• detecting_web_malware_2

Real time detection and automated root cause analysis of web malware, exploits and backdoors with Splunk. Part 2, Detection and alerting.

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Continued from Part 1…
Adding alert on file system modification events
Let’s setup alert that will send email to administrator when some executable script will be modified on Web server under user’s file system space. We will run scheduled search every 5 minutes to scan last 5 minutes worth of modifications. […]

  • detecting_web_malware

Real time detection and automated root cause analysis of web malware, exploits and backdoors with Splunk. Part 1, Architecture.

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In this article I’ll demonstrate step by step how to setup Splunk analytics to detect successful known and unknown malware attacks on web hosting systems in real time.

In addition the same solution will include instructions to deploy fully automated investigative analytics to discover the origins of attackers (IP addresses) as well as any modifications within the file system.

This information is essential to discover and immediately eliminate all possible backdoors and exploits that attacker tried to plant.

Real time alerts will be delivered via email to system administrator as soon as attack occurs. The same information will be available via Splunk web interface for further analysis. […]

  • Detecting Human Emotions In Data

Predicting Unknown Threats: Detecting Human Emotions Through Machine Data Analytics

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Wouldn’t it be nice if your SIEM would send a “possible insider threat!” alert when it detects that employee is in fearful, paranoid or even panicky emotional state while trying to access secure, confidential corporate documents repository?

Or receive real time “possible account takeover!” alert when it detects that currently logged in user is in deep anxiety or experiencing severely agitated emotional conditions while trying to initiate money transfer to an outside bank account?

This approach is used very successfully to detect potential threats by the world’s most secure airlines.
Trained security officers are able to see if passenger feels nervous or agitated or otherwise exhibits emotionally unusual behaviors and then follow up with further checks and investigation. On one occasion by interrogating the nervous passenger the actual bomb was found inside his luggage while the passenger mistakenly thought he had been hired to smuggle diamonds.
The Step Up from User Behavior Analytics
With some creativity, knowledge of human psychology and analytics approach we can apply the same methods to today’s machine data generated by users, clients and employees of financial institutions, banks, governments facilities and corporations to prevent known and unknown attacks from outside as well as from inside of enterprise.

A while ago analyzing an account takeover cyber attack I’ve isolated a complete data set belonging to the attacker who’ve accessed another user account with legitimate credentials.

Attacker’s session activity was almost identical to legitimate user’s activity across all metrics:
Pages accessed, session duration, session hit length, browser user agent used, geographical region of originated IP address, order in which pages were accessed, approximately the same time of the date as legitimate user would use, etc…


  • session_velocity

User Behavior Analysis with Splunk: Detecting Threats and Fraudulent Activity in the Ocean of Behaviors: Part 2 – Detecting Abnormal User Session Velocity and Density

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One of my enterprise clients observed that certain class of attacks having a number of distinctive characteristics: attacker who possessed correct user account credentials won’t try to engage into malicious behavior right away.

Initial activity would involve certain degree of reconnaissance and gathering of future victim’s specific data, such as account balances, trade histories and other. So normal “red flags” and risk scoring metrics won’t generate any alerts.

However in many cases such pre-fraudulent activity was still carrying an unusual behavior marks: either session velocity (average number of seconds per hit) or session density (number of hits within the session) or both exceeded normal, baseline session patterns typical for the average client application user’s behavior.

Abnormally high session velocity is also a typical pattern of an automated script-driven session that both fraudsters and competition were using to siphon data from the client’s servers.

One of the possible solutions to detect these activities would be to calculate average session velocity and density and then apply these values to trigger alerts when session metrics exceeded thresholds.

The issue here is that due to the client’s business specific these averages vary greatly depending on the time of the day, time of the week and also the month of the year.

So stuffing some fixed “guessed” threshold values won’t work and will either generate lots of false positives or miss many suspicious sessions. […]

  • User Behavior Analysis with Splunk

User Behavior Analysis with Splunk: Detecting Threats and Fraudulent Activity in the Ocean of Behaviors: Part 1 – Setting Alerts on User Session Risk Factors

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Back in my days at IBM T.J. Watson Research Center where we were working on techniques to detect known and unknown malware, the fast growing challenge was the rising threat of malware’s abilities to become polymorphic.

Malicious snippets of code encrypted themselves and made it very difficult to apply conventional signature based detection techniques.

We’ve developed a tiny virtual machine in C language that was able to load malware code in real time and analyze it’s behavior without need to figure out how to decrypt it. Certain score metrics were assigned to keypoints and function calls and logic was put in place to trigger an alert if “risk” score exceeded certain heuristic threshold.

That technique allowed us to deliver top quality enterprise security solution (purchased by Symantec later on) that was capable of detecting previously unknown threats. That was more than 15 years ago.

