A new report by McAfee examines the controversy and confusion surrounding Advanced Evasion Techniques (AETs), and the role that they play in Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).
A Vanson Bourne study, commissioned by McAfee, surveyed 800 CIOs and security managers from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, Brazil and South Africa, and showed that there are misunderstandings, misinterpretation and ineffective safeguards in use by the security experts charged with protecting sensitive data.
“We are no longer dealing with the random drive-by scanner that is just looking for obvious entryways into your network. In today’s interconnected world, we are dealing with adversaries who spend weeks or months studying your public facing network footprint, looking for that one small sliver of light which will allow them to gain a foothold into your networks,” said John Masserini, vice president and chief security officer, MIAX Options.
Why current firewall tests hide the existence of AETs
Nearly 40 percent of IT decision-makers do not believe they have methods to detect and track AETs within their organization, and almost two thirds said that the biggest challenge when trying to implement technology against AETs is convincing the board they are a real and serious threat.
“Many organizations are so intent of identifying new malware that they are falling asleep at the wheel toward advanced evasion techniques that can enable malware to circumvent their security defences,” said Jon Oltsik, senior principal analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group. “AETs pose a great threat because most security solutions can’t detect or stop them. Security professionals and executive managers need to wake up as this is a real and growing threat.”
Of the estimated 800 million known AETs, less than one percent is detected by other vendor’s firewalls. The prevalence of these techniques has risen significantly since 2010 with millions of combinations and modifications of network based AETs having been identified to date.
Professor Andrew Blyth of the University of South Wales has studied the prevalence and impact of AETs for many years. “The simple truth is that Advanced Evasion Techniques (AETs) are a fact of life. It’s shocking that the majority of CIOs and security professionals severely underestimated that there are 329,246 AETs, when in fact the total of known AETs is approximately 2,500 times that number or more than 800 million AETs and growing,” said Blyth.
AETs are methods of disguise used to penetrate target networks undetected and deliver malicious payloads. They were first discovered in 2010 by network security specialist Stonesoft, which was acquired by McAfee in May 2013. Using AETs, an attacker can split apart an exploit into pieces, bypass a firewall or IPS appliance, and once inside the network, reassemble the code to unleash malware and continue an APT attack.
The reason these techniques are under-reported and not well understood is that in some paid tests, vendors are given the chance to correct for them. As such, only the specific techniques identified are corrected for, and not the broader techniques that are rapidly updated and adapted by criminal organizations.
“Hackers already know about advanced evasion techniques and are using them on a daily basis,” said Pat Calhoun, general manager of network security at McAfee. “What we’re hoping to do is educate businesses so they can know what to look for, and understand what’s needed to defend against them.”
High costs to organizations
Respondents whose organizations had experienced a network breach in the past twelve months estimate the average cost to the business to be $931,006. Australia, which reported a lower number of breaches at 15 percent, indicated a much higher average cost per breach at $1.5 million. The cost to American respondents also exceeded $1 million on average. The hit to the financial services sector was the hardest, with estimated cost to be over $2 million per breach globally.