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Reading Room: Most Popular Papers

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Featuring the 25 most popular papers within the past month as of June 24, 2019

  • Digging for Gold: Examining DNS Logs on Windows Clients STI Graduate Student Research
    by Amanda Draeger - May 22, 2019 in DNS Issues

    Investigators can examine Domain Name Service (DNS) queries to find potentially compromised hosts by searching for queries that are unusual or to known malicious domains. Once the investigator identifies the compromised host, they must then locate the process that is generating the DNS queries. The problem is that Windows hosts do not log DNS client transactions by default, and there is little documentation on the structure of those logs. This paper examines how to configure several modern versions of Windows to log DNS client transactions to determine the originating process for any given DNS query. These configurations will allow investigators to determine not only what host is compromised, but what the malicious process is more quickly.


  • Incident Handler's Handbook by Patrick Kral - February 21, 2012 in Incident Handling

    An incident is a matter of when, not if, a compromise or violation of an organization's security will happen.


  • Overcoming the Compliance Challenges of Biometrics STI Graduate Student Research
    by David Todd - May 22, 2019 in Legal Issues

    Due to increased regulations designed to protect sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI), hospitals and other industries requiring improved data protections are starting to adopt biometrics. However, adoption has been slow within many of the industries that have suffered most of the breaches over the last several years. One reason adoption has been slow is that companies hesitate to implement biometrics across their organization without first understanding the vast complexities of the various state-by-state privacy regulations. By adopting a common biometrics compliance framework, this research will show how organizations can implement biometric solutions that comply with the overall spirit of the different state privacy and biometric regulations, enabling those companies to improve global data protections.


  • Physical Security and Why It Is Important by David Hutter - July 28, 2016 in Physical Security

    Physical security is often a second thought when it comes to information security. Since physical security has technical and administrative elements, it is often overlooked because most organizations focus on "technology-oriented security countermeasures" (Harris, 2013) to prevent hacking attacks.


  • Passive Isn't Good Enough: Moving into Active EDR Analyst Paper (requires membership in SANS.org community)
    by Justin Henderson - May 17, 2019 in Clients and Endpoints, Intrusion Prevention

    Endpoint detection and response (EDR) technologies focus on identifying anomalous activity at scale, but are often constrained by delayed analyses. Endpoint protection platforms (EPP) can manage aspects of endpoint security, but often lack enterprise class detection and reporting capabilities. Which leads us to the most recent addition to the endpoint protection arsenal--active endpoint detection and response, which boasts real-time analysis capabilities as compared to traditional passive EDR.


  • Implementing a Vulnerability Management Process by Tom Palmaers - April 9, 2013 in Threats/Vulnerabilities

    A vulnerability is defined in the ISO 27002 standard as "A weakness of an asset or group of assets that can be exploited by one or more threats" (International Organization for Standardization, 2005).


  • Mobile A/V: Is it worth it? STI Graduate Student Research
    by Nicholas Dorris - June 5, 2019 in Mobile Security

    In the mid 2010’s, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have become ubiquitous with users employing these gadgets for various applications. While this pervasive adoption of mobile devices offers numerous advantages, attackers have leveraged the languid attitude of device owners to secure the owner’s gadgets. The diversity of mobile devices exposes them to a variety of security threats, as the industry lacks a comprehensive solution to protect mobile devices. In a bid to secure their assets and informational resources, individuals and corporations have turned to commercial mobile antivirus software. Most security providers present mobile versions of their PC antivirus applications, which are primarily based on the conventional signature-based detection techniques. Although the signature-based strategy can be valuable in identifying and mitigating profiled malware, it is not as effective in detecting unknown, new, or evolving threats, as it lacks adequate information and signature regarding these infections. Mobile attackers have remained ahead via obfuscation and transformation methods to bypass detection techniques. This paper seeks to ascertain whether current mobile antivirus solutions are effective, in addition to which default Android settings assist in the prevention or mitigation of various malware and their consequences.


  • Finding Secrets in Source Code the DevOps Way STI Graduate Student Research
    by Phillip Marlow - June 5, 2019 in Securing Code

    Secrets, such as private keys or API tokens, are regularly leaked by developers in source code repositories. In 2016, researchers found over 1500 Slack API tokens in public GitHub repositories belonging to major companies (Detectify Labs, 2016). Moreover, a single leak can lead to widespread effects in dependent projects (JS Foundation, 2018) or direct monetary costs (Mogull, 2014). Existing tools for detecting these leaks are designed for either prevention or detection during full penetration-test-style scans. This paper presents a way to reduce detection time by integrating incremental secrets scanning into a continuous integration pipeline.


