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Piloting Airline Cyber Security with AI

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09
Oct 2022
09
Oct 2022
The airline industry has long operated with thin profit margins and high security and safety standards. With cyber threats threatening downtime that many of these organizations cannot afford, Darktrace's Tony Jarvis suggests that they turn to preventative AI-driven technologies which can harden defenses before attackers make the first move.

A Thin Margin for Error

The airline industry has long been known for its thin profit margins, and the high costs of unexpected downtime. 2010’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland and the resulting six-day airspace ban across Europe cost airlines $1.7 billion, just a taste of the impact that would come ten years later as a result of the pandemic. The industry collectively amassed more than $180 billion in debt in 2020, and some predictions suggest that by 2024 the industry's debt could exceed its revenue.

Given the impact that further sustained downtime could have on an already ailing industry, airlines are having to take cyber security seriously. Last year’s Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in the US led to a six-day shutdown of pipeline operations – the same length of time that flights were grounded by the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. But while the industry hasn’t seen a volcanic eruption on that scale in over twelve years, ransomware attacks are striking airlines weekly. Just this year a ransomware attack on SpiceJet left hundreds of passengers stranded at airports across India, despite being contained relatively quickly.  

Fraud, Fines and Safety Risks

It isn’t just ransomware which is concerning many in the industry. Data breaches remain one of the biggest threats to airlines, organizations which are responsible at any one time for the personal and financial information of millions of customers. In 2019, British Airways had the data of 380,000 customers stolen, including addresses, birth dates and credit card information, and was fined £20 million (reduced from £183 million due in part to the impact of the pandemic) by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the largest issued fine in the ICO’s history. The European airline EasyJet is currently facing a class-action suit seeking £18 billion in damages after failing to properly disclose the loss of 2,208 customers’ credit-card information in 2020. 

Airlines are also losing out to card and air mile fraud, with thousands of fraudulent loyalty program accounts being sold on the dark web, as well as the usual roster of attacks including phishing and insider threats which affect businesses of every size and industry. The airlines themselves are not being complacent. In a 2021 report by SITA, 100% of airlines surveyed named cyber security as a key investment for the next three years. Making sure that those investments count will be the next challenge.

There are few industries for which safety and security measures are so important, and while no impact on flight safety as a result of a cyber-attack has yet been reported, agencies like Eurocontrol are already urging caution. Airlines and airports should look at smarter ways to proactively protect their digital environments. 

As attacks grow faster and less predictable, organizations are increasingly turning to preventative AI security measures. For airlines, which operate with broad attack surfaces and plenty of valuable data, using tools which can identify and monitor every asset and potential attack path in an organization and take the necessary steps to secure them is the best way to stay ahead of attackers.

Securing Airspace, Securing Cyberspace

As a recreational pilot myself, I understand the extent of the safety measures that go into every flight: the flight plans, pre-flight checks and all of the long-practiced, deep-embedded knowledge. It is this comprehensive and meticulous approach which ought to be reflected in organizations’ cyber security efforts – whether they be airlines, airports or any other type of business. The parallels between the processes of flying and running a digital organization safely give us a helpful way to understand what proper, AI-driven cyber security can do for any organization, airlines included.

Cleared for Takeoff 

For the pilot, safety measures start long before they’re sat in the cockpit. Flight planning, which includes planning heading and bearing, taking things like elevation, terrain, and weather conditions into consideration, must be completed in addition to plenty of pre-flight checks. The checklist the pilot works through when performing a walk around and pre-flight inspection will often be ordered so that they work in a circle around the perimeter of the whole plane. These checks prevent potential threats, covering everything from water having mixed with the fuel to birds making nests inside the engine cowling.

Darktrace PREVENT, released in July 2022, serves a similar purpose. The AI autonomously identifies and tests every single user and asset that makes up a business in order to spot potential vulnerabilities and harden defenses where necessary. Like a walk around, PREVENT/Attack Surface Management examines the full range of external assets for threats. Then, by identifying and testing potential attack pathways and mitigating against weak points and worst-case scenarios, PREVENT/End-to-End takes steps to win the fight before an attack has been launched. 

Maintaining Good Visibility

When you’re piloting a plane, first and foremost you need a way to detect key variables. Your fundamental flight instruments in the cockpit are known as the six pack:

1. Airspeed Indicator
2. Attitude Indicator or Artificial Horizon 
3. Altimeter
4. Turn Coordinator 
5. Heading Indicator
6. Vertical Speed Indicator

These six instruments provide the critical information needed by any pilot to safely fly the aircraft. While additional instruments are required to conduct flights In low-visibility or ‘Instrument Meteorological Conditions’ (IMC) conditions, these will be essential when getting out of dangerous situations such as inadvertently flying into cloud.

