REvil has struck again. What can we do? Design for explicit access.

At a glance… 

  • Kaseya VSA is used by IT organizations and many Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to track IT assets and to deliver software installations and patches to a network of endpoint nodes.  
  • Over the 4th of July weekend, a ransomware attack perpetrated by the REvil gang and its affiliates was delivered through the Kaseya VSA remote management software.  
  • Each Windows node on the network runs a Kaseya agent, which is responsible for downloading and installing patches and software packages from the VSA server. It is common practice for an MSP to use a single VSA server to manage all of the MSP’s client networks, meaning that one compromised VSA server can create a downstream impact on hundreds of individual businesses. 
  • 1,500 businesses may be effected. 

The fascinating anatomy of the hack 

REvil’s successful hack began with an SQL injection attack against the VSA server. The attacked VSA servers were exposed to the Internet, presumably to allow for remote access to the VSA server by an MSP’s employees. An SQL injection attack was crafted by the hackers to (a) bypass authentication, (b) upload a file, and (c) inject a command to distribute a malicious software patch. This software patch was then dutifully downloaded by Kaseya agents installed on Windows endpoints attached to the compromised VSA server. The technical details of how this was accomplished are explained quite clearly in this article by Sophos

The hack itself is fascinating from a technical perspective in multiple ways. First, an authentication bypass renders an entire stack of security technology (authentication providers and MFA) entirely irrelevant. There is no password guessing or credential stealing involved in this attack. Second, the MSP model where client networks are intermingled in a single VSA instance is inherently dangerous in that a single compromised server (whether it be a via a 0-day exploit or a more traditional stolen credential) can spread malicious software across many disparate organizations, geographies, and networks. Third, it is perturbing that a piece of software like the VSA server was directly exposed to the Internet. The lack of any intervening, independent authentication (e.g., a VPN or IIS authentication using certificates or Kerberos) places an inordinate amount of trust in the security architecture of a single piece of software (the VSA server). 

In general, the best way to mitigate hacks of all varieties is to apply a few principles: 

  1. Keep independent networks as separate as possible, and always require authentication to move between them. 
  1. Authenticate users and devices in layers that rely on disparate software stacks. Software is built by humans, and humans make mistakes that cause security vulnerabilities. Using independent software stacks to layer together multiple forms of authentication ensures that a hacker has to find multiple, independent mistakes that are exploitable in conjunction. 
  1. Because there is still no perfect way to prevent endpoint attacks from happening, effective endpoint protection is essential. The Kaseya exploit relied on anti-virus exceptions on the endpoint to allow a malicious file to be downloaded, decoded into an executable, and run via a shell command. This malicious executable then executed a side loading attack to actually launch the encryption process. Effective anomaly detection could have shut down the encrypting process before it got too far, and an alternative approach to using an anti-virus exception would have stopped the attack when it tried to execute the downloaded executable. 

A collective reconsideration of how we protect networks and endpoints is overdue 

This latest attack from REvil confirms the obvious – the business of ransomware is here to stay. Whether it is REvil, a spinoff from REvil, or an entirely new organization that is inspired by REvil’s success, a collective reconsideration of how we protect networks and endpoints is overdue. It has become standard practice to disable security software in order to enable functionality, rather than demanding the opposite – that software declare its intended behaviors in order to enable security software to detect anomalous behavior. 

A system of specific access vs. access to the entire network 

Our LINK system is architected with this last principle in mind. Rather than assume that all mobile devices need access to the company network (e.g., via VPN), LINK assumes that only a small number of applications and data repositories should be mobilized. To configure LINK, IT specifies exactly what intranet applications, email servers, and file repositories (Document Management Systems, One Drive, SMB shares, etc.) should be accessible from a mobile device, and this specification is role-based so that IT can take a pessimistic approach to mobile access (i.e., you can’t access anything unless permission is explicitly granted to you). LINK also uses multiple, independent layers of authentication – SSL certificates to authenticate the device, then traditional password-based authentication if the SSL authentication succeeds. Finally, each LINK installation acts as its own certificate authority for the purposes of SSL authentication. Hence, stealing a certificate for one installation does not grant access to any other installations. 

