Preventing Data Leakage

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Data policies assist in the protection of data and help prevent data leakage. If you’re planning to take the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of different elements that may be contained in a data policy. This includes security risks in using social media networks and applications.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. Your organization blocks access to social media web sites. The primary purpose is to prevent data leakage, such as the accidental disclosure of proprietary information. What is an additional security benefit of this policy?

A. Improves employee productivity

B. Enables cognitive password attacks

C. Prevents P2P file sharing

D. Protects against banner ad malware

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation is available at the end of this post.

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Banner Ads and Malvertisements

Attackers have been delivering malware through malicious banner ads for several years now. These look like regular ads, but they contain malicious code. Many of these are Flash applets with malicious code embedded in them, but others just use code to redirect users to another server, such as one with a drive-by download waiting for anyone who clicks.

Although these malvertisements have been on many social media sites, they’ve also appeared on mainstream sites. For example, attackers installed a malvertisement on the New York Times web site where it ran for about 24 hours before webmasters discovered and disabled it.

Preventing Data Leakage

Similarly, malvertising has appeared on the Yahoo! web site. In late 2013 and early 2014, users who clicked on some Yahoo! ads were taken to sites hosting fake antivirus software. These sites included pop-ups indicating that users’ systems were infected with malware and encouraging the users to download and install free antivirus software to remedy the infection. However, users who took the bait installed malware onto their systems. Later in July and August 2014, some ads on Yahoo! sent users to sites in Eastern Europe that were hosting CryptoWall, according to research by Blue Coat Systems Inc. CryptoWall is a malicious form of ransomware that encrypts user files and demands payment to decrypt them.

Attackers have used two primary methods to get these malvertisements installed on legitimate web sites. One method is to attack a web site and insert ads onto that web site. The second method is to buy ads. They often represent an ad agency pretending to represent legitimate clients. For example, one attacker convinced Gawker Media to run a series of Suzuki advertisements, which were actually malvertisements. Similarly, it’s unlikely that Yahoo! was aware that it was hosting malvertising, but instead, these ads likely appeared as a result of attacks or by being tricked.

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Social Networking and P2P

Peer-to-peer (P2P or file sharing) applications allow users to share files such as music, video, and data over the Internet. Instead of a single server providing the data to end users, all computers in the P2P network are peers, and any computer can act as a server to other clients.

The first widely used P2P network was Napster, an online music-sharing service that operated between 1999 and 2001. Users copied and distributed MP3 music files among each other, and these were often pirated music files. The files were stored on each user’s system, and as long as the system was accessible on the Internet, other users could access and download the files. A court order shut down Napster due to copyright issues, but it later reopened as an online music store. Other P2P software and P2P networks continue to appear and evolve.

Organizations usually restrict the use of P2P applications in networks, but this isn’t because of piracy issues. One reason is because the P2P applications can consume network bandwidth, slowing down other systems on the network. Worse, a significant risk with P2P applications is data leakage. Users are often unaware of what data they are sharing. Another risk is that users are often unaware of what data the application downloads and stores on their systems, causing them to host inappropriate data. Two examples help illustrate these data leakage risks.

Information concentrators search P2P networks for information of interest and collect it. In March 2009, investigators discovered an information concentrator in Iran with over 200 documents containing classified and secret U.S. government data. This included classified information about Marine One, the helicopter used by the president. Although the information about Marine One made the headlines, the attackers had much more information. For example, this concentrator included Iraq status reports and lists of soldiers with privacy data.

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How did this happen? Investigations revealed that a defense contractor installed a P2P application on a computer. The computer had access to this data, and the P2P application shared it.

The media latched onto the news about Marine One, so this story was widely published. However, it’s widely believed that much more data is being mined via P2P networks. Most end users don’t have classified data on their systems, but they do have PII, such as banking information or tax data. When an attacker retrieves data on a user’s system and empties a bank account, it may be a catastrophe to the user, but it isn’t news.

A second example affected a school-age child. It’s popular to use these P2P sharing programs to share music files, but they are often used to share other data. One school-age girl was browsing data she found on her computer and discovered a significant number of pornographic pictures. She did not seek these or deliberately download them. Instead, as a member of the P2P network, the P2P application used her system to store files shared by others.

Organizations can restrict access to P2P networks by blocking access in firewalls. Additionally, port scanners can scan open ports of remote systems to identify P2P software. Organizations often include these checks when running a port scanner as part of a vulnerability scan.

Remember this

Data leakage occurs when users install P2P software and unintentionally share files. Organizations often block P2P software at the firewall.


 

Q. Your organization blocks access to social media web sites. The primary purpose is to prevent data leakage, such as the accidental disclosure of proprietary information. What is an additional security benefit of this policy?

A. Improves employee productivity

B. Enables cognitive password attacks

C. Prevents P2P file sharing

D. Protects against banner ad malware

Answer is D. The primary benefit is protection against banner ad malware, also known as malvertisements.

Although the policy might result in improved employee productivity, this is not a security benefit.

You want to prevent cognitive password attacks, not enable them.

Although organizations typically try to prevent peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, this is done by blocking access to P2P sites, not social media sites.

See Chapter 11 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information operational security.

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