Understanding an environment and adapting to its changes is also fundamental to Darktrace DETECT: an AI-driven technology which focuses on building a comprehensive knowledge of an organization’s environment in order to spot threats the moment they appear. Because it understands what is ‘normal’ for the organization, Darktrace DETECT is able to correlate multiple subtle anomalies in order to expose emerging attacks – even those which have never been seen before. Like those essential flight instruments, DETECT offers visibility into otherwise obscure regions of the environment, and ensures that any potential problems are spotted as early as possible. 

Mayday, Mayday

In aviation and security, moving quickly once a threat has been detected is critical. When an engine stalls at 3,000 feet above ground level, you don’t have time to get the training books out and start figuring out what to do. Pilots are taught to “always have an out” and be ready to use it.

In aviation, an effective response relies for the most part on the knowledge and quick reactions of the pilot, but in cyber security, AI is making response faster and more effective than ever. Darktrace RESPOND uses DETECT’s contextual understanding in order to take the optimum action to mitigate a threat. Adaptability of this response is crucial: a single cyber-attack can come in any number of configurations, and Darktrace RESPOND is able to tailor its actions appropriately. Attacks today move too fast for human teams to be expected to keep up, but with AI taking actions at machine speed organizations can remain protected. 

Always Learning

One of the best pieces of advice a pilot can take is to always be learning. Every flight is an opportunity to learn something new and become a better and safer pilot.

Darktrace DETECT, RESPOND, and PREVENT are all driven by Self-Learning AI, a technology which not only builds but continuously evolves its understanding of each business. This means that as an organization grows, adding more users, assets, or applications, its Darktrace coverage grows too, using each new data point to enhance its understanding and the accuracy of its actions and detections. Darktrace’s separate technologies also learn from each other. Each of the three product families continuously feeds data into the others, helping to enhance their capabilities and improving their ability to keep organizations secured against threats. 

As cyber-attacks proliferate and increase in sophistication, they will continue to target organizations like airlines, which have large attack surfaces and copious amounts of customer data, and which cannot afford to weather sustained downtime. But with AI offering effective, proactive measures and clear-sky visibility, security teams can be confident in their ability to fight back.

DANS LE SOC
Darktrace sont des experts de classe mondiale en matière de renseignement sur les menaces, de chasse aux menaces et de réponse aux incidents. Ils fournissent une assistance SOC 24 heures sur 24 et 7 jours sur 7 à des milliers de clients Darktrace dans le monde entier. Inside the SOC est exclusivement rédigé par ces experts et fournit une analyse des cyberincidents et des tendances en matière de menaces, basée sur une expérience réelle sur le terrain.
AUTEUR
à propos de l'auteur
Tony Jarvis
Directeur de la sécurité d'entreprise, Asie-Pacifique et Japon

Tony Jarvis is Director of Enterprise Security, Asia Pacific and Japan, at Darktrace. Tony is a seasoned cyber security strategist who has advised Fortune 500 companies around the world on best practice for managing cyber risk. He has counselled governments, major banks and multinational companies, and his comments on cyber security and the rising threat to critical national infrastructure have been reported in local and international media including CNBC, Channel News Asia and The Straits Times. Before joining Darktrace, Tony previously served as CTO at Check Point and held senior advisory positions at FireEye, Standard Chartered Bank and Telstra. Tony holds a BA in Information Systems from the University of Melbourne.

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Customer Blog: Community Housing Limited Enhancing Incident Response

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04
Mar 2024

About Community Housing Limited

Community Housing Limited is a non-profit organization based in Australia that focuses on providing affordable, long-term housing and creating employment opportunities where possible. We give people the security of having a home so that they can focus on other essential pathways. As such, we are responsible for sensitive information on our clients.

As part of our commitment to strengthening our cyber security, we sought to simplify and unify our incident response plans and equip our engineers and desktop support teams with all the information we need at our fingertips.

Why Community Housing Limited chose Darktrace

Our team hoped to achieve a response procedure that allowed us to have oversight over any potential security risks, even cases that don’t overtly seem like a security risk. For example, an incident could start as a payroll issue and end up in the hands of HR, instead of surfacing as a security problem. In this case, our security team has no way of knowing the real number of events or how the threat had actually started and played out, making incident response and mitigation even more challenging.