As we expand LINK beyond mobile, our goal is to promote a different approach to endpoint computing. This approach starts with the idea that users, applications and data need to be integrated explicitly, rather than implicitly. This creates a work environment that is easily encapsulated, encrypted, and protected with limited entry points and exit points to move data in and out of this environment. While no approach is perfect, the more explicit we are about how users, applications, and data interact, the better chance we have to stop the ransomware business before it expands any further. 

-Seth Hallem, CEO & Co-founder, Mobile Helix

Productivity Boost: Compare Word Files in the LINK App

Did you know that in our LINK App you can compare Word files?

  • Compare two files
  • Compare two versions of a file
  • Compare an attachment in email to a file in DMS

Watch this 16 second video to view comparing two versions of a file in iManage Work in the LINK App.

LINK has the compareDocs engine from DocsCorp built-in for high fidelity comparison results within the LINK secure container.

LINK is integrated with iManage Work®, NetDocuments DMS, OpenText eDocs, and Outlook email. In a single app, compare your files, then email or check-in to DMS.

Watch this video to see full workflows using in-app comparison and using the Word app for editing.

If have any questions, write to us at: contact at mobilehelix dot com. We’d be happy to answer your questions.

-Maureen

Word App Editing Just Got Easier for Lawyers with LINK

We have developed several editing workflows using the Word app over the years. Our newest one is the easiest one which we have seen anywhere. This is in part because our LINK app securely integrates your Document Management System and Email with the Word app. Therefore, you can choose to edit a file from DMS or an email attachment and it will open directly in Word.

Take a look at our 2 minute, 44 second video to see this workflow.

Here’s what you don’t have to do in our workflow:

  1. No need to copy the file in the Word app. LINK encrypts the file and moves it to Word.
  2. No need to save the file as .docx in the Word file. LINK converts .doc to .docx for you.
  3. No need to delete the file from the Word app after editing. LINK deletes it.

This video shows how straightforward it is to edit from LINK with the Word app.

LINK is integrated with iManage Work® 10, on-prem and in the Cloud; NetDocuments DMS; OneDrive; Network File Shares; and OpenText eDocs is in development. LINK is also integrated with Microsoft Exchange, therefore, you have your Outlook Email, Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Notes within the LINK App.

If your attorneys are looking for a simple way to edit files in DMS or in Outlook email with the Word app, email me. We are happy to show you a demo of this workflow.

-Maureen

contact @ mobilehelix dot com

Annotation Just Got Easier – New LINK App Release

Attorneys have always loved the annotation in LINK because anytime you open a file in LINK, annotation is immediately on the same screen. Whether the file is in DMS or another file share, or whether it’s an attachment to email, it just takes a tap to bring up the annotation menu. Annotate, then tap to email or upload to DMS or a file share.

You can even save your signature and initials in LINK so that you can sign a file with a couple of taps on the annotation menu.

In our new release you’ll see:

  1. Improved location of the annotation menu
  2. New features, including page display settings and grid view
  3. Enhanced layout of the annotation tools, for clearer discoverability
  4. A lighter interface.

We’ve gotten wonderful feedback on these improvements. Thank you!

You can get a quick look at the new UI in this 17 second video:

LINK App Annotation in 17 Seconds

To see LINK’s annotation in a full workflow, watch this video.

You will see how to use LINK’s split screen, then how to annotate a PDF, and email it.

If it looks simple, that’s because it really is. If you would like to see a demo via Zoom, write to me at: contact at mobilehelix dot com.

-Maureen

Productivity Leap with the LINK App: Multi-task with Split Screen Mode

This is a fun week for us! With this new release LINK gives you the ability to multi-task on a tablet. We have also refreshed the LINK UI with a lighter look. The feedback has been fantastic. We appreciate the enthusiasm!

