The next big breach will be……

Most of the circles I run in are at the point of rolling their eyes when they hear me say “I can’t tell you what the next big breach will be other than that it will involve one host talking to another host it’s not supposed to”. One of the challenges I come across, even in the Federal space occasionally, is that due to staff shortages, the system sprawl facilitated by virtualization and ridicules workloads that some operations teams have, the ability to distill your security posture into who is talking to who is next to impossible. The top two critical controls of the SANS 20 critical controls are An inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized systems as well as an inventory on the Apps and Software running on said systems. In our conversations with practitioners these top two controls are consistently mentioned as being extremely difficult to wrangle. I believe that some of this is due to the top down nature of most security tools that perform tasks like SNMP/Ping sweeps or WMI sweeps. An individual looking to work in the dark will, if they are worth their weight in salt, effectively ACL themselves off and hide from being discovered. The fix for this is wire data analytics which does not depend on discovering data by having open ports or having a system respond. With ExtraHop’s wire data analytics platform if you have an IP address and you engage in a transaction with another host that ALSO has an IP address, you are pretty much made. We will see the port/protocol, IP, client and server of the conversation as well as numerous performance metrics. When this feature is paired with Application inspection triggers, you are then positioned to take back your enterprise and get control of those conversations that you don’t expect or don’t know about. The type of stuff that keeps your CISO up at night.

Enter the ExtraHop Segment Auditing:
Using the ExtraHop platform to audit critical segments of your infrastructure has a two-fold function. First, you are positioned to be alerted immediately when an unauthorized protocol or port has been accessed by a client or one of your servers in that segment has engaged in unauthorized traffic to Belarus or China. The second function is to allow Architecture, Security and System owners to reclaim their enterprise by getting a grip on what the exact communication landscape looks like. As previously stated, the combination of staff turnover, system-sprawl and workload have left teams with little to no time to spend auditing communications. With the ExtraHop platform as a fulcrum, much of the heavy lifting is already done drastically reducing the analytics burden.

How it works:
Within the ExtraHop platform you create a device group, you then use the Template Trigger to assign to the device group (Example: PCI) and edit a few simple variables that allow you to declare your expected communications. If a transaction that is outside the white list of expected/permitted communications the Discover Appliance will take action in the form of alerts, slack updates, dashboard updates and Explorer (our search appliance) updates. The alerted team will have five minutes to investigate the incident before they will receive another alert. The idea here is you investigate and either white list or suppress transactions that are not allowed/expected. In doing so, you should have a full map of communications within an hour of deploying the trigger to an audited segment/environment.

Declare Expected Communications:
In the trigger we have one declared variable and three white lists that can be used to reduced alert fatigue as well as root out unauthorized transactions.


Here we set the segment that we are auditing, this is what will show up in the dashboard.
Here we set the protocols that are approved for the specific device group we have
This variable is used to set the CIDR blocks that you wish to ignore. I generally only use broadcast-type addressing as there are risks with white listing an entire CIDR block.
For this variable I am using 24 bit blocks from the cidr_port variable. An example of this white list could be the need to alert on CIFS traffic but you want to remove false positives for accessing the sysvol share on your Active Directory controllers. Let’s say your AD environment lives on than we would white list “” specifically allowing us to continue to monitor for CIFS while not being alerted on normal Active Directory policy downloads.

Below is a sample of the trigger used that you assign to each device group you would like to audit.

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This same trigger can also be edited to white list client based activity (Egress) as well as server based activity (Ingress).

The results are you can methodically peel the onion back in the event you have a worm infecting your system(s). Additionally, you can systematically begin the process of understanding who is talking to who within your critical infrastructure. Below you see a dashboard that shows the unauthorized activity both as a server and as a client. You also have a ticker showing a count of the offending transactions that includes the client/server/protocol/role as well as a rate of protocol violations. Ideally after a few hours, and working out unexpected communications, you would expect this dashboard to be blank. Beyond the dashboards is where the real money is, let’s talk about some of the potential workflows that are available leveraging the ExtraHop ODS feature and our partners.

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Possible Workflows:

Export results to Excel and ask system owners what the HELL is going on:
The ExtraHop platform includes a search appliance that allows you to export the results of the segmentation audit to a spreadsheet. This can be attached to an email to the system owners or CSIRT team to find out what is going on with those unauthorized transactions. In the search grid below, what you see is a mapping of all transactions that were not previously declared as safe.

(FYI, the “Other” protocol is typically tunnel based traffic such as ICMP or GRE)

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SIEM Integration:
The ODS feature of the ExtraHop platform can send protocol violations to your SIEM workflow. As most CSRIT responses are tied to some sort of SIEM and ExtraHop can thread wire data surveillance into those workflows seamlessly.

Slack updates:
If you have a distributed SECOPS team or you want the flexibility of creating a Slack channel and assigning resource to watch it, the ability to leverage RESTFUL API’s to allow integration with other tools can greatly enhance the agility and effectiveness of your security incident response teams. Below you see an example of sending a link to the alert or the actual alert itself into a slack channel. In our example above, if you are a member of the PCI team or on the governance side of the house (or both for that matter) you can easily collaborate here. In the scenario below, the INFOSEC resource can actually chat with the system owner to find out if this is, in fact, suspicious activity. The majority of crimes that result in arrest do so as a result of a citizen calling the police and the two working together to determine if a crime has been committed. Sadly this dynamic doesn’t exist in IT today, we are creating it for you below (Alerts are sent within a few milliseconds).

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Tetration Nation:
One big announcement last week at Cisco Live was the ExtraHop integration with Cisco’s Tetration product. Below you see an example of how the ExtraHop platform handles a Ransomware outbreak. The workflow for protocol violations is the same, should the Discover appliance observe unauthorized communications, the traffic can be tagged and sent to the Cisco Security Policy Management engine where policies can be enforced.

One of the battle-cry’s for security in 2017 has been the need to simplify security. Top-down device discovery simply does not work and leaves room for bad actors as well as insider threats to work in the dark. A foundational security practice that includes passive device discovery provides the ground-up approach to security that can then lay the ground work for building a much more stable security practice. Distilling communications down to who is talking to who and is it authorized or not has been impossible for far too long. Leveraging ExtraHop’s segment auditing capabilities positions you to know, within milliseconds, when a system is operating outside its normal pre-defined parameters. When coupled with ExtraHop Addy you can obtain full-circle visibility 24×7.

Thanks for reading

John M. Smith

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