We were already a customer of Darktrace’s autonomous threat detection, attack intervention, and attack surface management capabilities, and decided to add Darktrace for AI-assisted incident response and AI cyber-attack simulation.

AI-generated playbooks save time during incident response

I wanted to reduce the time and resources it took our security team to appropriately respond to a threat. Darktrace automates several steps of the recovery process to accelerate the rate of incident response by using AI that learns the granular details of the specific organization, building a dynamic understanding of the devices, connections, and user behaviors that make up the normal “pattern of life.”  

The AI then uses this understanding to create bespoke, AI-generated incident response playbooks that leverage an evolving understanding of our organization to determine recovery steps that are tailored not only to the specific incident but also to our unique environment.

For my security team, this means having access to all the information we need to respond to a threat. When running through an incident, rather than going to different places to synthesize relevant information, which takes up valuable resources and time, we can speed up its remediation with Darktrace.  

The playbooks created by Darktrace help lower the technical skills required to respond to incidents by elevating the workload of the staff, tripling our capacity for incident response.

Realistic attack simulations upskill teams while saving resources

We have differing levels of experience on the team which means some members know exactly what to do during incident response while others are slower and need more guidance. Thus, we have to either outsource skilled security professionals or add a security solution that could lower the technical skills bar.

You don’t want to be second guessing and searching for the right move – it’s urgent – there should be certainty. Our goal with running attack simulations is to test and train our team's response capabilities in a “realistic” scenario. But this takes considerable time to plan and execute or can be expensive if outsourced, which can be a challenge for organizations short on resources. 

Darktrace provides AI-assisted incident response and cyber-attack simulation using AI that understands the organization to run simulations that effectively map onto the real digital environment and the assets within it, providing training for actual incidents.

It is one thing to sit together in a meeting and discuss various outcomes of a cyber-attack, talking through the best response strategies. It is a huge benefit being able to run attack simulations that emulate real-world scenarios.

Our team can now see how an incident would play out over several days to resemble a real-world scenario or it can play through the simulation quickly to ascertain outcomes immediately. It then uses these insights to strengthen its technology, processes, and training.

AI-Powered Incident Response

Darktrace helps my security team save resources and upskill staff using AI to generate bespoke playbooks and run realistic simulations. Its real-time understanding of our business ensures incident preparedness and incident response are tailored to not only the specific threat in question, but also to the contextual infrastructure of the organization.  

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About the author
Jamie Woodland
Head of Technology at Community Housing Limited

Blog

Email

Beyond DMARC: Navigating the Gaps in Email Security

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29
Feb 2024

Email threat landscape  

Email has consistently ranked among the most targeted attack vectors, given its ubiquity and criticality to business operations. From September to December 2023, 10.4 million phishing emails were detected across Darktrace’s customer fleet demonstrating the frequency of attempted email-based attacks.

Businesses are searching for ways to harden their email security posture alongside email providers who are aiming to reduce malicious emails traversing their infrastructure, affecting their clients. Domain-based Message Authentication (DMARC) is a useful industry-wide protocol organizations can leverage to move towards these goals.  

What is DMARC?

DMARC is an email authentication protocol designed to enhance the security of email communication.

Major email service providers Google and Yahoo recently made the protocol mandatory for bulk senders in an effort to make inboxes safer worldwide. The new requirements demonstrate an increasing need for a standardized solution as misconfigured or nonexistent authentication systems continue to allow threat actors to evade detection and leverage the legitimate reputation of third parties.  

DMARC is a powerful tool that allows email administrators to confidently identify and stop certain spoofed emails; however, more organizations must implement the standard for it to reach its full potential. The success and effectiveness of DMARC is dependent on broad adoption of the standard – by organizations of all sizes.  

How does DMARC work?

DMARC builds on two key authentication technologies, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and helps to significantly improve their ability to prevent domain spoofing. SPF verifies that a sender’s IP address is authorized to send emails on behalf of a particular domain and DKIM ensures integrity of email content by providing a verifiable digital signature.  

DMARC adds to this by allowing domain owners to publish policies that set expectations for how SPF and DKIM verification checks relate to email addresses presented to users and whose authenticity the receiving mail server is looking to establish.  

