RSA Incident Response Team

RSA IR - Best Practices for Organizations (A Starting Point)

Blog Post created by RSA Incident Response Team on Apr 1, 2020

1       Introduction

The efforts of people around the globe have suddenly forced many workers to stay at home. For a significant portion of these workers that also means working remotely either for the first time, or at least more often than their normal telecommuting schedule. As a result of this necessity, many organizations may be forced to implement new remote technologies or significantly expand their current capacities for remote users. This added capability can present a significant security risk if not implemented correctly. Furthermore, malicious actors never pass up the opportunity to capitalize on current affairs. The RSA Incident Response Team has years of experience responding to Targeted Attacks and Advanced Threat Actors while assisting our clients with improving their overall security posture. The members of our team are either working with our customers on-site or supporting them from home. Our team has frequently assisted clients remotely, providing us with extensive experience in operating a secure remote team. Given the increasing threat landscape,  we are sharing some essential tips and suggestions on how organizations can improve their security posture, as well as how their remote workforce can keep themselves secure by following some best practices.

2       Tips for Organizations (A Starting Point)

While there are many steps organizations can take to better protect themselves and their users, the RSA IR team is sharing some essential tips and suggestions that we consider to be a good starting point. However, these are by no means a complete list.  Each organization should adjust the below recommendations according to the organization’s security posture, and risk profile and acceptance.

Many vendors are offering emergency capacity extensions or trials of their products in this time of unprecedented social change.  Check with your vendors to see if they have any such offers in place for technology that your organization does not already have implemented as it pertains to the recommendations listed below. For a strategic approach, take a look at the post from our colleagues on the Advanced Cyber Defense (ACD) team Work From Home - The Paradigm Shift in Cyber Defense.

2.1      What Organizations Can Do for Their Users

2.1.1    VPN

While it may be tempting and seem like an easy option to just make resources available online via services like RDP, this is generally not recommended. Threat actors love searching for vulnerable servers that are connected to the internet regardless of the port used. Search engines like Shodan are showing an increase in the number of servers exposing RDP directly to the internet (https://blog.shodan.io/trends-in-internet-exposure/ ). Open RDP servers are regularly used to infect organizations with Ransomware and other malware (Two weeks after Microsoft warned of Windows RDP worms, a million internet-facing boxes still vulnerable • The Register ). RSA strongly discourages organizations from exposing RDP services directly to the internet.

Organizations should utilize VPN (or VPN alternative) technologies for employee remote access. RSA IR has the following tips regarding VPN usage.

  • Ensure Licensing counts can support the increased number of remote workers.
  • Ensure that the VPN devices can handle the increased number of simultaneous connections and throughput.
  • For strong security, RSA recommends that the VPN be Always-On if possible. An Always-On VPN requires the system to be connected to the VPN whenever an authorized client is connected to the internet. If bandwidth, simultaneous connection count, or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is of concern, this suggestion can be re-prioritized.
  • All traffic should be tunneled over the VPN (No Split Tunneling), thus enabling the same network visibility and controls as if users were in office. If bandwidth availability or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is of concern to the organization, this recommendation can be re-prioritized.
  • Investigate VPN alternatives for certain users. Alternative remote access solutions also exist such as, Virtual Desktops Infrastructure (VDI), Cloud Infrastructure, Software as a Service (SaaS), and others.

2.1.2    Multi Factor Authentication (Also Known as Two Factor Authentication) For All Remote Access

All remote access (including VPN, VDI, Cloud, Office365, SaaS, etc.) should be required to utilize Multi Factor Authentication. Multi Factor Authentication, which is an evolution of Two Factor Authentication (2FA), enhances security by requiring that a user present multiple pieces of information for authentication. Credentials typically fall into one of three categories: something you know (like a password or PIN), something you have (like a smart card or token), or something you are (like your fingerprint). Credentials must come from two different categories in order to be classified as multi-factor. As mentioned, check with your vendors to see if they are offering any assistance with surge capacity or new solutions.

2.1.3    User Education

RSA generally recommends that all staff using computer resources within a company complete annual security training. However, during this time when more users are working remotely, RSA recommends that organizations hold a special organization-wide user education session on password safety, phishing attacks, IT security policies, as well as covering how to report issues to the IT and Security Teams. If you’re looking for a place to start, see our other blog post for tips for users that are working from home (RSA IR - Recommendations for Users Working from Home).

2.2      What Organizations Can Do for Themselves

2.2.1    Updates and Patching

RSA consistently finds out-of-date and out-of-support Operating Systems and software running in client environments. Older software often has public vulnerabilities and exploits that are freely available online and are often targeted by commodity malware as well as targeted attackers. RSA strongly recommends that any core software be aggressively updated on a regular basis, especially if a vulnerability for a particular application is publicly announced. Exploiting vulnerable software is one of the easiest ways for an attacker to find their way into the enterprise. At a minimum organizations should look to:

  • Update and Patch all external facing systems, servers and applications (including web applications or frameworks).
  • Update and Patch all Critical Systems internal or external.

2.2.2    Web Application Firewall

If not already deployed, RSA recommends implementing a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to better protect Internet facing web applications. A WAF solution can provide a reduction in the attack surface of web applications and in some cases, of the operating system itself. It is important to note that simply installing a WAF solution will not immediately secure all the web applications as all WAF solutions, regardless of vendor, need to be tuned for the specific applications and environments they are being used to protect.

If a WAF is already deployed, RSA recommends that organizations verify that it is in front of not just the business-critical web applications, but also all other external web-facing assets.

2.2.3    Leverage Freely Available Threat Intelligence Feeds

As notices have been released about increased attacker activity related to recent attacks and fraud (https://www.ic3.gov/media/2020/200320.aspx), many threat intelligence vendors are offering freely available intelligence of current threats and scams. Here are some of the companies offering related intelligence feeds for free, as well as providing some additional tools for analysts.

2.2.4    Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) is especially important to organizations that, for various reasons, are unable to enable an Always-On VPN. 

If your organization already has an Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solution, ensure that it is deployed to all remote users.  Since endpoints may not be sending all their traffic internally to allow for network visibility, EDR tools can help gain visibility of endpoints operating outside the internal network environment. Organizations need to ensure that data collected by the EDR tool can be transmitted to the central EDR server either continuously or while connected to the VPN. Organizations must also ensure that their licensing limits, as well as server capacity, support a potential increase in the number of endpoints.  Speak to your security vendors to see if they provide surge or Business Continuity increases during this time.

If your organization does not currently have an EDR tool, then consider deploying one.  EDR solutions now offer more than just detection and blacklisting of malware; but also, have built-in forensic capabilities such as acquiring remote system files, memory images, behavior analysis, and false positive management via whitelisting. This means that organizations can detect, respond and block malicious activity much quicker and without the need to create a full host forensic image for investigation. Additionally, once a Behavior of Compromise (BOC) is identified, the EDR solution should be able to detect where else in the enterprise that indicator has been observed. Speak to your trusted security vendors and see if they are offering any on a trial basis.

2.2.5    Remote Collaboration

If your organization does not already have a policy for remote collaboration tools (such as screen share), consider adopting one for remote users. At the very least, RSA suggests having a recommendation for users so that they do not seek out their own solutions.  Some examples include Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, as well as others.

3      Conclusion

In these uncertain times, we hope that this advice will help organizations and users stay connected and stay secure. Watch out for more posts and advice from across the RSA organization, and let us know what you're doing in the comments below.

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