by Florian Skopik and Thomas Bleier

In recent years, the Internet has rapidly expanded to a massive economic sphere of activity – not only for the new economy, where Internet-based businesses have grown from startups to multinational and billon-dollar enterprises, faster than any businesses before, but also for the “dark side” of entrepreneurship. Exploiting weaknesses in information and communications technology (ICT) systems has become a profitable business model. In order to better cope with these threats, we argue that tight cooperation between all parties in the digital society is necessary. The project CAIS deals with the implementation of a cyber attack information system on a national level, whose ultimate goal is to strengthen the resilience of today’s interdependent networked services and increase their overall availability and trustworthiness.

In the early days of ICT, attacking other computers was mostly motivated by a desire for self-expression or competition between hackers but nowadays it has become a big business [1]. There is no clear picture of the volume of these markets, but the damage is huge. A Europol report [2] from 2011, for example, indicates losses of around € 750 billion annually. Today, spam emails are used to advertise goods and distribute phishing links or malware, viruses spread infections and carry dangerous payloads, and drive-by downloads are used to infect victims when they are accessing unsuspicious websites. Furthermore, rootkits hide the existence of other malware on a system, enabling them to act undetected for as long as possible, and botnets are used to control a large number of victim systems for malicious purposes. Even critical infrastructures, such as energy networks, transportation and financial services are becoming increasingly connected to the Internet in order to enable cost-efficient remote monitoring and maintenance. Furthermore, the pervasive use of novel computing paradigms, including mobile computing and cloud computing, makes society even more dependent on the proper functioning of ICT systems.

Methodology for Protecting Networks in the 21st Century
Traditional protection mechanisms, such as firewalls and anti-virus software are no longer able to guarantee an adequate level of security: attacks are too complex and specialized. Thus, these days we observe a major paradigm shift from prevention and remediation-focused approaches to response and containment strategies. This shift also requires organizations to move from common static policy-based security approaches towards intelligent mechanisms, incorporating identification of anomalies, analysis and reasoning of attacks, and in-time response strategies [3]. The basic properties of such approaches are:

  • Risk-based: Prioritizing security for the most important assets. It is not economically viable for an organization or a nation to provide maximum security for all assets.
  • Contextual: collecting huge amounts of intelligence data and use analytics to identify relevant data sources for anomaly detection. A context space is created by aggregating and correlating a wide variety of events, even if an attacker partially deleted his traces.
  • Agile: enable fast responses to minimize the exploitable attack window and to keep (financial) losses to a minimum.

In order to cope with future advanced threats, we argue that tight cooperation between all parties in the digital society is necessary. In some domains, such as the banking sector, strategic alliances and information sharing within the community are already commonplace (e.g. to deal with phishing attacks). Furthermore, there exist relationships between organizations, such as national Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), to support collaborative incident response activities. These, however, tend to be informally arranged between individual groups or are largely focused on securing infrastructures in the same operational domain. Whilst these activities have proven useful, a more comprehensive and formal approach to ensuring the security of national critical infrastructures, which spans numerous operational domains, will become necessary with the increasing use of ICT in interdependent critical infrastructure provisioning.

Figure 1: Overall architecture of the Cyber Attack Information System
Figure 1: Overall architecture of the Cyber Attack Information System

Contributions and Applied Solutions in CAIS
The project CAIS deals with the implementation of a Cyber Attack Information System on a national level (cf. Figure 1), whose ultimate goal is to strengthen the resilience of today’s interdependent networked services, and increase their overall availability and trustworthiness. In particular, the following challenges are addressed and corresponding methodologies applied:

  • Study of future cyber risks and emerging threats, particularly having the changing political and economic landscape in mind. Here, the well proven Delphi method – a systematic, interactive forecasting technique – is applied in consultation with an extended group of subject matter experts.
  • Evaluation of novel anomaly detection techniques by composing available network tools for log file management with new pattern mining approaches inspired by models from the domain of bio informatics. Here, high performance and scalability is of paramount importance.
  • Creation of highly modular infrastructure models on multiple layers, spanning hardware-centric physical aspects, over data flow and service deployment perspectives, to abstract inter-organizational dependencies.
  • Innovative tools for attack simulations, using aforementioned infrastructure models and applying game-theoretic approaches as well as agent-based simulations in order to forecast the effects of attacks on interconnected infrastructures, as well as the impact of countermeasures on various levels and from multiple viewpoints.
  • Investigate the deployment and instantiation of a CAIS (see Figure 1) that connects single organizations, links and coordinates isolated anomaly detection efforts, and facilitates information sharing and mutual aid between organizations.

CAIS Project Consortium
In order to attain these ambitious goals and finally ensure the wide applicability of developed tools, major stakeholders of Austria’s security domain are involved. First, research institutions, such as the Austrian Institute of Technology and the University of Applied Sciences St. Poelten contribute their scientific expertise regarding anomaly detection techniques and infrastructure modelling and simulation. Furthermore, the OIIP Austrian Institute for International Affairs studies cyber threats and risks to national critical infrastructures caused by cyber crime. The major telecommunication service providers T-Mobile Austria and T-Systems Austria, as well as the national Austrian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) ensure a sound implementation on a technical layer and practical applicability and validation. The Austrian Federal Chancellery (BKA), Federal Ministry of Interior (BMI) and the Federal Ministry of Defense (BMLVS) bring in requirements from a national security perspective. Moreover, CAIS consortium members are actively involved in international initiatives, such as the Multi National Experiment 7 (MNE7) which enables beneficial collaborations across Austria’s borders. This two-year project runs from 2011 to 2013 and is financially supported by the Austrian security-research program KIRAS and by the Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology.

Links:
http://www.kiras.at/gefoerderte-projekte/detail/projekt/cais-cyber-attack-information-system/
http://www.ait.ac.at/research-services/research-services-safety-security/ict-security/cais-cyber-attack-information-system/?L=1

References:
[1] J. Radianti, E. Rich, J. Gonzalez: Vulnerability Black Markets: Empirical Evidence and Scenario Simulation, Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, pp. 1-10, 2009
[2] Europol: Threat Assessment – Internet Facilitated Organised Crime iOCTA, 2011
[3] EMC Press Release: RSA Chief Rallies Industry to Improve Trust in the Digital World, After Year Filled with Cyber Attacks, RSA Conference 2011, San Francisco, CA, Feb. 28, 2012

Please contact:
Thomas Bleier, Florian Skopik
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Next issue: January 2018
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