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Reading Room: Most Popular Papers

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Featuring the 25 most popular papers within the past week as of March 21, 2019


  • The Evolution of Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI): 2019 SANS CTI Survey Analyst Paper (requires membership in SANS.org community)
    by Rebekah Brown and Robert M. Lee - February 4, 2019 in Security Trends, Threats/Vulnerabilities

    In order to use cyber threat intelligence (CTI) effectively, organizations must know what intelligence to apply and where to get that intelligence. This paper delves into the results of the SANS 2019 Cyber Threat Intelligence Survey and explores the value of CTI, CTI requirements, how respondents are currently using CTI--and what the future holds.


  • Hunting and Gathering with PowerShell by Troy Wojewoda - March 13, 2019 in Threat Hunting

    PowerShell has been used extensively over the years by both malware authors and information security professionals to carry out disparate objectives. This paper will focus on the latter by detailing various techniques and use-cases for digital defenders. There is no "one-size fits all" model that encompasses a dedicated blue-team. Roles and responsibilities will differ from organization to organization. Therefore, topics covered will range from system administration to digital forensics, incident response as well as threat hunting. Using the latest in the PowerShell framework, system variables will be collected for the purpose of establishing baselines as well as useful datasets for hunting operations. The focus will then shift to use-cases and techniques for incident responders and threat hunters.


  • 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.


  • 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).


  • 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.


  • 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).


  • 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.


  • Gaining Endpoint Log Visibility in ICS Environments STI Graduate Student Research
    by Michael Hoffman - March 11, 2019 in Industrial Control Systems / SCADA

    Security event logging is a base IT security practice and is referenced in Industrial Control Security (ICS) standards and best practices. Although there are many techniques and tools available to gather event logs and provide visibility to SOC analysis in the IT realm, there are limited resources available that discuss this topic specifically within the context of the ICS industry. As many in the ICS community struggle with gaining logging visibility in their environments and understanding collection methodologies, logging implementation guidance is further needed to address this concern. Logging methods used in ICS, such as WMI, Syslog, and Windows Event Forwarding (WEF), are common to the IT industry. This paper examines WEF in the context of Windows ICS environments to determine if WEF is better suited for ICS environments than WMI pulling regarding bandwidth, security, and deployment considerations. The comparison between the two logging methods is made in an ICS lab representing automation equipment commonly found in energy facilities.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • Writing a Penetration Testing Report by Mansour Alharbi - April 29, 2010 in Best Practices, Penetration Testing

    `A lot of currently available penetration testing resources lack report writing methodology and approach which leads to a very big gap in the penetration testing cycle. Report in its definition is a statement of the results of an investigation or of any matter on which definite information is required (Oxford English Dictionary). A penetration test is useless without something tangible to give to a client or executive officer. A report should detail the outcome of the test and, if you are making recommendations, document the recommendations to secure any high-risk systems (Whitaker & Newman, 2005). Report Writing is a crucial part for any service providers especially in IT service/ advisory providers. In pen-testing the final result is a report that shows the services provided, the methodology adopted, as well as testing results and recommendations. As one of the project managers at major electronics firm Said "We don't actually manufacture anything. Most of the time, the tangible products of this department [engineering] are reports." There is an old saying that in the consulting business: “If you do not document it, it did not happen.” (Smith, LeBlanc & Lam, 2004)


  • Shell Scripting for Reconnaissance and Incident Response by Mark Gray - January 25, 2019 in Security Basics, Forensics, Incident Handling, Linux Issues, Free and Open Source Software

    It has been said that scripting is a process with three distinct phases that include: identification of a problem and solution, implementation, and maintenance. By applying an analytical mindset, anyone can create reusable scripts that are easily maintainable for the purpose of automating redundant and tedious tasks of a daily workflow. This paper serves as an introduction to the common structure and the various uses of shell scripts and methods for observing script execution, how shells operate, and how commands are found and executed. Additionally, this paper also covers how to apply functions, and control structure and variables to increase readability and maintainability of scripts. Best practices for system and network reconnaissance, as well as incident response, are provided; the examples of employment demonstrate the utilization of shell scripting as an alternative to applying similar functionality in more intricate programming languages.


