Cyber Monday and Black Friday Cyber Security Safety Tips to Prevent Holiday Hacks  

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you’re anything like me, you get really excited when the holidays roll around. The music is cheerful (the Hallmark Channel is on 24/7–high five!), the fireplace is roaring, and I can curl up with my blanket and mobile phone to SHOP ONLINE (of course). Ah, the spirit of the holidays…But the bah humbug part about the scene I’ve just set, is I’m not the only one feeling “festive.” Cybercriminals LOVE when surges in online shopping occur because people are looking for the best deals on gifts, bargain hunting, and planning for the biggest online shopping days of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This means adversaries can more easily manipulate our holiday spirits with cyberattack methods like phishing and social engineering, credit card fraud, and more.

So while you prepare your winter festivities and “add to cart,” consider these 12 tips to keep your “digital dwelling” safe and warm during Cyber Monday and Black Friday, especially.

Shop from websites you know and trust. 

Don’t click on those flashy “hot deals” that are likely too good to be true. Scammers deliver ads based on your interests, offering sweet discounts or great deals to get the click. Now is NOT the time to experiment with new retail websites and apps.

Don’t go “public.” 

Avoid public Wi-Fi when using the Internet, especially when accessing sensitive data like your bank account balance or emails. Your personal information isn’t a “gift” you want to give a hacker this holiday season.

Update your operating systems. 

With a little more downtime during the holidays, take a merry minute to keep your operating systems as current as possible. This also goes for apps on your phone.

Refresh your passwords.

Enter into the New Year with stronger, more secure passwords—something that will keep a criminal out of your personal property and prevent identity theft. Things like symbols and numbers to replace letters add a layer of complexity that make passwords harder to crack. Consider using a password manager to store all your different passwords so you don’t forget them!

To ensure you are protected from any precocious cyber predator, check our security awareness game inCyt, a fun way to learn cyber concepts and attack methods while cozying up on your couch with a hot toddy. You can practice proactive cyber readiness during the holidays—and year-round with this sweet resource. 

Don’t click on suspicious links. 

Scammers, like the Grinch, will impersonate real online retailers and stores to get you to open an email and click on links while you are holiday shopping. Don’t! This phishing email tactic opens the door for them to install malware on your computer and before you know it, your data is stolen and compromised.

Look for the lock. 

Secure websites will often have a lock icon in the browser address bar to indicate it is a secure connection.

Get creative with security questions. 

Your mother’s maiden name or favorite food can most likely be found online somewhere, so try getting creative with your security questions to access your accounts. Choose a motto you live by perhaps or choose an answer to a question that is completely opposite of what you would select.

Watch your bank and card activity.

Hackers can see your financial activity when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake if you’re not careful. Diligently monitor your bank account, online transactions, and card activity and notify your financial services provider if you observe any suspicious activity.

Disable auto-connect.

Some devices will auto-connect to available wireless networks. Ensure you are only connected to wireless and Bluetooth networks when devices are in use or about to be used. Unknowingly being connected is the opportune time for hackers to cause damage right under your nose.

Store devices when away. 

If you’re a busy traveler, criminals seek out meal times to check hotel rooms for unattended laptops and mobile devices. Be especially wary when attending conferences or trade shows as guest networks tend to be more vulnerable to attacks (and allows hackers to access lots of data from lots of people, who are all in one convenient location).

Activate double authentication. 

If you haven’t done so already, ensure all your apps have a double authentication factor so every time someone tries to log in to your online account, they need a code or key that is texted to your phone or sent to your email to gain access. That makes unintended access to things like social media accounts more difficult for cybercriminals.

Practice persistent protection.

Hackers aren’t just looking to exploit individual data, they also target businesses knowing many take extra time off this time of year to spend with loved ones. Ensure your company has a strong cybersecurity response plan in place and key members of your threat intelligence, analysis, and fraud teams are consistently practicing responding to threat scenarios. Our Project Ares platform runs on Microsoft Azure, so professionals can practice cyber offense and defense from anywhere, at any time on a gamified cyber range.

It’s important to practice safe online behavior all year-round but the holidays bring about an extra level of digital activity hackers love to exploit. Make sure you are taking proactive measures to ensure you are having the most wonderful online shopping day of the year—and cybercriminals aren’t.

 

 

Immersive Cyber Training with Project Ares: Ramping Up a Cyber Career

Reading Time: 9 minutes

As promised, I’m back with a follow-up to my recent post on how we need modernize the learning experience for cybersecurity professionals by gamifying training to make learning fun.  Some of you may have attended the recent Microsoft Ignite events in Orlando and Paris.  I missed the conferences (ironically, due to attending a cybersecurity certification boot camp) but heard great things about the Microsoft – Circadence joint “Into the Breach” capture the flag exercise.  If you missed Ignite, we are planning several additional “Microsoft Ignite The Tour” events around the world, where you’ll be able to try your hand at this capture the flag experience.  Look for me at the DC event, right after the Super Bowl, in early February.

