Understanding Threats And Vulnerabilities For Networks
In this article, I want to look at some of the facts that you need to know about threats and vulnerabilities for networks. Cybersecurity analysts must prepare for any type of attack. It is there job to secure the assets of the organization’s network. To do this, cybersecurity analysts must first identify:
- Assets – Anything of value to an organization that must be protected including servers, infrastructure devices, end devices, and the greatest asset, data.
- Vulnerabilities – A weakness in a system or it’s design that could be exploited by a threat actor.
- Threats – Any potential danger to an asset.
As an organization grows, so do it’s assets. Consider the number of assets a large organization would have to protect. It may also acquire other assets through mergers with other companies. The result is that many organizations only have a general idea of the assets that need to be protected.
The collection of all the devices and information owned or managed by the organization are assets. The assets constitute the attack surface that threat actors could target. These assets must be inventoried and assessed for the level of protection needed to thwart potential attacks.
Asset management consists of inventorying all assets, and than developing and implementing policies and procedures to protect them. This task can be daunting considering many organizations must protect internal users and resources, mobile workers, and cloud-based and virtual services.
Further, organizations need to identify where critical information assets are stored, and how access is gained to that information. Information assets vary, as do the threats against them. For example, a retail business may store customer credit card information. An engineering firm will store competition-sensitive designs and software. A bank will store customer data, account information, and other sensitive financial information. Each of these assets can attract different threat actors who have different skill levels and motivations.
Threat identification provides an organization with a list of likely threats for a particular environment. When identifying threats, it is important to ask several questions:
- What are the possible vulnerabilities of a system?
- Who may want to exploit those vulnerabilities to access specific information assets?
- What are the consequences if system vulnerabilities are exploited and assets are lost?
The threat identification for an e-banking system would include:
- Internal system compromise – The attacker uses the exposed e-banking servers to break into an internal bank system.
- Stolen customer data – An attacker steals the personal and financial data of bank customers from the customer database.
- Phony transactions from an external server – An attacker alters the code of the e-banking application and makes transactions by impersonating a legitimate user.
- Phony transactions using a stolen customer PIN or smart card – An attacker steals the identity of a customer and completes malicious transactions from the compromised account.
- Insider attack on the system – A bank employee finds a flaw in the system from which to mount an attack.
- Data input errors – A user inputs incorrect data or makes incorrect transaction requests.
- Data center destruction – A cataclysmic event severely damages or destroys the data center.
Identifying vulnerabilities on a network requires an understanding of the important applications that are used, as well as the different vulnerabilities of that application and hardware. This can require a significant amount of research on the part of the network administrator.
Organizations must use a defence-in-depth approach to identify threats and secure vulnerable assets. This approach uses multiple layers of security at the network edge, within the network, and on network endpoints.
- Edge router – The first line of defence is known as an edge router (R1 in the figure). The edge router has a set of rules specifying which traffic it allows or denies. It passes all connections that are intended for the internal LAN to the firewall.
- Firewall – The second line of defence is the firewall. The firewall is a checkpoint device that performs additional filtering and tracks the state of the connections. It denies the initiation of connections from the outside (untrusted) networks to the inside (trusted) network while enabling internal users to establish two-way connections to the untrusted networks. It can also perform user authentication (authentication proxy) to grant external remote users access to internal network resources.
- Internal router – Another line of defence is the internal router (R2 in the figure). It can apply final filtering rules on the traffic before it is forwarded to it’s destination.
Routers and firewalls are not the only devices that are used in a defence-in-depth approach. Other security devices include Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), Advanced Malware Protection (AMP), web and email content security systems, identity services, network access controls and more.
In the layered defence-in-depth security approach, the different layers work together to create a security architecture in which the failure of one safeguard does not affect the effectiveness of the other safeguards.
The Security Onion and The Security Artichoke
There are two common analogies that are used to describe a defence-in-depth approach.
A common analogy used to describe a defence-in-depth approach is called “the security onion.” a threat actor would have to peel away at a network’s defences layer by layer in a manner similar to peeling an onion. Only after penetrating each layer would the threat actor reach the target data or system.
Note: The security onion described on this page is a way of visualizing defence-in-depth. This is not to be confused with the Security Onion suite of network security tools.
#2 Security Artichoke
The changing landscape of networking, such as the evolution of borderless networks, has changed this analogy to the “security artichoke”, which benefits the threat actor.
As illustrated in the figure, threat actors no longer have to peel away each layer. They only need to remove certain “artichoke leaves.” The bonus is that each “leaf” of the network may reveal sensitive data that is not well secured.
For example, it’s easier for a threat actor to compromise a mobile device than it is to compromise an internal computer or server that is protected by layers of defence. Each mobile device is a leaf. And leaf after leaf, it all leads the hacker to more data. The heart of the artichoke is where the most confidential data is found. Each leaf provides a layer of protection while simultaneously providing a path to attack.
Not every leaf needs to be removed in order to get at the heart of the artichoke. The hacker chips away at the security armour along the perimeter to get to the “heart” of the enterprise.
While internet-facing systems are usually very well protected and boundary protections are typically solid, persistent hackers, aided by a mix of skill and luck, do eventually find a gap in that hard-core exterior through which they can enter and go where they please.
I know you might agree with some of the points that I have raised in this article. You might not agree with some of the issues raised. Let me know your views about the topic discussed. We will appreciate it if you can drop your comment. Thanks in anticipation.
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