  • 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


  • Maximizing SOC Effectiveness and Efficiency with Integrated Operations and Defense - SANS Institute Analyst Paper (requires membership in SANS.org community)
    by John Pescatore - March 12, 2019 in Best Practices, Security Analytics and Intelligence, Security Trends

    SANS examines how to maximize the organization's resources by unifying operations and defense. Doing so can help provide effective defense approaches to protect security operations for today, and for what attacks lie in the future.


  • 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).


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • Don't Knock Bro STI Graduate Student Research
    by Brian Nafziger - December 12, 2018 in Incident Handling

    Today's defenders often focus detections on host-level tools and techniques thereby requiring host logging setup and management. However, network-level techniques may provide an alternative without host changes. The Bro Network Security Monitor (NSM) tool allows today's defenders to focus detection techniques at the network-level. An old method for controlling a concealed backdoor on a system using a defined sequence of packets to various ports is known as port-knocking. Unsurprisingly, old methods still offer value and malware, defenders, and attackers still use port-knocking. Current port-knocking detection relies on traffic data mining techniques that only exist in academia writing without any applicable tools. Since Bro is a network-level tool, it should be possible to adapt these data mining techniques to detect port-knocking within Bro. This research will document the process of creating and confirming a port-knocking network-level detection with Bro that will provide an immediate and accessible detection technique for organizations.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • PDF Metadata Extraction with Python by Christopher A. Plaisance - February 5, 2019 in Forensics

    This paper explores techniques for programmatically extracting metadata from PDF files using Python. It begins by detailing the internal structure of PDF documents, focusing on the internal system of indirect references and objects within the PDF binary, the document information dictionary metadata type, and the XMP metadata type contained in the file’s metadata streams. Next, the paper explores the most common means of accessing PDF metadata with Python, the high-level PyPDF and PyPDF2 libraries. This examination discovers deficiencies in the methodologies used by these modules, making them inappropriate for use in digital forensics investigations. An alternative low-level technique of carving the PDF binary directly with Python, using the re module from the standard library is described, and found to accurately and completely extract all of the pertinent metadata from the PDF file with a degree of completeness suitable for digital forensics use cases. These low-level techniques are built into a stand-alone open source Linux utility, pdf-metadata, which is discussed in the paper’s final section.


  • Pass-the-hash attacks: Tools and Mitigation by Bashar Ewaida - February 23, 2010 in Penetration Testing

    Passwords are the most commonly used security tool in the world today (Skoudis & Liston, 2006). Strong passwords are the single most important aspect of information security, and weak passwords are the single greatest failure (Burnett, 2006). Password attacks, such as password guessing or password cracking, are time- consuming attacks. Tools that make use of precomputed hashes reduce the time needed to obtain passwords greatly. However, there is storage cost and time consumption related to the generation of those precompiled tables; this is especially true if the algorithm used to generate these passwords is relatively strong, and the passwords are complex and long (greater than 10 characters). In a pass-the-hash attack, the goal is to use the hash directly without cracking it, this makes time-consuming password attacks less needed.


  • Hacking the CAN Bus: Basic Manipulation of a Modern Automobile Through CAN Bus Reverse Engineering STI Graduate Student Research
    by Roderick Currie - June 20, 2017 in Security Awareness, Threats/Vulnerabilities

    The modern automobile is an increasingly complex network of computer systems. Cars are no longer analog, mechanical contraptions. Today, even the most fundamental vehicular functions have become computerized. And at the core of this complexity is the Controller Area Network, or CAN bus. The CAN bus is a modern vehicle's central nervous system upon which the majority of intra-vehicular communication takes place. Unfortunately, the CAN bus is also inherently insecure. Designed more than 30 years ago, the CAN bus fails to implement even the most basic security principles. Prior scholarly research has demonstrated that an attacker can gain remote access to a vehicle's CAN bus with relative ease. This paper, therefore, seeks to examine how an attacker already inside a vehicle's network could manipulate the vehicle by reverse engineering CAN bus communications. By providing a reproducible methodology for CAN bus reverse engineering, this paper also serves as a basic guide for penetration testers and automotive security researchers. The techniques described in this paper can be used by security researchers to uncover vulnerabilities in existing automotive architectures, thereby encouraging automakers to produce more secure systems going forward.


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.