In the meantime, due to the great feedback that I received from my previous blog (which by the way I do really appreciate, especially if you have other ideas for how we should be tackling the shortage of cyber professionals), I will be digging deeper into the mechanics of learning to understand what it really takes to learn cyber in today’s evolving landscape.  I want to address the important questions of how a new employee would actually ramp up their learning, and how employers can prepare employees for success, and track the efficacy of the learning curriculum.  Once again, I’m pleased to share this post with Keenan Skelly, chief evangelist at Boulder, CO-based Circadence.  Take a look a look at some of her recommendations:

 

Q: Keenan, in our last blog, you discussed Circadence’s ‘Project Ares’ cyber learning platform.  How do new cyber practitioners get started on Project Ares?

The way that Project Ares is set up allows for a user to acquire a variety of different skill levels when launched.  It’s important to understand what kind of work roles you are looking to learn about as a user. What kinds of tools you’re looking to understand better before you get started on Project Ares. For example, if I were to take some of my Girls Who Code, or Cyber Patriot students and put them into the platform, I would probably have them start in the Battle School. This is where they’re going to learn about basic cybersecurity fundamentals, things like ports and protocols, regular expressions and the cyber kill chain. Then they can transition into Battle Rooms, where they will start to learn about very specific tools, tactics and procedures (TTPs), for a variety of different work roles. If you are a much more skilled cyber ninja, however, you can probably go ahead and get right into Missions, but we do recommend that everyone who comes into Project Ares does do some work in the Battle Rooms first, specifically if they are trying to learn a tool or a skill for their work role.

In Project Ares, we have a couple of different routes that an expert or an enterprising cybersecurity professional can come into that’s really focused more on their role. For example, we have an assessments area that is based entirely on the work role. That aligns to the NIST framework and the NICE cybersecurity work roles. For example, if you are a network defender, you can come into that assessment pathway and have steps laid out before you to identify your skill level in that work role.

 

Q: What areas within Project Ares do you recommend for enterprise cyber professionals to train against role-based job functions and prepare for cyber certifications?

You might start with something simple like understanding very basic things about your work role through a questionnaire in the Battle School arena. You may then move into a couple of Battle Rooms that tease out very detailed skills in tools that you would be using for that role. And then eventually you’ll get to go into a mission by yourself, and potentially a mission with your entire team to really certify that you are capable in that work role. All of this practice helps prepare professionals to take official cyber certifications and exams.

 

Q: Describe some of the gamification elements in Project Ares and share how it enhances cyber learning. 

One of the best things about Project Ares is gamification. Everyone loves to play games, whether it’s on your phone playing Angry Birds, or on your computer or gaming console, so we really tried to put a lot of gaming elements inside Project Ares.  For example, everything is scored within Project Ares, so everything you do from learning about ports and protocols, to battle rooms, to missions gives you points, experience points—those experience points add up to skill badges. All these things make learning more fun for the end-user. For example, if you are a defender, you might have skill badges in infrastructure, network design, network defense, etc.  and the way Ares is set up, once you have a certain combination of those skill badges you can actually earn a work role achievement certificate within Project Ares.

This kind of thing is taken very much from Call of Duty, or other types of games where you can really build up your skills by doing a very specific skill-based activity and earning points towards badges. One of the other things that is  great about Project Ares is it’s quite immersive, so the Missions, for example, allow a user to come into a specific cyber situation or cyber response situation (e.g. water treatment plant cyber attack) and be able to have multimedia effects that demonstrate what is going– very much reflective of that cool guy video look. Being able to talk through challenges in the exercises with our in-game advisor, Athena, adds another element to the learning experience. She, Athena, was inspired by the trends of personal assistants like Cortana and other such AI “bots” which have been integrated into games. So these things like chat bots, narrative storylines, and skill badges are super important for really immersing the individual in the process. It is so much more fun, and easier to learn things in this way, as opposed to sitting through a static Power Point presentation or watching someone on a on a video, trying to learn the skill passively.

 

Q: What kinds of insights and reporting capability can Project Ares deliver to cyber team supervisors and C-Suite leaders to help them assessing cyber readiness? 

Project Ares offers a couple great features that are good for managers, all the way up to C-Suite individuals who are trying to understand how their cybersecurity team is doing. The first one is called Project Ares Trainer View. This is where a supervisor or manager can actually jump into the Project Ares environment with the students or with the enterprise team members and actually do that in a couple of different ways. So for example, the instructor, or the manager can jump into the environment as Athena, so that the user doesn’t know that they are in there, they can provide additional insight or help that is needed to a student.