While working with financial clients and technology companies today I can see that old behavior pattern analysis stays as strong as ever helping enterprises to discover new types of suspicious behaviors and investigate malicious activities with previously unknown patterns from previously unknown sources.

Industry leaders seems to agree that some of the recent high profile breaches could of been thwarted with properly configured behavior analysis SIEM system in place. […]

  • Splunk-ANLB-Search

Detecting Bank Accounts Takeover Fraud Cyberattacks with Splunk. Part3: The Advanced Negative Look Behind Query

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…Continued from Part 2.

In the final part of this writeup I’ll show you the actual query that does it all and explain how it works.

To remind – this is the challenge – what we want to accomplish:

Detect and alert when C-class IP subnet tries to access at least 5 different accounts within an hour and at least 75% of total accounts touched has never been accessed from this subnet *and* from this USER_AGENT within the last 45 days.

And, as you may remember from Part 1, here’s the basic logic that we need to implement to make it happen:

Scan last hour of access log data and find the list of subnets that tried to access multiple accounts within that hour.
For each of these accounts – take username, IP, USER_AGENT and scan the previous 45 days of traffic history to find usernames that has never been touched by this IP/USER_AGENT combo.
Alert if number of found accounts is above threshold.

I’ve spent quite a bit of effort to come up with a single query that does all of the above and in a pretty efficient manner.

The biggest part of challenge is that the query needs to find events (#1 above) but then it needs to run very custom search for each event against summary index that we’ve created (#2 above). And added icing on this cake is that the query needs to return results only if there are *no matches* found for the second part of search.

This quickly gets mind-boggling and it is a rather interesting puzzle to solve with SPL.

The way I solved it – is with a combination of macros + advanced subsearch. But instead of returning traditional results – the subsearch will return new, custom crafted Splunk search query to be executed by the outer search.

I named this approach Advanced Negative Look Behind (ANLB) query.

ANLB query is the query that has these capabilities: […]

  • summary-index

Detecting Bank Accounts Takeover Fraud Cyberattacks with Splunk. Part 2: Building Reference Summary Index of Logins Data

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… continued from Part 1.

Summary indexing is a great way to speedup Splunk searches by pre-creating a subset of only necessary data for specific purpose. In our case we need to filter out of all available WEB traffic data only login events. This will allow us to have very fast, much smaller data subset with all the information we need to reference against when matching with new, suspicious login events.

To proceed with building summary index we need to make a set of assumptions. These assumptions are needed to build the query and all other elements of the solution. You’ll be able to substitute names to your specifics later on if wanted to.

Lets assume you have your WEB logs with all the event data indexed in Splunk already.
All web events are located within index named: logs.
Field names (or aliases):

HTTP request method (GET, POST, HEAD, etc..): method
URL of page accessed: page
Username field: username
IP address of visitor: ip
USER_AGENT value: ua

To generate summary index of login data – we need to create index itself first.


  • splunk-ato-detection-step-1

Detecting Bank Accounts Takeover Fraud Cyberattacks with Splunk. Part 1: The Challenge

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Full Series:

Detecting Bank Accounts Takeover Fraud Cyberattacks with Splunk. Part 2: Building Reference Summary Index of Logins Data.
Detecting Bank Accounts Takeover Fraud Cyberattacks with Splunk. Part3: The Advanced Negative Look Behind Query.

In these series of posts I’ll cover the complete strategy of utilizing Splunk Enterprise in detecting customer account takeover fraud as well as setting up an automated alerts when such activity is detected.

While I’ve helped to implement these measures for large financial firm – the same approach can be applied to any online enterprise where it is essential to protect online customer accounts, quickly detect suspicious activity and to act and prevent monetary and business losses.

The techniques I am going to describe generate pretty low level of false positives and contain efficient ways to adjust trigger thresholds within multiple metrics for specific business needs. In addition – it is tested and works really well for portals that generate up to 3,000,000-5,000,000 hits a day.

Specific use case that is covered in these posts applies to situation where credentials of multiple clients (sometimes thousands or more) got in the hands of attackers who will try to take advantage of these for monetary, competitive or political gains. With the help of Splunk, enterprise will be able to quickly and automatically detect such situation and take necessary measures to protect business and clients.

Account takeover fraud comes into play when fraudster gains access to customer account credentials via any means: phishing campaigns, malware, spyware or by buying sets of stolen customer credential data on darknets or black online markets and forums.

I won’t get into the details of multiple possible ways customer credentials may be compromised but the end result is an ability of unauthorized person(s) to access multiple customer accounts and cause significant damages to customers and to business, including large monetary losses.

The worst way the enterprise can learn about cyberattack on their own customers is from CNN.

Splunk gives us all the necessary tools to quickly detect such attacks and stay on top of the game. […]