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Celebrating Women in Security

Ep. 18

Today is International Women’s Day, and we are celebrating with a very special episode of Security Unlocked. Hosts Nic Fillingham and Natalia Godyla revisit their favorite interviews with some of the prominent women featured previously on the podcast. 


We speak with Holly Stewart, a Principal Research Lead at Microsoft and known in the Defender organization as “The Queen of AI.” Holly shares how building a security team with different perspectives helps to better understand and stop threats.


Next, we talk with Dr. Anna Bertiger, a Senior Applied Scientist at Microsoft. Anna has an incredible passion for math and explains how she’s using math to catch villains and make computer networks safer. 


Finally, we explore what it’s like to hunt down threats with Sam Schwartz, a Program Manager with Microsoft Threat Experts. She came to Microsoft right out of college and didn’t even know what malware was; now she’s helping coordinate a team of threat hunters on the cutting edge of attack prevention. 


Security Unlocked will be highlighting female security leaders at Microsoft throughout the month of March. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss an episode! 


In This Episode, You Will Learn:

• How math is used to help analyze attack trends 

• How AI and ML help identify patterns that can stop attacks 

• How threat hunters are tracking down the newest security risks 

• Why Microsoft Threat Experts are focused on human adversaries, not malware 


Some Questions We Ask:

• How do AI and ML factor into solving complicated security problems? 

• What’s next on the horizon for data science? 

• How do you use math to determine if an action is dangerous or benign? 

• Why do threat hunters need to limit the scope of their work? 

• What skills do you need to be a security program manager? 


Resources: 

Sam Schwartz’s LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/scschwa/


Dr. Anna Bertiger’s LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/bertiger/


Holly Stewart’s LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/hollyjstewart/


Nic’s LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicfill/


Natalia’s LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nataliagodyla/


Microsoft Security Blog:

https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/


Related:

Security Unlocked: CISO Series with Bret Arsenault

https://SecurityUnlockedCISOSeries.com


Transcript

[Full transcript can be found at https://aka.ms/SecurityUnlockedEp18]


Nic Fillingham:

Hello, and welcome to Security Unlocked, a new podcast from Microsoft, where we unlock insights from the latest in news and research from across Microsoft security engineering, and operations teams. I'm Nic Fillingham.


Natalia Godyla:

And I'm Natalia Godyla. In each episode, we'll discuss the latest stories from Microsoft Security. Deep Dive into the newest threat intel, research, and data science.


Nic Fillingham:

And, profile some of the fascinating people working on artificial intelligence in Microsoft Security.


Natalia Godyla:

And now, let's unlock the pod.


Nic Fillingham:

Hello Natalia, welcome to a very special episode of Security Unlocked, how are you doing?


Natalia Godyla:

I'm doing great, and it is a very special episode. It is International Women's Day today and, we are going to be celebrating that with our compilation episode, pulling together a few of the awesome women that we have been interviewing throughout the course of the podcast.


Nic Fillingham:

Yeah, we have taken, uh, three interviews that actually went live, uh, in episodes one, four, and seven respectively. So, if you haven't made your way back through the archive, if you haven't binged the Security Unlocked series so far, uh, you may have missed these ones. And, they are amazing, uh, interviews so we wanted to sort of, bring them out of the archive and pull them together for this special episode. First up, you're gonna hear from Holly Stewart, who was the first person that we profiled on the, on the podcast on the first episode. Holly is affectionately known inside the Defender Org as the Queen of AI, She gives a sort of, a wonderful perspective on, on ML and AI.


Nic Fillingham:

Then we hear from Dr. Anna Bertiger, who has a PhD in Math and has this incredible energy and passion for how she uses her math to catch villains, I think you'll, you'll love that perspective. And then, we round it out with Sam Schwartz, who provides a wonderfully fresh viewpoint on security and coming into security as someone that's a little, sort of, newer in career into, in the cyber security space. I think it's gonna be great episode.


Natalia Godyla:

Yes, and it doesn't stop there. We will be highlighting women throughout the month. So, we'll be covering different Deep Dive topics with female security leaders at Microsoft as well as profiling a few women in their careers.


Nic Fillingham:

On with the pod?


Natalia Godyla:

On with the pod.