A supervisor or leader can also jump in as the opponent, which gives them the ability to see someone who is just breezing by everything, to maybe make it a little more challenging; and then of course, they can just observe and leave comments for the individuals.  That piece is really helpful when we are talking about managers who are looking to understand their team’s skill level in much more detail.

The other piece of that is a product we have coming out soon called Dendrite.  Dendrite is an analytics tool that looks at everything that happens at Project Ares so we record all the key strokes, any chats that a user has with Athena, the in game advisor, and any chatting a user may have done with other team members while in a mission or battle room.  Cyber team leads can really see what’s going on, and as a user, you can see what you’re doing well, and what you’re not doing well.  That can be provided up to the manager level, the senior manager level, and even to the C-Suite level to demonstrate exactly where that individual is, in their particular skill path. It helps cyber team leads to understand what tools are being used appropriately and which tools are not being used appropriately.

For example, if you are a financial institution and you paid quite a bit of money for Tanium, but upon viewing tool use in Dendrite, you find that no one is using it. It might prompt you to rethink your strategy on how you are using tools in your organization optimally. Or, how you’re training your folks to use those tools. These types of insights are absolutely critical if you want to understand the best way to grow the individual in cybersecurity and make sure they are really on top of their game.

 

Q: How do non-technical employees improve their cyber readiness?

Here at Circadence we don’t just provide learning capabilities for advanced cyber warriors. For mid-range people just coming into the technical side of cybersecurity, we have an entire learning path that starts with a product called inCytÔ. Now, inCyt is very fun, browser-based game of strategy where players have some hackable devices that they have to protect, like operating systems and phones. Meanwhile, your opponent has the same thing objective: protect their devices from attacks. Players continually hack each other by gathering intel on their opponent and then launching different cyber attacks. While they’re doing this, players actual get a fundamental understanding of the cyber kill chain.  They learn things like what reconnaissance means to a hacker, what weaponizing means to a hacker, what deploying that weapon means to a hacker, so that they can start to recognize that behavior in their everyday interactions online.

Some people ask why that’s important and I always say: “I used to be a bomb technician, and there is no possible way I could defuse an IED or nuclear weapon without understanding how those things are put together.” It’s the same kind of concept.

It’s impossible to assume that someone is going to learn cyber awareness by answering some questions or watching a five-minute phishing tutorial, after they have already clicked on a link in an suspicious email. Those are very reactive ways of learning cyber. inCyt is very proactive. And we want to teach you in-depth understanding of what to look for, not just for phishing but for all the attacks we are all susceptible to. inCyt is also being used by some of our customers as a preliminary gate track for those who are interested in cybersecurity. So you may demonstrate a very high aptitude within inCyt in which case we would send you over to our CyberBridge portal where you can start learning some of the basics of cybersecurity and see if it might be the right field for you. Within our CyberBridge access management portal, you can then go into Project Ares Academy which is just a lighter version of Project Ares.

Professional and Enterprise licenses in Project Ares pave more intricate learning pathways for people to advance in learning from novice to expert cyber defender. You’ll be able to track all metrics of where you started how far you came, what kind of skill path you’re on, what kind of skill path you want to be on. Very crucial items for your own work role pathway.

 

How to close the cybersecurity talent gap

Keenan’s  perspective and the solution that is offered by Project Ares really helps to understand how to train security professionals and give them the hands-on experience they require and want.  We’re in interesting times, right?  With innovations in machine learning and artificial intelligence, we’re increasingly able to pivot from reactive cyber defense to get more predictive.  Still, though, right now we are facing a cybersecurity talent gap of up to 4 million people depending on which analyst group you follow, so the only way that we are going to get folks interested in cybersecurity is to make it exactly what we have been talking about: a career-long opportunity to learn.

Make it something that they can attain, that they can grow in, and  see themselves going from a novice to a leader in an organization.  This is tough right now because there are relatively few cybersecurity operators compared to demand, and the operators on the front lines are subject to burnout, with uncertain and undefined career paths beyond tactical SecOps.  What’s to look forward to?

We need to get better as a community in cybersecurity, not only protecting the cybersecurity defenders that we have already, but also helping to bring in new cybersecurity defenders and offenders who are really going to push the boundaries of where we are at today.  This is where we have an excellent and transformational opportunity to introduce more immersive and gamified learning, to improve the learning experience and put our people in a position to succeed.

 

To read more about how to close the cybersecurity talent gap, please read this ebook.

For more information on Microsoft intelligence security solutions visit:  https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security/business

Living our Mission Blog Series #3: New Learning Curriculum in Project Ares 3.6.4

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We’ve made several new updates to our gamified cyber learning platform Project Ares. We are releasing new battle room and mission cyber security exercises for professionals to continue training and honing skills and competency and have optimized some aspects of performance to make the learning experience smoother.

