Sunday, December 17, 2017

Deception Technologies: Deceiving the Attacker or the Buyer?

Deception technologies, over the last three-ish years, have come into vogue; with more than a dozen commercial vendors and close to a hundred open source products available to choose from. Solutions range from local host canary file monitoring, through to autonomous self-replicating and dynamic copies of the defenders network operating like an endless hall of mirrors.

The technologies employed for deception purposes are increasingly broad - but the ultimate goal is for an attacker to be deceived into tripping over or touching a specially deposited file, user account, or networked service and, in doing so, sounding an alarm so that the defenders can start to... umm... well..., often it's not clear what the defender is supposed to do. And that's part of the problem with the deception approach to defense.

I'm interested, but deeply cautious about the claims of deception technology vendors, and so should you be. It's incredibly difficult to justify their expense and understand their overall value when incorporated in to a defense in depth strategy.

There have been many times over the last couple of decades I have recommended to my clients and businesses a quick and dirty canary solution. For example, adding unique user accounts that appear at the start and end of your LDAP, Active Directory, or email contacts list - such that if anyone ever emails those addresses, you know you've been compromised. And similar canary files or shares for detecting the presence of worm outbreaks. But, and I must stress the "but", those solutions only apply to organizations that have not invested in the basics of network hygiene and defense in depth.

Honeypots, Honeynets, canaries, and deception products are HIGHLY prone to false positives. Vendors love to say otherwise, but the practical reality is that there's a near infinite number of everyday things that'll set them off - on hole or in part. For example:

  • Regular vulnerability scanning,
  • Data backups and file recovery,
  • System patching and updates,
  • Changes in firewall or VPN policies,
  • Curious employees,
  • Anti-virus scanners and suite updates,
  • On-premise enterprise search systems,
  • Cloud file repository configuration changes and synchronization,
The net result being either you ignore or turn off the system after a short period of time, or you swell your security teams ranks and add headcount to continually manage and tune the system(s).

If you want my honest opinion though, I'd have to say that the time for deception-based products has already past. 

If you're smart, you've already turned on most of the logging features of your desktop computers, laptops, servers, and infrastructure devices, and you're capturing all file, service, user, and application access attempts. You're therefore already capturing more of the raw information necessary to detect any threat your favorite deception technology is proposing to identify for you. Obviously, the trick is being able to process those logs for anomalies and responding to the threat.

This year alone the number of automated log analytics platforms and standalone products that employ AI and machine learning that are capable of real-time (or, worst case, "warm") detection of threats, has grown to outnumber all the tools in the Deception solution category - and they do it cheaper, more efficiently, and with less human involvement. 

Deception vendors were too slow. The log analytics vendors incorporated more advanced detection systems, user behavioral analytics, and were better able to mitigate the false positive problems - and didn't require additional investment in host agents and network appliances to collect the data that the deception technologies needed.

As an enterprise security buyer, I think you can forget about employing deception technologies and instead invest in automated log analytics. Not only will you cover the same threats, but the log analytics platforms will continue to innovate faster and cover a broader spectrum of threats and SecOps without the propensity of false positives.

-- Gunter Ollman

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