As 2013 comes to a close, news from Germany’s Spiegel Online that the NSA Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit created a toolbox of exploits to compromise systems caught my attention. Todd’s prediction: this news is a harbinger of infosecurity risks making headlines in 2014 as bad guys learn from the extremely talented NSA.
The news generated by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures has brought data privacy headlines. What was different about the Der Spiegel article highlighting the TAO was not only the breadth of exploits, but also the depth and sophistication.
The sophisticated exploits highlighted in the Spiegel piece were designed for persistence. These are advanced persistent threats (APTs) – once you are in, can you stay in. As the article highlights, “the [NSA] ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer’s motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on.”
Modifying the BIOS bypasses traditional security layers such as antivirus software. Mitigating against threats using such attack vectors requires an additional layer of security to attest the validity of the host system, harden systems against compromise, and secure the underlying data-in-use (as well as data-at-rest and data-in-transit). This is bad news for enterprises and service providers who need to consider protecting their server infrastructure, but the good news is that there are solutions to shut down this attack vector, notably PrivateCore vCage (my shameless product plug for this post).
The Spiegel news dovetails with a cybersecurity prognostication for 2014 from IT risk and governance auditor Coalfire:“There will be a significant security breach at a cloud service provider that causes a major outage.” Reading the Spiegel Online article, the “security breach” part might have already happened. Buckle your seatbelts and enjoy 2014.