New Missions and Battle Rooms

To ensure professionals have access to the latest threats to train against, we develop new missions and battle rooms for our users so they can continually learn new cyber security skills, both technical and professional. The following new missions are available to users of the Professional and Enterprise licenses of Project Ares; while the new battle rooms updates are available to users of the Academy, Professional, and Enterprise licenses of Project Ares.

Mission 5 – Operation Wounded Bear

Designed to feature cyber security protection for financial institutions, the learning objectives for this mission are to identify and remove malware responsible for identity theft and protect the network from further infections. Variability in play within the mission includes method of exfiltration, malicious DNS and IP addresses, infected machines, data collection with file share uploads that vary, method of payload and persistence, and a mix of Windows and Linux.

This mission provides practical application of the following skill sets:

  • Computer languages
  • Computer network defense
  • Information systems
  • Information security
  • Command line interface
  • Cyber defense analysis
  • Network and O/S hardening techniques
  • Signature development, implementation and impact
  • Incident response

Mission Objectives:

  1. Use IDS/IPS to alert on initial malware infection vectors
  2. Alert/prevent download of malicious executables
  3. Create alert for infections
  4. Kill malware processes and remove malware from the initially infected machine
  5. Kill other instances of malware processes and remove from machines
  6. Prevent further infection

Mission 6 – Operation Angry Tiger

Using threat vectors similar to the Saudi Arabia Aramco and Doha RasGas cyber attacks, this mission is about responding to phishing and exfiltration attacks.  Cyber defenders conduct a risk assessment of a company’s existing network structure and its cyber risk posture for possible phishing attacks. Tasks include reviewing all detectable weaknesses to ensure no malicious activity is occurring on the network currently. Variability in play within the mission includes the method of phishing in email and payload injection, the alert generated, the persistence location and lateral movement specifics, and the malicious DNS and IP addresses.

Core competencies used in the mission:

  • Incident response team processes
  • Windows and *nix systems administration (Active Directory, Group Policy, Email)
  • Network monitoring (Snort, Bro, Sguil)

Mission Objectives:

  1. Verify network monitoring tools are functioning
  2. Examine current email policies for risk
  3. Examine domain group/user policies for risk
  4. Verify indicator of compromise (IOC)
  5. Find and kill malicious process
  6. Remove all artifacts of infection
  7. Stop exfiltration of corporate data

Mission 13 – Operation Black Dragon

Defending the power grid is a prevailing concern today and Mission 13 focuses on cyber security techniques for Industry Control Systems and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems (ICS/SCADA).  Players conduct a cyber defense assessment mission on a power distribution plant. The end state of the assessment will be a defensible power grid with local defender ability to detect attempts to compromise the grid as well as the ability to attribute any attacks and respond accordingly.

Core competencies used in the mission:

  •  Risk Management
  • Incident Response Management
  • Information Systems and Network Security
  • Vulnerability Assessment
  • Hacking Methodologies

Mission Objectives:

  1. Evaluate risks to the plant
  2. Determine if there are any indicators of compromise to the network
  3. Improve monitoring of network behavior
  4. Mitigate an attack if necessary

Battle Room 8 – Network Analysis Using Packet Capture (PCAP)

Battle Room 8 delivers new exercises to teach network forensic investigation skills via analysis of a PCAP. Analyze the file to answer objectives related to topics such as origins of C2 traffic, identification of credentials in the clear, sensitive document exfiltration, and database activity using a Kali image with multiple network analysis tools installed.

Core competencies used in the mission:

  • Intrusion Detection Basics
  • Packet Capture Analysis

Battle Room 10 – Scripting Fundamentals

Scripting is a critical cyber security operator skillset for any team. Previously announced and now available, Battle Room 10 is the first Project Ares exercise focus on this key skill.  The player conducts a series of regimented tasks using the Python language in order to become more familiar with fundamental programming concepts. This battle room is geared towards players looking to develop basic programming and scripting skills, such as:

  • Functions
  • Classes and Objects
  • File Manipulation
  • Exception Handling
  • User Input
  • Data Structures
  • Conditional Statements
  • Loops
  • Variables
  • Numbers & Operators
  • Casting
  • String Manipulation

Core competency used in the mission:

  • Basic knowledge of programming concepts

Game client performance optimizations

We made several adjustments to improve the performance of Project Ares and ensure a smooth player experience throughout the platform.

  • The application size has been reduced by optimizing the texture, font, and 3D assets. This will improve the load time for the game client application.
  • 3D assets were optimized to minimize CPU and GPU loads to make the game client run smoother; especially on lower performance computers.
  • The game client frame rate can now be capped to a lower rate (i.e. 15fps) to lower CPU utilization for very resource constrained client computers.

These features are part of the Project Ares version 3.6.4 on the Azure cloud which is available now. Similar updates in Project Ares version 3.6.5 for vCenter servers will be available shortly.