The key feature which enables multi-tasking is Split Screen Mode:

  • Two screens
  • Multiple live tabs in each screen
  • Tabs are files and apps like DMS, Email, Intranet
  • Drag and drop a file or app
  • Annotate or compare files in either screen
  • Keep email open while you work

Here is a 14 second preview of LINK’s new Multi-tasking capabilities.

Let us know if you would like to see a demo of LINK.

Email us at: contact at mobilehelix dot com

Next, more about the UI refresh!

-Maureen

Per the Data: Remote Work is Not a Phase in Legal

Is remote work merely a short-term necessity or will it have legs when it is again safe to work in the law firm office? As we head into one full year of remote work, I set out to see if there were data which would substantiate the direction of remote work.

What I learned paints a compelling rationale for remote work continuing. For some people, it might be for only one or two days a week. But the preference for a hybrid work model is clear.

There are two supporting dynamics:

  1. The economics of remote work were positive in 2020. Law firms will likely make changes, for instance in leases, to capitalize on this going forward.
  2. Attorneys made a positive adjustment to working from home and would like to retain some of that flexibility in the future.

In this post, I highlight a few of the interesting data points which I found. You can view and download (no registration) my full slide deck, “Remote Work is Not a Phase in Legal” here.

A key law firm financial metric is Profitability per Equity Partner. The results show that for Big Law and mid-sized law firms profitability grew significantly in the 12 months leading up to November of 2020. In part this was due to law firm rate increases established in December 2019 and to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), both on the income side.

Graph Profit per Equity Partner
Profit Per Equity Partner Growth 2019 and 2020

However, on the expense side, it is also due to law firms cutting overhead expenses in all but two categories, technology and Knowledge Management.

Graph Overhead Expense Growth
Overhead Expense Growth by Category 2109 and 2020

Both of the above charts are from a terrific resource, “2021 Report on the State of the Legal Market” by Thomson Reuters and Georgetown Law Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession. This report is chock full of data. I highly recommend reading it if you work in a law firm. And, as good attorneys say, “read the footnotes” for gems. You may also listen to the podcast, “Was the Pandemic a Tipping Point for Law Firms?” which is based on the report. Bob Ambrogi interviewed Jim Jones, Senior Fellow at Georgetown and Director of its Program on Trends in Law Practice. Mr. Jones is a contributor to the report. He adds interesting color to the report findings in this interview.

A funny thing happened while attorneys toiled from home. They appreciated the benefits. The greatest benefit to attorneys and staff is the time gained by not commuting. For time-keepers the extra hours per week can add up to several days per year of additional billable hours plus additional leisure time to boot.

Now 85% of attorneys want to work from home at least one day per week.

Image Remote Work
“Lawyers put in 20 extra work days when working from home,” Legal Cheek, Aishah Hussain, January 8, 2021

Finally, here is an infographic with a few of the more illustrative points regarding remote work in law firms. You may download the Remote Work infographic PDF here.

Remote Work is Not a Phase in Legal infographic

How does this compare to your experience of working from home this past year? What work model would you like to see going forward?

-Maureen

F5 Labs on Phishing in 2020

Last week in my post on Okta’s 2021 Businesses at Work report, I mentioned the F5 Labs 2020 Phishing and Fraud Report. It is cited in the Businesses at Work report for its warning on Office 365. In brief, that warning is that Office 365 is a rich target because if an attacker breaches Office 365, they have access to email and much more, including potentially to SharePoint and OneDrive. F5 Labs warns to use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) with Office 365.

The F5 Labs Phishing and Fraud report is full of useful information. It’s a tutorial on phishing, a source of exploit data, and a guide as to how to protect from phishing.

In this post, I share 3 of the many images in the report to tempt you to looking at the full report.

Phishing Incidents Dealt with by F5’s Security Operations Center – F5 Labs

We’ve known for years that phishing is the number one cause of data breaches. F5 Labs estimated, as shown above, that the number of phishing incidents in 2020 was projected to increase by 15% compared with 2019.

