Darktrace in Support of FERC Order 887

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11
Sep 2023
11
Sep 2023
This blog explores how Darktrace/OT aligns with FERC Order 887 requirements. Darktrace employs anomaly-based detection to uncover insider threats and supply chain attacks within CIP networked environments, all without relying on external connectivity.

At a glance:

  • Darktrace/OT leverages machine learning to provide actionable preventative analytics, relevant real time anomaly based threat detection, and a variety of response capabilities as a full suite protection for OT/ICS operations Purdue levels 5-0.
  • Self-Learning AI detects and responds to cyber threats including malicious or non malicious insiders and supply chain attacks.
  • Darktrace/OT deploys passively within NERC CIP environments providing visibility without the need for any external connectivity or threat intelligence updates.

What is FERC?

The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for the regulation of the wholesale electricity and natural gas transmission. FERC sits above the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) which is responsible for the development and enforcement of reliability standards for the US bulk power system. NERC CIP reliability standards are standards enforced by NERC to ensure the safety and protection of the bulk electric system.

What is FERC order 887?

In review of the CIP requirements, FERC identified a security gap. The gap was that there is no requirement for internal network security monitoring (INSM) within the security perimeters of CIP networked systems. Without this requirement and protections in place, if an attacker was to breach the security perimeter of the CIP networked environment, the victim organization would have no capability of detecting and alerting to what the adversary is doing within the security perimeter.  

FERC Order 887 is a final rule issued intended to direct NERC to develop new or modified reliability standards requiring internal network security monitoring INSM within Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) networked environments. A focus is placed on anomaly based detection used within the security perimeter so that threats without known rules and signatures associated, including insider threat and supply chain attacks, can be detected based on anomalous network activity within the CIP networked environment.

FERC order 887 specifically focuses on the need for addressing the INSM gap for BES high impact power generation systems with CIP networked environments with and without external connectivity and medium impact systems with external connectivity.

FERC Order 887 Requirements

1. Any new or modified CIP Reliability Standards should address the need for responsible entities to develop baselines of their network traffic inside their CIP-networked environment for BES Medium impact with external routable network connectivity and high impact with or without external routable network connectivity.

2. Any new or modified CIP Reliability Standards should address the need for responsible entities to monitor for and detect unauthorized activity, connections, devices, and software inside the CIP-networked environment. This should be done so that sophisticated threats including those that may already have persistent access to CIP networked systems, insider threats and supply chain threats can be detected at earlier stages.

3. Any new or modified CIP Reliability Standards should require responsible entities to identify anomalous activity to a high level of confidence by:  (1) logging network traffic (we note that packet capture is one means of accomplishing this goal); (2) maintaining logs and other data collected regarding network traffic.

How does Darktrace support FERC order 887?

For security professionals to satisfy FERC order 887, it is ideal to deploy an INSM that leverages anomaly based detection and is capable of detecting insider threats and supply chain attacks within CIP networked environments in medium and high impact power generation sites. Additionally, the INSM has to be able to function within high impact sites without any external network connectivity.

Darktrace/OT leverages machine learning to provide actionable preventative analytics, relevant real time anomaly based threat detection, and a variety of response capabilities as a full suite protection for OT/ICS operations Purdue levels 5-0, helping security professionals accommodate for FERC order 887 requirements.

Anomaly Based Detection

Darktrace establishes baseline and normal network activity via passive traffic analysis when monitoring the CIP-networked OT system. The baseline or “pattern of life” is then used to detect anomalies within the environment including unauthorized activity, connections, devices, and software inside the CIP-networked environment via anomaly-based detection.  

Darktrace’s AI technology uses unsupervised machine learning to identify anomalous activity to a high statistical level of confidence by logging network traffic via packet capture and maintaining logs and other data collected regarding network traffic inherently within the platform for 1 year.

All log data stored by Darktrace can be exported to other systems so that it can be stored longer than 1 year. If you need to retain logs for more than 1 year, Darktrace can offload the logs to retain indefinitely.

Figure 1: AI Analyst Incident reporting an unusual reprogram command using the MODBUS protocol. The incident includes a plain English summary, relevant technical information, and the investigation process used by the AI.

Self-Learning AI

Darktrace/OT analyzes network traffic passively and learns the normal pattern of life of the these assets and their details (make, model, firmware, protocols, etc.). Darktrace/OT does not need any data or threat feeds from external sources because the AI builds an innate understanding of self without third-party support.

Darktrace is capable of detecting sophisticated novel malware-based attacks as well as supply chain attacks, insider threats, and other attacks where the adversary has established foothold or persistent legitimized access to systems and cannot be detected by rules and signatures-based detection systems.

Darktrace/OT is an intelligent decision-making engine that uses its evolving understanding of your industrial organization to prompt targeted, non-disruptive action to contain emerging attacks, actively responding to security events occurring within the security perimeter autonomously or via human confirmation using TCP/resets or Darktrace can respond at security boundaries via various integrations with network security tools including firewalls and OT zero trust solutions.

Figure 2: The Darktrace Threat Visualizer allows security analysts and OT engineers to visualize and replay incidents in real time.

Deploys in Isolation Without External Connectivity

Darktrace/OT can deploy passively without the need for any external network connectivity into any low, medium, or high impact power generation facilities and maintain 100 percent integrity of the existing segmentation including fully air gapped environments.

Once Darktrace/OT is deployed, Darktrace immediately begins monitoring, learning, and analyzing the raw OT network traffic (east/west and north/south) within the CIP-networked environment creating a live data flow topology and baseline of network connectivity.

Because all data-processing and analytics are performed locally on the Darktrace appliance, there is no requirement for Darktrace to have a connection out to the internet. As a result, Darktrace/OT provides visibility and threat detection to air-gapped or highly segmented networks without jeopardizing their integrity. If a human or machine displays even the most nuanced forms of threatening behavior, the solution can illuminate this in real time.

Attack Case Study: Insider Threat

In the real-world example below, Darktrace/OT detected a subtle deviation from normal behavior when a reprogram command was sent by an engineering workstation to a PLC controlling a pump, an action an insider threat with legitimized access to OT systems would take to alter the physical process without any malware involved. In this instance, AI Analyst, Darktrace’s investigation tool that triages events to reveal the full security incident, detected the event as unusual based on multiple metrics including the source of the command, the destination device, the time of the activity, and the command itself.  

As a result, AI Analyst created a complete security incident, with a natural language summary, the technical details of the activity, and an investigation process explaining how it came to its conclusion. By leveraging Explainable AI, a security team can quickly triage and escalate Darktrace incidents in real time before it becomes disruptive, and even when performed by a trusted insider.

Figure 3: AI Analyst Incident reporting an unusual reprogram command using the MODBUS protocol. The incident includes a plain English summary, relevant technical information, and the investigation process used by the AI.

Credit to Daniel Simonds and Oakley Cox for their contribution to this blog.

INSIDE THE SOC
Darktrace cyber analysts are world-class experts in threat intelligence, threat hunting and incident response, and provide 24/7 SOC support to thousands of Darktrace customers around the globe. Inside the SOC is exclusively authored by these experts, providing analysis of cyber incidents and threat trends, based on real-world experience in the field.
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Jeffrey Macre
Industrial Security Solutions Architect
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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

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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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