  • Disrupting the Empire: Identifying PowerShell Empire Command and Control Activity by Michael C. Long II - February 23, 2018 in Intrusion Detection, Forensics, Incident Handling

    Windows PowerShell has quickly become ubiquitous in enterprise networks. Threat actors are increasingly utilizing attack frameworks such as PowerShell Empire because of its robust APT-like capabilities, stealth, and flexibility. This research identifies specific artifacts, behaviors, and indicators of compromise that can be observed by network defenders in order to quickly identify PowerShell Empire command and control activity in the enterprise. By applying these techniques, defenders can dramatically reduce dwell time of adversaries utilizing PowerShell Empire.


  • DICE and MUD Protocols for Securing IoT Devices STI Graduate Student Research
    by Muhammed Ayar - June 5, 2019 in Internet of Things

    An exponential growth of Internet of Things (IoT) devices on communication networks is creating an increasing security challenge that is threatening the entire Internet community. Attackers operating networks of IoT devices can target any site on the Internet and bring it down using denial of service attacks. As exemplified in various DDoS attacks that took down portions of the Internet in the past few years (such as the attacks on Dyn and KrebsOnSecurity (Hallman, Bryan, Palavicini Jr, Divita, Romero- Mariona, 2017)), IoT users need to take drastic steps in securing them. This research will discuss the steps in attempting to secure IoT devices using DICE and MUD.


  • Case Study: Critical Controls that Could Have Prevented Target Breach STI Graduate Student Research
    by Teri Radichel - September 12, 2014 in Case Studies

    Target shoppers got an unwelcome holiday surprise in December 2013 when the news came out 40 million Target credit cards had been stolen (Krebs, 2013f) by accessing data on point of sale (POS) systems (Krebs, 2014b).


  • Hunting for Ghosts in Fileless Attacks by Buddy Tancio - May 13, 2019 in Malicious Code

    Hunting for a fileless threat can be a tedious and labor-intensive task for any analyst. It is, most often than not, extremely time-consuming and requires a significant amount of data gathering. On top of that, the traditional tools, methods, and defenses seem to be less effective when dealing with these almost invisible threats. Threat actors are frequently using attack techniques that work directly from the memory or using legitimate tools or services pre-installed in the system to achieve their goals (Trend Micro, 2017). It is a popular technique among targeted attacks and advanced persistent threats (APT), and now it has been adopted by conventional malware such as trojans, ransomwares, and even the most recent emerging threat – cryptocurrency miners. In some incidents, searching for a malicious file that resides in the hard drive seems to be insufficient. This study explores the different variations of fileless attacks that targeted the Windows operating system and what kind of artifacts or tools can provide clues for forensic investigation.


  • An Overview of Threat and Risk Assessment by James Bayne - January 22, 2002 in Auditing & Assessment

    The purpose of this document is to provide an overview of the process involved in performing a threat and risk assessment


  • Template Injection Attacks - Bypassing Security Controls by Living off the Land by Brian Wiltse - February 1, 2019 in Intrusion Detection, Incident Handling, Intrusion Prevention, Penetration Testing, Threats/Vulnerabilities

    As adversary tactics continue to adapt and embrace the concept of living off the land by using legitimate company software instead of a virus or other malwareRut15, their tactics techniques and procedures (TTPs) often leverage programs and features in target environments that are normal and expected. The adversaries leverage these features in a way that enables them to bypass security controls to complete their objective. In May of 2017, a suspected APT group began to leverage one such feature in Microsoft Office, utilizing a Template Injection attack to harvest credentials, or gain access to end users computers at a US power plant operator, Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp. In this Gold Paper, we will review in detail what the Template Injection attacks may have looked like against this target, and assess their ability to bypass security controls.


  • Disaster Recovery Plan Strategies and Processes by Bryan Martin - March 5, 2002 in Disaster Recovery

    This paper discusses the development, maintenance and testing of the Disaster Recovery Plan, as well as addressing employee education and management procedures to insure provable recovery capability.


  • How to Build a Data Security Strategy in AWS Analyst Paper (requires membership in SANS.org community)
    by Dave Shackleford - June 13, 2019 in Cloud Computing, Data Protection

    When organizations move sensitive data to the cloud, they absolutely must choose a provider that can ensure compliance with privacy regulations on a global stage. Data security strategies in the cloud must include encryption and key management, data loss prevention and the capability to classify and track data. By using the AWS Cloud, organizations can protect sensitive data at rest, in transit and in use.


  • Finding the Human Side of Malware: A SANS Review of Intezer Analyze by Matt Bromiley - November 29, 2018 in Automation, Incident Handling, Malicious Code

    We tested Intezer Analyze, a revolutionary malware analysis tool that may change how you handle and assess malware. We found Analyze to be an impactful, immediate-result malware analysis platform.