These policies work in tandem to help authenticate email senders by verifying the emails are from the domain they say they are, working to prevent domain spoofing attacks. Key benefits of DMARC include:

  1. Phishing protection DMARC protects against direct domain spoofing in which a threat actor impersonates a legitimate domain, a common phishing technique threat actors use to trick employees to obtain sensitive information such as privileged credentials, bank information, etc.  
  2. Improving brand reputation: As DMARC helps to prevent impersonation of domains, it stands to maintain and increase an organization’s brand reputation. Additionally, as organizational reputation improves, so will the deliverability of emails.
  3. Increased visibility: DMARC provides enhanced visibility into email communication channels, including reports of all emails sent on behalf of your domain. This allows security teams to identify shadow-IT and any unauthorized parties using their domain.

Understanding DMARC’s Limitations

DMARC is often positioned as a way for organizations to ‘solve’ their email security problems, however, 65% of the phishing emails observed by Darktrace successfully passed DMARC verification, indicating that a significant number of threat actors are capable of manipulating email security and authentication systems in their exploits. While DMARC is a valuable tool in the fight against email-based attacks, the evolving threat landscape demands a closer look at its limitations.  

As threat actors continue to innovate, improving their stealth and evasion tactics, the number of attacks with valid DMARC authentication will only continue to increase in volume and sophistication. These can include:

  1. Phishing attacks that leverage non-spoofed domains: DMARC allows an organization to protect the domains that they own, preventing threat actors from being able to send phishing emails from their domains. However, threat actors will often create and use ‘look-a-like’ domains that closely resemble an organization’s domain to dupe users. 3% of the phishing emails identified by Darktrace utilized newly created domains, demonstrating shifting tactics.  
  2. Email Account Takeovers: If a threat actor gains access to a user’s email account through other social engineering means such as credential stuffing, they can then send phishing emails from the legitimate domain to pursue further attacks. Even though these emails are malicious, DMARC would not identify them as such because they are coming from an authorized domain or sender.  

Organizations must also ensure their inbound analysis of emails is not skewed by successful DMARC authentication. Security teams cannot inherently trust emails that pass DMARC, because the source cannot always be legitimized, like in the event of an account takeover. If a threat actor gains access to an authenticated email account, emails sent by the threat actor from that account will pass DMARC – however the contents of that email may be malicious. Sender behavior must be continuously evaluated and vetted in real time as past communication history and validated DMARC cannot be solely relied upon amid an ever-changing threat landscape.  

Security teams should lean on other security measures, such as anomaly detection tools that can identify suspicious emails without relying on historical attack rules and static data. While DMARC is not a silver bullet for email security, it is nevertheless foundational in helping organizations protect their brand identity and must be viewed as an essential layer in an organization's overall cyber security strategy.  

Implementing DMARC

Despite the criticality of DMARC for preserving brand reputation and trust, adoption of the standard has been inconsistent. DMARC can be complex to implement with many organizations lacking the time required to understand and successfully implement the standard. Because of this, DMARC set-up is often outsourced, giving security and infrastructure teams little to no visibility into or control of the process.  

Implementation of DMARC is only the start of this process, as DMARC reports must be consistently monitored to ensure organizations have visibility into who is sending mail from their domain, the volume of mail being sent and whether the mail is passing authentication protocols. This process can be time consuming for security teams who are already faced with mounting responsibilities, tight budgets, and personnel shortages. These complexities unfortunately delay organizations from using DMARC – especially as many today still view it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential.  

With the potential complexities of the DMARC implementation process, there are many ways security and infrastructure teams can still successfully roll out the standard. Initial implementation should start with monitoring, policy adjustment and then enforcement. As business changes over time, DMARC should be reviewed regularly to ensure ongoing protection and maintain domain reputation.

The Future of Email Security

As email-based attacks continue to rise, the industry must recognize the importance of driving adoption of foundational email authentication protocols. To do this, a new and innovative approach to DMARC is needed. DMARC products must evolve to better support organizations throughout the ongoing DMARC monitoring process, rather than just initial implementation. These products must also be able to share intelligence across an organization’s security stack, extending beyond email security tools. Integration across these products and tools will help organizations optimize their posture, ensuring deep understanding of their domain and increased visibility across the entire enterprise.

DMARC is critical in protecting brand identity and mitigating exact-domain based attacks. However, organizations must understand DMARC’s unique benefits and limitations to ensure their inboxes are fully protected. In today’s evolving threat landscape, organizations require a robust, multi-layered approach to stop email threats – in inbound mail and beyond. Email threats have evolved – its time security does too.

Join Darktrace on 9 April for a virtual event to explore the latest innovations needed to get ahead of the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Register today to hear more about our latest innovations coming to Darktrace’s offerings. For additional insights check out Darktrace’s 2023 End of Year Threat Report.

Credit to Carlos Gray and Stephen Pickman for their contribution to this blog

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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