What are the SANS 20 Critical Security Controls


The 20 critical controls (I’ll call them the “Controls” from here on out) talk about four tenets:

  1. Offense informs defense: Use knowledge of actual attacks that have compromised systems to provide the foundation to build effective defenses.
  2. Metrics: Establish common metrics to provide a shared language for executives, IT specialists, auditors, and security officials to measure the effectiveness of security measures within an organization so that required adjustments can be identified and implemented quickly.
  3. Continuous monitoring: Carry out continuous monitoring/auditing to test and validate whether current security measures are proactively remediating vulnerabilities in a timely manner.
  4. Automation: Automate defenses so that organizations can achieve reliable, scalable, and continuous measurements of their adherence to the controls and related metrics.

First let me explain what SANS 20 Critical Security Controls are.

01: Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Devices

02: Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Software

03: Secure Configurations for Hardware/Software on Mobile Devices, Laptops, Workstations, & Servers

04: Continuous Vulnerability Assessment and Remediation

05: Malware Defenses

06: Application Software Security

07: Wireless Device Control

08: Data Recovery Capability

09: Security Skills Assessment and Appropriate Training to Fill Gaps

10: Secure Configurations for Network Devices such as Firewalls, Routers, and Switches

11: Limitation and Control for Network Ports, Protocols, and Services

12: Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges

13: Boundary Defense

14: Maintenance, Monitoring, and Analysis of Audit Logs

15: Controlled Access Based on the Need to Know

16: Account Monitoring and Control

17: Data Loss Prevention

18: Incident Response and Management

19: Secure Network Engineering

20: Penetration Tests and Red Team Exercises

Now you have a better overview of these Critical Security Controls, what they are and for what purpose the being used.

Technique #1: Attackers Will Expose Breached Data Dumps In Dribbles

According to Ed Skoudis, more organizations will need to face the prospect of attackers not only getting savvy in how they steal information, but also in how they disseminate it, particularly if they’re looking to publicly humiliate their targets.

“I’m talking, of course, about the Sony situation.  Instead of just doing the big data dump, they put a little bit out there,” Skoudis said. “The reason this is more damaging is the organization doesn’t really know how to respond.  What is the magnitude of this whole thing? Also, the organization’s response, by the time you get to day three or four of the disclosures, makes what they said on day one look silly.  So there’s more damage and it amplifies it for the target organization.  It’s like you’re boxing with ghosts.” He recommends that organizations start including these scenarios in their tabletop exercises for breach response.

Technique #2: Microsoft Kerberos Is Getting Spanked

As Pass the Hash attacks grew mainstream back in 2011 or so, Skoudis explained that he and other experts always prefaced their talks about the techniques with the aside that these attacks weren’t there yet on Microsoft Kerberos. That’s no longer the case.

“So what’s happening? We have the pass the ticket attack.  That’s where a bad guy hacks into a machine in your environment—maybe it’s a client machine, maybe it’s a server machine– and they harvest the Kerberos tickets for the user that’s authenticated on that machine,” he says, explaining the attacker is able to use those tickets for up to 10 hours. “You can do a lot of damage in 10 hours.”

Technique #3: Real-World Exploits of Internet of Things Will Multiply

The more the workforce moves beyond bring your own device with phones and tablets and further into bring your own anything, be it printers or wireless routers, the more that Internet of Things vulnerabilities will intrude into the enterprise, Skoudis warned. This gets amplified as embedded hardware in all nature of devices becomes so cheap.

“With all these different things coming into the environment, if you don’t know it’s there, you can’t defend it,” he said.

And, unfortunately, these devices are frequently vulnerable to very old attacks and methods that were taken care of in traditional devices years ago. But these common vulnerabilities will start causing new and unexpected consequences in IoT devices. (Internet Of Things)

For example, one device Skoudis and his team looked into were actually irrevocably broken following a simple cross-site scripting attack.

“You could launch a cross side scripting attack against the darn thing and it would break the device,” he said. “Look, I’ve seen a lot of scripting in my day, I’m sure maybe you have as well, and I’ve never seen one that would break a device.  It was crazy.”

Technique #4: Encryption Is Becoming Security’s #1 Frenemy

Encryption is security’s number one frenemy, not just because when poorly implemented it can cause problems—see Heartbleed and BASH bug—but also because it can be used against you, explained Ullrich.

As crypto ransomware has grown in popularity, it has been seen largely as a consumer problem. But that’s changing as attackers start to shift their encryption ransomware delivery techniques, he says.

“And in some ways, from an enterprise point of view, encrypted information is probably less of a problem for you than leaked information, because they have backups” he said. “Until those backups start being encrypted.”

For example, he explained that attackers are starting to dedicate efforts in breaking into NAS devices and others commonly used for backup storage in order to carry out ransomeware attacks against businesses.

“And it only moves forward from there,” explaining that attackers are using web application vulnerabilities to break into web servers, then effectively encrypting data for a period of time and eventually removing the key before making a demand for ransom

“So all data altered over the last six months on that particular web server got encrypted now, including all the backups for the last six months.” “Then on your website you get to see the ransom notice asking you for a substantial amount of money to get your data back.”

Technique #5: Denial of Service Attacks Are Advancing

“Denial of service attacks have been a huge problem over the last few years, but for the most part, enterprises sort of have learned to live with it”

Attackers are now taking denial of service to another level in a couple of ways. In one way, the attacker is focusing on actual applications. “So, these are layer 7-style denial of service attacks.” With a relatively low level of traffic, like a couple megabits or maybe a gigabit, attackers can cause substantial harm to the application and render it unusable. Additionally, instead of reflection attacks off the DNS server, attackers are setting up their attacks so the request from actual clients, rather than denial of service botnets or the like.

Technique #6: ICS Attacks Are Becoming Targeted

Attackers are getting savvier about how they go after industrial control systems. There are now customized ICS exploits, that is big news. “It means your adversary did spend time thinking and focusing on it to build these.”

Additionally, attackers are taking advantage of controls over specific features within ICS systems. And they’re also learning the importance of delivery. “Adversaries also demonstrated the understanding that many of the control systems out there today are at least hidden behind one firewall, one logical segmentation,” he said. “They came to the same thinking about that and figuring how do I focus on what, not necessarily payload, but delivery.  How do I get in to where I want to be? And the number one thing we say is they focus on ICS trusted relationships. ”

As a result, there’s increased level of phishing attacks against production engineers and those on the plant floor area, as well as watering hole attacks against sites with information for ICS engineers. Even scarier, they’re starting to trojanize ICS files and components that are available for updating firmware and finding ways to replace them in the supply chain in order to get malware over the firewall and into production environments.

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