Nic Fillingham:

Welcome to the podcast, Holly Stewart. Hi Holly, thanks for your time today.


Holly Stewart:

Hello, thank you for having me.


Nic Fillingham:

Awesome. So, let's start with if you could just give us your title at Microsoft but, maybe more interestingly, sort of, walk us through what the day to day function is of your role?


Holly Stewart:

Sure. So, I am a Principle Research Lead at Microsoft, and I work in the endpoint protection side of research. And, I like to say, sort of, our teams super power is using AI to help protect people. Machine learning and data science techniques are used everywhere within our research team, but with our team we have a primary focus on using those techniques to try to help people and keep them safe.


Nic Fillingham:

That's awesome. And, you run a team is that right Holly, how big's the team?


Holly Stewart:

It's about 25 now.


Nic Fillingham:

Yep, and they're all in the, sort of, AI data science, sort of, realm?


Holly Stewart:

Yeah, actually they're this super interesting mix of researchers, data, and data scientists and they come from all walks of life. We have folks who are security experts, who really understand what threats do, how they work, some of them understand criminal undergrounds and other things like that. And then, we have data scientists that come from many different facets, many of them not particular experienced in security, but some may be an expert in deep learning, another person may be more on the anomaly detection side. But, you know, you take all these folks with different perspectives and different strengths and you put them together and really cool things happen.


Nic Fillingham:

So holly, you talked about learning French and, sort of, what you studied at college, what other things in your, your education, your history pre Microsoft do you, sort of, feel, sort of brought you to where you are now, and that you're, sort of, using in your day? Perhaps things that, that maybe seem a little unorthodox.


Holly Stewart:

You know, I'll say that I, I grew up with a really strong work ethic, my family actually comes from farming. And, you know, my father has this really strong work ethic, he gets these guilt complexes about... if he's not doing something productive, he hasn't made... th- you know, day is not complete. And, and somehow I'm instilled with that and so when I got into security, I kept seeing so many problems, just sort of the threat de jure, every single day we're just bombarded with information, it's, it's sort of an overload. And I always thought, how can we better solve this problem? How can we help people really understand what matters? And when I started getting into data science, I thought, this is the way this is how we can make better decisions, help people make better decisions, and help protect them in a way where, you know, sort of focusing on the problem de jure, really wasn't getting us anywhere, really wasn't moving the needle.


Nic Fillingham:

So perhaps that drive that maybe thought you were going to the Peace Corps, you're, you're sort of utilizing a similar motivation there, but now in the data science realm.


Holly Stewart:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I love being able to say that I go to work and the work that my team does, we are trying to help people every single day to keep them safe, keep them protected. It's, it's something that I feel good about.


Natalia Godyla:

That's great. And and how does AI and ML factor into that when you're thinking about all of these big complex problems you want to take on?


Holly Stewart:

Yeah, it's a great question. Like if you think about how maybe we traditionally approach security research where a researcher might reverse engineer some malicious program, figure out what it does, find some heuristic techniques to be able to detect that in the future, make sure those heuristic techniques don't detect the good things that want our computers to run. That takes a lot of time. And the truth is that malware has become so complex, that there's literally hundreds of millions of features that feed into what makes malware malware. It's really difficult for the human brain to wrap your mind around all these permutations, but that's the beauty of machine learning and AI, it's built for that.


Holly Stewart:

And so we take this incredible ecosystem diversity from, you know, benign applications to malicious applications, we feed that information into the machine learning systems, we train them how to recognize good from bad, and they can come up with these permutations that the human brain wouldn't be able to wrap their heads around. And that, that's really how I connect all those things together in our day to day.


Natalia Godyla:

Got it. And so what types of... when we say AI and ML, that's a relatively broad set of acronyms there you know, what type of techniques, what type of approaches do you and your team use, or where you sort of heavily invested?


Holly Stewart:

We invest in lots of things, so if I break down, and I'll say AI in quotes because I, I kind of use it interchangeably, to really just mean data science , it means data science approach. We use many different techniques from what you call supervised machine learning to unsupervised machine learning. With supervised machine learning, you're using signals to help teach the machine how to detect something new. So I may take a set of say, 100 files and 10 of them are bad and 90 of them are good, I extract a bunch of features from those files and then I feed that into machine learning system to teach it how to detect new things that are similar to those files in the future. So that's what you call supervised.