  • SSL and TLS: A Beginners Guide by Holly McKinley - May 12, 2003 in Protocols

    This paper particularly serves as a resource to those who are new to the information assurance field, and provides an insight to two common protocols used in Internet security.


  • Detecting DNS Tunneling STI Graduate Student Research
    by Greg Farnham - March 19, 2013 in DNS Issues

    Web browsing and email use the important protocol, the Domain Name System (DNS), which allows applications to function using names, such as example.com, instead of hard-to-remember IP addresses.


  • Tracking Malware With Public Proxy Lists by James Powers - January 27, 2011 in Malicious Code, Tools

    The Web was born on Christmas Day, 1990 when the CERN Web server (CERN httpd 1.0) went online. By version 2.0, released in 1993, CERN httpd, was also capable of performing as an application gateway. By 1994, content caching was added. With the publication of RFC 1945 two years later, proxy capabilities were forever embedded into the HTTP specification (Berners-Lee, Fielding, & Frystyk, 1996).


  • Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP), Investigation of the Effectiveness of a RASP Solution in Protecting Known Vulnerable Target Applications STI Graduate Student Research
    by Alexander Fry - April 30, 2019 in Application and Database Security

    Year after year, attackers target application-level vulnerabilities. To address these vulnerabilities, application security teams have increasingly focused on shifting left - identifying and fixing vulnerabilities earlier in the software development life cycle. However, at the same time, development and operations teams have been accelerating the pace of software release, moving towards continuous delivery. As software is released more frequently, gaps remain in test coverage leading to the introduction of vulnerabilities in production. To prevent these vulnerabilities from being exploited, it is necessary that applications become self-defending. RASP is a means to quickly make both new and legacy applications self-defending. However, because most applications are custom-coded and therefore unique, RASP is not one-size-fits-all - it must be trialed to ensure that it meets performance and attack protection goals. In addition, RASP integrates with critical applications, whose stakeholders typically span the entire organization. To convince these varied stakeholders, it is necessary to both prove the benefits and show that RASP does not adversely affect application performance or stability. This paper helps organizations that may be evaluating a RASP solution by outlining activities that measure the effectiveness and performance of a RASP solution against a given application portfolio.


  • Authentication: It Is All About the User Experience Analyst Paper (requires membership in SANS.org community)
    by Matt Bromiley - June 12, 2019 in Authentication

    In a world where compromised user credentials can cost an enterprise millions of dollars, the importance of being able to validate user accounts is a crucial enterprise requirement. Yet implementation of modern authentication techniques is lagging, even though it provides better user experiences as well as stronger authentication. This paper examines how these techniques can be applied within your organization for your employees--the other custodians of your data. It also explores the benefits of the new WebAuthn specification.


  • Onion-Zeek-RITA: Improving Network Visibility and Detecting C2 Activity STI Graduate Student Research
    by Dallas Haselhorst - January 4, 2019 in Intrusion Detection, Forensics, Logging Technology and Techniques, Threat Hunting

    The information security industry is predicted to exceed 100 billion dollars in the next few years. Despite the dollars invested, breaches continue to dominate the headlines. Despite best efforts, all attempts to keep the enemies at the gates have ultimately failed. Meanwhile, attacker dwell times on compromised systems and networks remain absurdly high. Traditional defenses fall short in detecting post-compromise activity even when properly configured and monitored. Prevention must remain a top priority, but every security plan must also include hunting for threats after the initial compromise. High price tags often accompany quality solutions, yet tools such as Security Onion, Zeek (Bro), and RITA require little more than time and skill. With these freely available tools, organizations can effectively detect advanced threats including real-world command and control frameworks.


  • Scoping Security Assessments - A Project Management Approach by Ahmed Abdel-Aziz - June 7, 2011 in Auditing & Assessment, Security Awareness, Security Basics, Management & Leadership, Security Policy Issues, Protocols

    Security assessments can mean different things to different people. This paper will explore what a security assessment is, why it should be done, and how it is different than a security audit.


  • The Industrial Control System Cyber Kill Chain by Michael J. Assante and Robert M. Lee - October 5, 2015 in Industrial Control Systems / SCADA

    Read this paper to gain an understanding of an adversary's campaign against ICS. The first two parts of the paper introduce the two stages of the ICS Cyber Kill Chain. The third section uses the Havex and Stuxnet case studies to demonstrate the ICS Cyber Kill Chain in action.


All papers are copyrighted. No re-posting or distribution of papers is permitted.

STI Graduate Student Research - This paper was created by a SANS Technology Institute student as part of the graduate program curriculum.