Intelligence driven Incident Response

killchainBack in March 2011, Eric Hutchins, Michael Cloppert and Dr. Rohan Amin from Lockheed Martin (US Gov defense contractor) released a paper named Intelligence Driven Computer Network Defense Informed by Analysis of Adversary Campaigns and Intrusion Kill Chains. This was a great contribution to the IT security community because it describes a novel way to deal with intrusions. They claim that current tools and models that deal with intrusions need to evolve mainly due to two things. First network defense tools focus on the vulnerability component of the risk instead of the threat. Second the traditional way of doing incident response happens after a successful intrusion.  To solve this problem they propose a model that leverages an understanding about the tools and techniques used by the attackers creating intelligence that is then used to decrease the likelihood success of an intrusion.  In order to understanding the threat actors , their tools and techniques they adopted models and terms that have origins in the US military. Essentially they propose to maps the steps taken by attackers during an intrusion. These steps are then intersected with a chain of events with the goal to detect, mitigate and respond to intrusions based on the knowledge of the threat using indicators, patterns and behaviors that are conducted during the course of action of the intrusion.

To map the attackers activity the authors propose an intelligence gathering element called indicator that is divided in three types:

  • Atomic – Atomic indicators are attributes relevant in the context of the intrusion and cannot be further divided into smaller parts. Examples include IP addresses, email addresses, DNS names.
  • Computed – Computed indicators are digital representation of data pertinent to the intrusion or patterns indentified with regular expressions. Examples include hashes from malicious files,  regular expressions used on IDS.
  • Behavioral – Behavioral indicators are a combination of atomic and computed indicators trough some kind of logic that outline a summary of the attackers tools and techniques. An example is well described by Mike Cloppert: “Bad guy 1 likes to use IP addresses in West Hackistan to relay email through East Hackistan and target our sales folks with trojaned word documents that discuss our upcoming benefits enrollment, which drops backdoors that communicate to A.B.C.D.’ Here we see a combination of computed indicators (Geolocation of IP addresses, MS Word attachments determined by magic number, base64 encoded in email attachments) , behaviors (targets sales force), and atomic indicators (A.B.C.D C2)”

The phases to map the attacker activity are based on US DoD information operations doctrine with its origins in the field manual 100-6 from the Department of the Army. This systematic process evolved over the years and is also described in the Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.9 8 June 2006 as kill chain and referred in military language as dynamic targeting process F2T2EA (Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, and Assess) or F3EAD (Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze and Disseminate). The authors expanded this concept and presented a new kill chain model to deal with intrusions. The 7 phases of the cyber kill chain are:

  • Reconnaissance : Research, identification and selection of targets, often represented as crawling Internet websites such as conference proceedings and mailing lists for email addresses, social relationships, or information on specific technologies.
  •  Weaponization : Coupling a remote access trojan with an exploit into a deliverable payload, typically by means of an automated tool (weaponizer). Increasingly, client applications data files such as Adobe PDF or Microsoft Office documents serve as the weaponized deliverable.
  •  Delivery : Transmission of the weapon to the targeted environment using vectors like email attachments, websites, and USB removable media.
  •  Exploitation : After the weapon is delivered to victim host, exploitation triggers intruders’ code. Most often, exploitation targets an application or operating system vulnerability, but it could also more simple exploit the users themselves or leverage an operating system feature that auto-executes.
  •  Installation : Installation of a remote access trojan or backdoor on the victim system allows the adversary to maintain persistence inside the environment.
  •  Command and Control (C2) : Typically, compromised hosts must beacon outbound to an Internet controller server to establish a C2 channel.
  •  Actions on Objectives : Only now, after progressing through the first six phases, can intruders take actions to achieve their original objectives. Typically this objective is data exfiltration which involves collecting, encrypting and extracting information from the victim environment. Alternatively, the intruders may only desire access to the initial victim box for use as a hop point to compromise additional systems and move laterally inside the network.

Then these steps are used to produce a course of action matrix that is modeled against a system that is used, once again, in military language as offensive information operations with the aim to  detect, deny, disrupt, degrade, deceive and destroy. The goal is to create a plan that degrades the attacker ability to perform his steps and forcing him to be reactive by interfering with the chain of events. This will slow the attackers movements, disrupt their decision cycles and will increase the costs to be successful.  The following picture taken from the original paper illustrates the course of action matrix.

courseofaction

 

This model is a novel way to deal with intrusions by moving from the traditional reactive way to a more proactive system based on intelligence gathered trough indicators that are observed trough out the phases. Normally the incident response process starts after the exploit phase putting defenders in a disadvantage position. With this method defenders should be able to move their actions and analysis up to the kill chain and interfere with the attackers actions. The authors  go even further to a more strategic level by stating that intruders reuse tools and infrastructure and they can be profiled based on the indicators. By leveraging this intelligence defenders can analyze and map multiple intrusion kill chains over time and understanding commonalties and overlapping indicators. This will result in a structural way to analyze intrusions. By repeating this process one can characterize intruders activity by determine the tactics, techniques and procedures on how the attackers operate i.e., perform a campaign analysis.

References and Further reading:

Mike Cloppert series of posts on security intelligence on the SANS Forensics Blog

Lockheed Martin Cyber Kill Chain

Sean Mason from GE on Incident Response

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