Holly Stewart:

Unsupervised, is really good at finding what we call the unknown unknown. So, you know with supervised learning, you're teaching it something that you already know and it just gets better at that. With unsupervised, you're trying to find those pockets of uncertainty that maybe haven't even been classified before, or maybe should be clustered together. Or perhaps you know, using past data you find that, "Hey this is an anomaly, something I haven't seen before that doesn't have a label, but that could indicate that something bad is going on." And so we really use a combination of all of these approaches to help train machines to amplify human knowledge and also find the things that maybe as humans we were not thinking about in the first place.


Natalia Godyla:

Can you share a couple examples so how this AI and ML


Natalia Godyla:

I was driving some of the Microsoft products, even products that, like Nick said, we use day to day.


Holly Stewart:

Yeah, absolutely. So there are a lot of files that use what we call social engineering to try to trick people into opening them. So one example that we saw over the past year is these attackers were using local business names and making it look like they were sending an invoice for that local business name, I think it was, uh, a landscaping firm or something like that. And so they were using that invoice that looked like it was from a local landscaper, sending it to these other businesses to try to trick them into opening up this invoice. And so inside it, it led to this phishing site and they would try and collect their credentials. Uh, and so, you know, when you're just looking at this file, you may not see that it looks benign, but the-the machine learning system because it was able to extract all these different features from that file, it was able to see, Hey, this-this is not a normal type of invoice that I would see from a legitimate business, and it was able to flag that as malicious and help keep those customers protected.


Natalia Godyla:

So Holly, what's next on the horizon, what are you most passionate about trying to solve next?


Holly Stewart:

Sure. So today we've done a pretty good job of using AI to help discriminate malicious software from benign software, not perfect but we've made a lot of progress in that area. But what's next on the horizon for us is really deeper than that, so it's great to discriminate malicious from bad but what more can I learn from that. Say for example, if we understand the entire Kill Chain of-of that malicious activity from how it arrived, to the victim, to what it did after, if the victim installed it or clicked it, to the file, sort of, motive of the attacker. And if we can understand that entire story, we can look at all of the pieces in that, what we call Kill Chain, and be able to provide protective guidance and automate protections to essentially learn from what attackers are doing today, and make our defenses stronger and stronger over time. And that's really the evolution of AI in security, is to help automate that for the customer. Because the amount of threats that we're facing, the amount of security information is an overload. And we have to get better, we have to automate, and we have to use AI to do it, to really get to where we need to go.


Natalia Godyla:

And how far away do you think this next step in the evolution is?


Holly Stewart:

I'm sure I'll be working on it for the rest of my life. (laughs).


Natalia Godyla:

(laughs).


Nic Fillingham:

Holly, do you have a Twitter account, do you have a blog, do you have anything you want to promote if folks want to learn more about you, your team, if you're hiring?


Holly Stewart:

So we post all of our content on the Microsoft Security blog, so you can find it there. And we are hiring data scientists, uh, here in the next week or so, we should have the postings up.


Nic Fillingham:

Great, so you would find them on the Microsoft careers website, probably under data science?


Holly Stewart:

Under data science or look for defender and data science, and you'll find us.


Natalia Godyla:

Thank you, Holly for your time today, it was fantastic to hear about your insights on AI.


Nic Fillingham:

Yeah thank you Holly, uh, you know, your time is busy, you're running a big team, doing some great work. We really appreciate you coming on the podcast.


Holly Stewart:

Thank you.


Nic Fillingham:

It was great to revisit that conversation with Holly, I'm really glad we got to pull that one out of the archive and bring it to newer listeners of the podcast. Up next, Dr. Anna Bertiger who tells us about her superpowers, which are utilizing math to catch villains. So I hope you enjoyed the conversation.


Nic Fillingham:

Dr Anna Bertiger, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to the Security Unlocked podcast.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

Thank you so much for having me.


Nic Fillingham:

Um, if we could start with what is your title, and what does that really mean in sort of day to day terms. What do you do with Microsoft?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

So my title is senior applied scientist, but what I do is I find villains.


