Pete Recommends – Weekly highlights on cyber security issues, October 18, 2020

Subject: CISA and FBI Release Joint Advisory Regarding APT Actors Chaining Vulnerabilities Against SLTT, Critical Infrastructure, and Elections Organizations
Source: CISA and FBI

The Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have released a joint cybersecurity advisory regarding advanced persistent threat (APT) actors chaining vulnerabilities—a commonly used tactic exploiting multiple vulnerabilities in the course of a single intrusion—in an attempt to compromise federal and state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) government networks, critical infrastructure, and elections organizations. CISA is aware of some instances where this activity resulted in unauthorized access to elections support systems; however, CISA has no evidence to date that integrity of elections data has been compromised.The joint cybersecurity advisory contains information on exploited vulnerabilities and recommended mitigation actions for affected organizations to pursue.

Subject: Amazon’s Latest Gimmicks Are Pushing the Limits of Privacy
Source: WIRED</div

At the end of September, amidst its usual flurry of fall hardware announcements, Amazon debuted two especially futuristic products within five days of each other. The first is a small autonomous surveillance drone, Ring Always Home Cam, that waits patiently inside a charging dock to eventually rise up and fly around your house, checking whether you left the stove on or investigating potential burglaries. The second is a palm recognition scanner, Amazon One, that the company is piloting at two of its grocery stores in Seattle as a mechanism for faster entry and checkout. Both products aim to make security and authentication more convenient—but for privacy-conscious consumers, they also raise red flags…


Subject: How to Implement implement zero trust without impacting productivity
Source: GCN

In the early days of cybersecurity, agency IT leaders were protecting an environment where federal employees worked in a physical location and accessed a network protected by firewalls. Today, these defenses are outdated and insufficient. Remote access has increased gradually over the past decade, and the pandemic rapidly pushed agencies to shift to telework and accommodate a wide range of devices. Expanded perimeters mean identities are now user- and device-based, rather than linked to a location.To address this expanding perimeter, zero trust has grown from a buzzword to a mentality to a reality as agencies begin to adopt its architecture. This past summer, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Navy announced their move to a zero trust architecture. Around the same time, the National Institute of Standards and Technology published a report on ZTA, defining what agencies are talking about when they refer to zero trust — the need to continuously verify access and identity.

Zero trust means reducing users’ and devices’ unnecessary access to data. “Just-in-time” access goes a step further by granting the correct access to the right user when needed. Especially now, with a majority of the workforce accessing federal networks from home, many organizations need a ZTA, but it’s critical that this approach is implemented in a way that doesn’t impact an agency’s ability to achieve its mission.

Here are the steps needed to implement zero trust and go a step further with “just-in-time” access…

NB some other cybersecurity issues:

Subject: Hacker groups chain VPN and Windows bugs to attack US government networks
Source: ZDNet

Some attacks were successful and intruders gained “unauthorized access to elections support systems.”Hackers have gained access to government networks by combining VPN and Windows bugs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said in a joint security alert published on Friday.

Attacks have targeted federal and state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) government networks. Attacks against non-government networks have also been detected, the two agencies said.

“CISA is aware of some instances where this activity resulted in unauthorized access to elections support systems; however, CISA has no evidence to date that integrity of elections data has been compromised,” the security alert reads.

“Although it does not appear these targets are being selected because of their proximity to elections information, there may be some risk to elections information housed on government networks,” officials also added.

Attacks chained Fortinet VPN and Windows Zerologon bugs…

Danger of hackers chaining different VPN bugs – Both CISA and the FBI recommended that entities in both the private and public US sector update systems to patch the two bugs, for which patches have been available for months. In addition, CISA and the FBI also warned that hackers could swap the Fortinet bug for any other vulnerability in VPN and gateway products that have been disclosed over the past few months and which provide similar access…

Topic: Security

Subject: ‘So hard to prove you exist’: Flawed fraud protections deny unemployment to millions
Source: NPR via WHYY

And it turns out a lot of these delays really have been unnecessary. A big part of the problem: antiquated fraud prevention systems. They aren’t catching many bad guys filing false claims. And the wrong people are getting caught in the net — tangled up unnecessarily for months on end.

Here’s what the strike team discovered. Minor discrepancies — like someone using their middle initial in applying for benefits when their full middle name appeared on their drivers license or social security card — would send up a red flag for potential fraud. And then the person would be required to provide additional “identity verification.” That would mean a manual review by workers swamped with 10 times the normal number of claims.

At least in California, things are now changing. The state has followed a recommendation from the strike team and brought in an outside company with a much more sophisticated system that’s it’s launched just over the past week.

Pahlka says now people can verify their identity quickly when they apply just using their phone. Applicants take a photo of their ID and send in a selfie. They’re asked questions only they would know how to answer. Software does the verification rather than overworked staff members.

[FWIW, when I got my Pennsylvania RealID, I had to change my drivers license and vehicle registration for them to all agree with my birth certificate and SSA card using full legal name /pmw1]

Subject: DHS awards five start-ups funding through Silicon Valley Innovation Program
Source: Homeland Preparedness News

Five companies have received funding through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Silicon Valley Innovation Program regarding blockchain utilization and distributed ledger technology (DLT). Authorities indicated the five use cases support the missions of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the DHS Privacy Office (PRIV).

Subject: House Energy and Commerce leaders seek GAO review of HHS’s cybersecurity
Source: Homeland Preparedness News

Congressional leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are seeking a review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of cybersecurity incident response capabilities of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The E&C leaders said the HHS needs to be able to manage cybersecurity threats and protect sensitive information, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cybersecurity incidents can hamper the health agency’s ability to provide health services and respond to COVID-19… it was reported in March 2020 that HHS suffered a cyber-attack on its computer system. According to people familiar with the incident, it was part of a campaign of disruption and disinformation that was aimed at undermining the response to the coronavirus pandemic and may have been the work of a foreign actor,” wrote the E&C leaders in a letter to Comptroller General of the United States Gene Dodaro.

Subject: Data Security: Recent K-12 Data Breaches Show That Students Are Vulnerable to Harm
Source: GAO

Schools and school districts collect and store a lot of personal information about their students. But are K-12 institutions adequately securing student data? We found:

  • Thousands of K-12 students had their personal information compromised in data breaches between 2016 and 2020
  • Compromised data included grades, bullying reports, and Social Security numbers—leaving students vulnerable to emotional, physical, and financial harm
  • Breaches were accidental and intentional—with a variety of responsible actors and motives
  • Wealthier, larger, and suburban school districts were more likely to have a reported breach

Reported K-12 Student Data Breaches (July 2016-May 2020): Who was Responsible?


PODCAST: The Harm of Data Breaches in Public K-12 Schools

Additional Materials

Subject: In Response to the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act
Source: Nextgov

Among IT and cybersecurity professionals, it has long been understood that strong encryption practices are essential to mitigating risks posed by cyber criminals and protecting privacy rights against businesses and government entities. These same professionals also feel strongly about the need for more informed policymakers who can support legislation that maintains best practices. Professionals have often criticized policymakers of being far removed from technical understanding, resulting in ill-informed policy. The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act is no exception. If passed, this bill would require technology companies to assist law enforcement with search warrants that seek encrypted data—exposing potential risks and contradicting global data policy regulation trends. Much like the EARN IT Act introduced back in January, I feel that there are concerning undertones of anti-speech and anti-security themes within the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act.

There is a balance that needs to be maintained between national security posture and upholding privacy—a balance that I feel the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act is missing.


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