Sample Phishing Subject Lines – F5 Labs

As anyone who has an email inbox knows, phishing perpetrators are nothing if not topical. In addition, they prey on fear. These cyber-criminals were quick to capitalize on COVID-19. Starting in March 0f 2020, fear and false information about COVID-19 became a hot subject for phishing, as this list conveys.

Steps in a Phishing Attack – F5 Labs

The report explains financial fraud, deception techniques such as custom URLs, and the trajectory of phishing in the report. It concludes with pragmatic sections on “Protecting the Business” and “Protecting Users.”

F5 Labs also explains financial fraud, deception techniques such as custom URLs, and the trajectory of phishing in the report. Phishing is a challenging problem. It is social engineering. The attackers’ schemes mutate. We humans are the weak link. F5 Labs has useful research here, free tor the reading.

-Maureen

Okta’s 2021 Businesses at Work Report

Each year I look forward to Okta’s Businesses at Work report. Okta anonymizes data from its more than 9,400 customer entities. These are customers which use the Okta Identity Network (OIN) with its over 6,500 integrations with cloud, mobile, and web apps, and with IT infrastructure providers. The report is free, not even a registration is needed. To my knowledge no other public report provides this level of data on cloud application usage.

For data lovers it’s a treasure trove of facts about cloud usage. There are over 28 charts and tables. Download it here. I’ll share a few of my favorite insights from the report.

Most Popular Apps by Number of Customers

Microsoft 365 wins. I attended a legal technology conference in 2014. In a session on SharePoint, hosted by Microsoft, the roadmap showed that Outlook, Exchange, and, yes, SharePoint were all moving to the cloud in the form of Office 365. People exited the room in fury. At that time, most law firms were adamant – No Cloud. While there will always be law firms, especially “Big Law,” which will keep Outlook, SharePoint, and the Office Suite on-premises, the adoption of Office 365 or Microsoft 365 in the legal sector has been swift over the past two years. The Okta data reflects this.

This chart shows that the gap in usage between Microsoft 365 and all other applications, including AWS and Salesforce, has only widened in the past 5 years.

Most Popular Video Conferencing Apps

This graph highlights the steep curve in Zoom usage which we all lived through in 2020. At Mobile Helix, we started using Zoom heavily in 2017. We even perform our LINK system deployments remotely over Zoom in about two hours. When the pandemic hit, we were easily able to deploy LINK with IT staff who were themselves working from home. Customers favor our over-Zoom deployment over an on-site visit as it ends up taking less of their time.

Customers Authenticating With Each Factor

Phishing has been up 220% during the pandemic per F5’s 2020 Phishing and Fraud Report (an excellent report on phishing). The Okta report quotes, “F5 warns that the login page of our most popular app, Microsoft 365 (M365), is one of the most popular targets for generic phishing because attackers know that stealing Office 365 credentials can grant them access not only to email but also corporate documents, finance, HR, and many other critical business functions.”

Strong Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) should be used with M365. The chart above shows that of Okta customers authenticating with a factor in addition to, or instead of a password, 82% use Okta Verify. The good news here is that weaker factors such as SMS and security questions are on the decline.

One of the positive conclusions from Okta’s 2021 Businesses at Work report has to be that as difficult as 2020 was, with 38M people applying for unemployment, if it had happened even 10 years earlier, how many people would have been unable to work from home? The growth of web-based applications, cloud-based services, and mobile apps resulted in most office jobs successfully transitioning to work-from-home in two or three weeks.

2020 was The Year of the Cloud.

-Maureen

Research Reveals iOS and Android Encryption Weaknesses

Why Secure Containers Are Needed

The Research

iOS has solid encryption, there is no backdoor, hence, your firm’s data is safe under lock and key, correct?  Not necessarily. Enlightening new research by cryptographers at Johns Hopkins University (1) has surfaced weaknesses in the iOS and Android encryption schemes. Ironically, in the case of iOS, part of the weakness is related to a security hierarchy which is often unused.