Nic Fillingham:

You find villains, how do you find villains?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

So I-I find villains in computer network, it's all the benefits of the job as a superhero with none of the risks. And I do that using a combination of security expertise, and mathematics and statistics.


Nic Fillingham:

So you find villains with math?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

Yes, exactly.


Nic Fillingham:

Got it. And so, let's talk about math, what is your path to Microsoft, because I know it heavily involves math. How did you get here, and maybe what other sort of interesting entries might be on your LinkedIn profile?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

So, I got here by math, I guess.


Nic Fillingham:

(laughs).


Dr Anna Bertiger:

So, I come from academic mathematics, I have a PhD in math, and then I had a postdoctoral fellowship in the department of combinatorics and optimization at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo Ontario, Canada.


Nic Fillingham:

Could you explain what that is because I, I heard syllables that I understood, but not words?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

(laughs). So that is the department unique to the University of Waterloo. So, optimization is, you know, maximizing, minimizing type problems.


Nic Fillingham:

Got it.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And combinatorics is a fancy word for counting things.


Nic Fillingham:

Combinatorics.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

Yeah, which you can do in fancy and complicated ways, and so-so that's what I did when I was not going to make mathematician, is I counted things in fancy and complicated ways that told me interesting things frequently about geometry. And then I decided that I wanted to see the impact of what I did in mathematics in the real world, in a timeframe that I could see, and not on the sort of like, you think of beautiful thoughts, it's really lovely it's a lot of fun. And then hopefully someone uses them eventually. And so I looked for jobs outside of academia. And then one day, a friend at Microsoft, uh, sent me a note that said, if you like your job that's great but if you don't, my team wants to hire somebody with a PhD in combinatorics. And I said, That's me. (laughs).


Nic Fillingham:

(laughs).


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And so, I, uh, you know, it took a while. I flew out for an interview, they asked me lots of questions. I, when I'm interviewing for a job, I evaluate how cool the job is by how cool the questions they asked me are. If they asked me interesting questions, that's a good sign. If they asked me boring questions, maybe I don't want to work there.


Natalia Godyla:

Was there something that drew you to the cybersecurity industry when your friend showed you this job wo-, did you see security and go, Yeah that's cool?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

So I didn't actually see security in that job, like that team was, didn't only work on fraud, we worked on, we also worked on a bunch of marketing related problems. But I really loved the fraud related problems, I really loved the adversarial problems, I-I like having an adversary. I view it as this like comforting, friendly thing, like you solve the problem. Don't worry, they'll make you a new one


Nic Fillingham:

(laughs).


Dr Anna Bertiger:

It's true.


Nic Fillingham:

So hang on, so you, you go to bed at night and sleep soundly knowing that there are more villains out there?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

I mean, I would kind of like to get rid of all the villains, but also like, they're building me some really old problems, like on a-


Nic Fillingham:

Yeah, you-you're a problem solver and they're throwing some good challenges at you.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

Right, I'm gonna like make the world a better place. School of thought, I would like them all to disappear off the face of the planet. On the like entertaining me portion, problems are pretty good. And so I worked a bunch on-on credit card fraud related problems on that team, and at some point a PM joined that team, who had a, who was a cybersecurity person who had migrated to fraud. And I said, well, you know, I'm not a cybersecurity person. And he said, Oh no, you are. It's a personality type and it's you.


Nic Fillingham:

(laughs).


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And then, and then I worked at some other things, you know, worked on some other teams at Microsoft, did some windows quality related things. And it-it just wasn't as much fun, and I found my way back to cybersecurity and I've been here since.


Natalia Godyla:

How do you use AI or ML tools to solve some of these problems?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

So, the AI and ML is about learning what's normal. And then when you say, Hey, this isn't normal, that might be malicious. Someone should look at it. So, our AI and ML is human in a loop driven. We don't act on the basis of the AI and ML the way that some other folks might, and there are certainly security teams that have AI and ML that makes decisions, and then acts on them on its own. That is not the case. My team builds AI and ML that powers humans


Dr Anna Bertiger:

... who work in security operation centers, to look at the results. And so, I use ML to learn what's normal. Then, what's not normal, I say, "Hey, you might want to look at this because it's a little squiffy looking." And, then a person acts on it.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And so, I use a lot of statistical modeling to figure out what's normal. So, if it, uh, a statistical distribution to some numerical data about the way the world is working. And, then calculate a P-value, that you might remember from Stat 1 if that's something you've done, to say, "Oh, yeah. Well, there's, you know, only a tenth of a percent chance that, like, this many bites transferred between these pair of machines under normal behavior. Someone should look at that. That's a lot of data moving."


