cause the redirection.

An unmanaged digital asset is susceptible to malvertising or a phishing ploy. RiskIQ witnessed a 132% increase in malvertising from 2015 to 2016, and in Q2 2017, the quarterly increase was nearly 19%. Some may even usurp visitor’s CPU cycles to mine cryptocurrency and other tasks or enroll victims’ computing devices in a large botnet or army to carry out Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

Threat actors will use your exposed digital assets against your business. It is the new battlefield for cybercrime and a boon to cyber activism, state-sponsored terror, and other significant threats. The same assets that are intended to advance business can lead to its ruin. It is imperative to protect your business and customers by monitoring and managing your true digital footprint.

Signing up for RiskIQ Community Edition now gives you access to one of the most popular RiskIQ products–Digital Footprint. When you sign up or sign in with your organizational email address, you get a glimpse into your organization’s attack surface.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to the RiskIQ newsletter to stay up-to-date on our latest content, headlines, research, events, and more.

Base Editor