“Apple provides interfaces to enable encryption in both first-party and third-party software, using the iOS Data Protection API. Within this package, Apple specifies several encryption “protection classes” that application developers can select when creating new data files and objects. These classes allow developers to specify the security properties of each piece of encrypted data, including whether the keys corresponding to that data will be evicted from memory after the phone is locked (“Complete Protection” or CP) or shut down (“After First Unlock” or AFU) …

… the selection of protection class makes an enormous practical difference in the security afforded by Apple’s file encryption. Since in practice, users reboot their phones only rarely, many phones are routinely carried in a locked-but-authenticated state (AFU). This means that for protection classes other than CP, decryption keys remain available in the device’s memory. Analysis of forensic tools shows that to an attacker who obtains a phone in this state, encryption provides only a modest additional protection over the software security and authentication measures described above.” (JHU – bold is our addition)

The reality is that most of our iPhones are commonly in “After First Unlock” state because we rarely reboot our phones. To achieve maximum security, we would have to power down our iPhones and authenticate after each use. That is, scores or hundreds of times per day. Otherwise, all data in the AFU state is vulnerable to law enforcement agencies or criminals with the right forensic tools. As the Hopkins researchers noted, “Law enforcement agencies, including local departments, can unlock devices with Advanced Services for as cheap as $2,000 USD per phone, and even less in bulk, and commonly do so.”

“There’s great crypto available, but it’s not necessarily in use all the time,” says Maximilian Zinkus, Johns Hopkins University. The Hopkins researchers also extended their analysis to include the vulnerability of iCloud services and device backups:

In an interview, Apple stressed that its goal is to balance security and convenience. The result: law firms and other enterprises who rely on iOS’ first-party apps (e.g., iOS Mail) may be unknowingly using an encryption scheme which does not meet their requirements.

Device owners may take actions to ensure greater security. Apple Insider cites a few user actions including: Use SOS mode; use the setting which locks iOS devices after 10 failed login attempts; and don’t use iCloud back-ups. But these user-optional mitigations are not adequate for enterprise security, and they don’t address the forensic techniques used to steal data in the AFU state. Enterprises need systematic approaches across all firm-managed devices.

Why Secure Containers Are Needed

Sophisticated attackers and government agencies have a variety of available tools at their disposable to extract sensitive data from a seized or stolen device. The preponderance of evidence shows that law enforcement is largely successful in cracking open a device and extracting sensitive information as needed. Evidence further suggests that these techniques are ported to even the latest iOS versions and devices (take a close look at https://www.grayshift.com/ – they offer the state-of-the-art in device forensics). What can you do to truly protect sensitive data? The built-in capabilities of the operating system are not sufficient.

Secure containers provide an additional layer of encryption by implementing an entirely independent encryption mechanism to protect data. To examine the protection offered by secure contain apps, we will refer to our LINK app in this discussion. LINK not only uses its own, independent encryption scheme, Link also uses its own built-in encryption technology. In other words, the LINK encryption software stands entirely independent from the operating system, regardless of whether that operating system is intact or compromised. As long as encryption keys are protected well, then secure containers can provide the kind of locked-down encryption that law firms want to protect email and documents, which encapsulate a large majority of a firm’s most sensitive data.

LINK’s data protection exceeds iOS in a few significant ways:

  1. LINK is an app, and iOS apps are routinely removed from memory. Hence, while LINK does necessarily keep encryption keys in memory when the app is active, once the app is removed from memory its encryption keys are too. This stands in contrast to iOS’ “AFU” encryption.
  2. LINK allows IT to identify data that is only accessible when the device is online. This makes it awfully difficult to get the encryption keys for that data, especially once the device has been identified as lost or stolen and flagged for a remote wipe.
  3. LINK’s online encryption keys are really hard to guess. Offline keys are hard to guess too, as long as your organization uses complex A-D passwords. Online keys are not derived from a user’s passcode or even a user’s A-D password. LINK’s encryption keys are derived from randomized 32-character strings that are generated on the LINK servers using entropy available on the server. Brute-forcing the key derivation is unlikely to work, which means an attacker would have to compromise the LINK Controller that sits safely inside our customers’ networks, then break the encryption scheme protecting sensitive data stored in our Controller database. Getting LINK data is a lot more complicated than stealing or seizing a mobile device.
  4. LINK aggressively limits the amount of data available on the device, online or offline. We do so by simply expiring away data that sits unused on the device. This is a really simple way to limit exposure without much practical impact on a user. Users can always go back to their email (via search) or to the document management system to find what they were working on. There is no practical reason to store lots of old, unused data on a device that is easy to steal and, as it turns out, compromise once stolen.
  5. LINK’s data is useless when obtained from an iCloud backup or a local backup to a Mac device. LINK’s encryption keys are never backed up. An attacker’s best hope is to brute force both the iOS device passcode and the user’s A-D password before IT notices that the device is lost or stolen. This is incredibly difficult to accomplish given Apple’s built-in protections against brute-forcing passcode and given a reasonably complex, hard-to-guess A-D password.

The JHU research simply reminds us that Apple’s interests diverge widely from those of an individual law firm. Apple has to balance the needs of law enforcement and users to make data accessible while still providing a reasonable degree of protection. Law firms’ best interests lie in maximally protecting data against unauthorized access. In order to achieve this latter goal, Apple’s built-in technology simply won’t suffice.

-Seth Hallem

Seth Hallem is the CEO, Chief Architect, and Co-Founder of Mobile Helix, makers of the LINK App. With LINK professionals can review, annotate, compare, and email files, as well as use the firm intranet, using a single secure container app. www.mobilehelix.com


References:

  1. “Data Security on Mobile Devices,” Maximilian Zinkus, Tushar M. Jois, and Matthew Green, Johns Hopkins University.
  2. “How Law Enforcement Gets Around Your Smartphone’s Encryption,” Lily Hay Newman, Wired.
  3. “Many iOS Encryption Measures ‘Unused,” Say Cryptogographers,” Hartley Charlton, MacRumors.
  4. “Apple encryption is a balance between user convenience and total security, new study shows,” Wesley Hilliard, AppleInsider.

Phishing Never Takes a Holiday

No. I’m not referring to the now infamous GoDaddy employee $650 holiday bonus email. Employees who responded to the email with the requested information were later informed that they had failed the company phishing test. If you have not yet read that dispiriting story, it’s here.

I am referring to this charming email which I received this morning.

Phishing Email and Fish
Phishing Email from “noreply@freeinvoice.it”

It is from: “Mobilehelix passwordexpiration.”

Presumably, that would be warning enough for your employees to hit the “Delete” button posthaste.

If not that, then maybe those over-sized blue bands which overlap the line below would be a tip-off.

(I have obscured the recipient’s email address.)

This is a very good opportunity for me to show you a security feature in our LINK App. When you open an email in LINK you will always see the alias and below it the sender’s email address. You don’t have to tap or do anything else to display the email address. It’s there.

In this case the alias is the aforementioned, “Mobilehelix passwordexpiration.”

And the email address is, “noreply@freeinvoice.it.”

If your employee were uncertain as to whether to hit that “Delete” button, I think that seeing that the email is from “noreply@freeinvoice.it” would be the icing on the cake. This email is definitely not from the company IT department. Delete.

We are serious about security at Mobile Helix. Much of what we build into the LINK system, such as certificate-based device registration in the new user registration process, is behind the scenes. It’s invisible to your employee and works in the background.

But this security feature is a designed to help your employees to be watchdogs for senders with devious intentions. 90% of organizations experienced targeted phishing attacks in 2019. Humans are the weakest link. This is one simple tool to help all of us to be vigilant.

-Maureen

Originally published in LinkedIn on December 28, 2020