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And, there, I like to use a group of methods called spectro-methods. So, they're about, if I have this graph, I have a bunch of vertices and I can have edges between them, I could make a matrix that has a one in cell IJ, if there's a vert- if there's a edge between vertex I and vertex J. Let me know if I am getting too technically deep here.


Nic Fillingham:

You are but keep going.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And (laughs), and then, now I have a giant matrix. And so, I can apply all the tools of linear algebra class to it. And, one of the things I can do is look at its eigenvalues and eigenvectors. And, one way you might, sort of, compress this data is to project along the eigenvectors corresponding to large and absolute value- eigenvalues. And, now, you know, we can say things like, "All the points that are likely to be connected end up close together."


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And, we can try and learn something about the structure of the network and what's strange. And, we've done a bunch of research in that direction. That is stuff I'm particularly proud of.


Natalia Godyla:

What are you most interested in solving next. What are you really passionate about?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

I'm really passionate about two things. One of which is, sort of, broadly speaking, finding- finding villains. Finding bad guys. So, part of what I do is dictated by what they do. Right? They- They change their- change their games, I have to change mine, too. And then, also, I have a collection of tools that I think are really mathematically beautiful that I'm really passionate about. And, those are spectral methods on graphs and, sort of, graphs in general.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

And so, I'm really passionate about finding good applications for those. I'm passionate about understanding the structure of how computers, people, what have you, connect with each other and interact. And, how that tells us things about what is typical and what is atypical and potentially ill-behaved on computer networks. And, using that information to find horrible people.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

I think- I stopped being surprised by what our adversaries can do. Because, they are smart people who work hard. Sometimes, I'm disappointed in the sense of like, "Damn, I thought I solved that problem and they're back." But that's (laughs) I mean, and that's mostly just you feel like the, like, sad balloon three days after the party.


Natalia Godyla:

At the end of the day, why do you do what you do?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

I think there are two reasons I do what I do. Uh, the first which is I want to make the world a better place with the ways I spend my time. And, I think that catching horrible people on computer networks makes the world a better place. And, the other of which is that it's really just a ton of fun. I- I really do have a lot of fun. We- We think about really cool things. Neat concepts in computing and beautiful mathematics. And, I get to do that all day, every day, with other smart people. Who wouldn't want to sign up for that?


Natalia Godyla:

You've called Mathematics beautiful a couple of times. Can you elaborate? What do you find beautiful about Math? What draws you to Math?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

I find the ideas in Math really beautiful. And, I think that's a very common thing for people who have a bunch of exposure to Advanced Mathematics. But, isn't a thing we filter to folks in school as well as I would like. The- If you think about the Pythagorean theorems, that's a theorem that most people learned in high school. Geometry that says that-


Nic Fillingham:

I know that one.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

... square of the lengths of the two sides of a right- two legs of a right triangle equals the- sum together equals the square of the hypotenuse lengths. And, if you-


Nic Fillingham:

Correct.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

That is-


Natalia Godyla:

(Laughs)


Dr Anna Bertiger:

... a fact. Okay. And, if you learn it as a piece of trivia then you go, "Okay, that's a thing that I know for the test. And, you write it down and you put it on a flash card or whatever. But, what I think is really beautiful, is the idea of, "How do you think that up?" And, the, sort of, human ingenuity in figuring out that thats's true. And, the- the beautiful ways you can show that that is true. For sure, there's some really, really beautiful ways to be able to prove to yourself that that is true.


Nic Fillingham:

Changing topics, sort of, slightly. Are you all Math all the time? You know, do you have a TV show you're binging on Netflix? Do you have computer games you like to play? Are you a rock climber? What's the other side of the Math brain?


Dr Anna Bertiger:

So, the other side of the Math brain for me is things that force my brain to focus on something that is entirely not work. And so, I really love horses and I have a horse. And, I love spending time with her and I love riding her. She's both a wonderful pet and just a thrill to ride.


Nic Fillingham:

Awesome.


Natalia Godyla:

Well, Anna, it was a pleasure to have you on the show today. Thank you for sharing your love of Math and horses and hopefully we'll be able to bring you back to the show another time.


Dr Anna Bertiger:

Thank you so much for having me.


Natalia Godyla:

I'm so thankful we go to re-listen to Anna's episode. Up next, we'll be talking with Sam Schwartz who is a program manager for the Microsoft Threat Experts team. But, she wasn't always targeting security. She started out as a chemical engineer. So, hope you enjoy hearing about her career from chemistry to security.


Natalia Godyla:

Hello, everyone. We have Sam Schwartz on the podcast today. Welcome, Sam.


Sam Schwartz:

Hi, thanks for having me.


Natalia Godyla:

It's great to have you here. So, uh, you are a security PM at Microsoft. Is that correct?


Sam Schwartz:

That is correct.


Natalia Godyla:

Awesome. Well, can you tell us what that means? What does that role look like? What is your day to day function?


Sam Schwartz:

Yeah. So, I support, currently, a product called the Microsoft Threat Experts. And, what I'm in charge of is insuring that the incredible security analysts that we have, that are out saving the world every day, have the correct tools and processes and procedures and connections to be the best that they can be.


Natalia Godyla:

So, what do some of those processes look like? Can you give a couple examples of how you're helping to shape their day to day?


Sam Schwartz:

Yeah. So, what Microsoft Threat Experts does is it is a manged threat hunting service provided by our Microsoft defender ETP product. And, what they do is our hunters will go through our customer data in a compliant safe way and they will find bad guys, human adversaries, inside of the customer telemetry. And, then they notify our customers via a service called the Targeted Attack Notification Service. So, we'll send an alert to our customers and say, "Hey, you have a adversary in your network. Please go do these following things. Also, this is the story about what happened. How they got there and how you can fix it."


Sam Schwartz:

So, what I do is I try to make their lives easier by initially providing them with the best amount of data that they can have when they pick up an incident. So, when they pick up an incident, how do they have an experience where they can see all of the data that they need to see. Instead of just seeing one machine that could have potentially been affected, how do they see multiple machines that have been affected inside of a single organization? So, they have an easier time putting together the kill chain of this attack.


Sam Schwartz:

So, getting the data and then also be- having place to visualize the data and easily make a decision as to whether or not they want to tell as customer about it. Does it fit the criteria? Does it not? Is this worth our time? Is this not worth our time? And then, also, providing them with a path to, with that data, quickly create an alert to our customers that they know what they're doing.


Sam Schwartz:

So, rather than our hunters having to sit and write a five-paragraph essay about what happened and how it happened, have the ability to take the data that we already have, create words in a way that are intuitive for our customers and then send it super quickly within an hour to two hours of us finding that behavior.


Sam Schwartz:

So, all of those little tools and tracking and metrics


Sam Schwartz:

... and easier, like, creating ... from data, creating words, sending it to the customers, all of that is what I plan from a higher level to make the hunters be able to do that.


Nic Fillingham:

Tell us about how you found yourself in the security space and, maybe it's a separate story, maybe it's the same story, and how you got to Microsoft. We'd love to learn your journey, please.


Sam Schwartz:

It is the same story. Growing up, I loved chemistry.


Nic Fillingham:

That's too far back, too far back.


Sam Schwartz:

I know, I know, I know.


Nic Fillingham:

Oh, sorry, sorry.


Sam Schwartz:

I loved-


Nic Fillingham:

No, let's start there.


Sam Schwartz:

I loved chemistry. I loved like molecules and building things and figuring out how that all works. So when I went to college, I was like, "I want to study chemical engineering." Um, so I, through my education, became a chemical engineer (laughing). But I found that I really liked coding. Uh, we had to take a- a fundamentals class at the beginning and I really enjoyed the immediate feedback that you got from coding, like you did something wrong, it tells you immediately that you messed up. And also when you messed up and you're super frustrated and you're like, "Why didn't this work?" like, "I did it right," you didn't do it right. It messed up for a reason, and I really liked that and I thought it was super interesting. And I found myself like gravitating towards jobs that- that involved coding. So I worked for girls who code for a summer. I worked for Dow Chemical Company, but in their robotics division so I was still like chemical engineering, but I got to do robots.


Sam Schwartz:

And then when I graduated, I was like, "I think I want to work in- in computer science. I don't like this chemical engineering." It was quite boring. Even though they said it would get more fun, it never did. We ended up watching water boil for a lot of my senior year of college and I was like, "I want- I want to join a tech company." And I looked at Microsoft and they're one of the only companies that provide a program management job for college hires so ... And I interviewed, I was like, "I want to be a PM," sounds fun, get to hang out with people and I ended up getting the job, which is awesome. And I walked on my first day, my team and they're like, "You're on a threat intelligence team." I was like, "What does that mean?" (Laughs) And-


Nic Fillingham:

Oh, hang on. So did you not know what PM role you were actually going to get?


Sam Schwartz:

Nope. They told me that I was slated for the Windows ... I was going to be on a Windows team. So in my head like that entire summer, I was telling people (laughing) I was going to work on the start button just 'cause like that's what I ... I was like, "If I'm going to get stuck anywhere, I'm going to have to do the start button." Like that's what my-


Nic Fillingham:

That's all there is. Windows is just now ... It's just a start button. So yeah.


Sam Schwartz:

I was like that's what ... I was like, "Guaranteed, I'm going to get the start button," or like Paint. Actually, I probably would've enjoyed Paint a lot, but the start button (laughing). And I came and they're like, "You're on a threat intelligence team," and I was like, "Oh, fun." And it was incredible. It was an incredible start of something that I had no idea what anyone was talking about. When they were first trying to explain it to me like in layman's terms, they're like, "Oh, well, there's malware and we have to decide how it gets made and how we stop it." And I was like, "What's malware? Like I don't ... " I was like, "You need to like really dumb it down (laughs). I have no idea what we're talking about."


Sam Schwartz:

And initially when I started on this threat intelligence team, there were only five of us. So I was a PM and they had been really wanting a PM. They, apparently before they met me, weren't ... were happy to get a PM, but weren't so happy I was a college hire. They're like, "We need ... " They were like, "We need s-


Nic Fillingham:

Who had never heard of malware.


Sam Schwartz:

"We need structure." (Laughs)


Nic Fillingham:

And thought Windows was just a giant anthropomorphic start menu button.


Sam Schwartz:

They're like, "We need structure and we need a person to help us." And I was like, "Hi. Nice to meet you all." And so we had two engineers who were building tools for our two analysts. Um, and it was ... We called ourself like a little startup inside of, uh, security research, inside of the security and compliance team 'cause we were kind of figuring it out. We we're like, "Threat intelligence is a big market. How do we provide this notion of actionable threat intelligence?" So rather than having static indicators of compromise, how do we actually provide a full story and tell customers to configure to harden their machines and tell a story around the acts that you take to initiate all of these- These configurations are going to help you more than just blocking IOCs that are months old. So figuring out how to best provide ... give our analysts tools, our TI analysts and then, allow us to better Microsoft products as a whole. So based on the information that our analysts have, how do we kind of spread that message ac- across the teams in Microsoft and make our products better?


Sam Schwartz:

So we were kinda figuring it out and I shadowed a lot of analysts and I read a lot of books and watched a lot of talks. I would watch talks and write just like a bunch of questions and finally, as you're around all these incredibly intelligent security people, you start to pick it up. And after about a year or so, I would sit in meetings and I would listen to myself speak and I was like, "Did I say that?" Like, "Was that- was that me that, one, understood the question that was asked of me and then also was able to give an educated answer?" It was very shocking and quite fun, and I still feel that way sometimes. But I guess that's my journey into security.


Natalia Godyla:

Do you have any other suggestions for somebody who is in their last years of college or just getting out of college and they're listening to this and saying, "Heck, yes. I want to do what Sam's doing?" Uh, any other applicable skills or tricks for getting up to speed on the job?


Sam Schwartz:

I think a lot of the PM job is the ability to work with people and the ability to communicate, and understand what people need and be able to communicate that in a way that maybe they can't communicate, see people's problems and be able to fix them. But I think a lot of the PM skills you can get by working collaboratively in groups and that, you can do that in jobs. You can do that in- in classes. There's ample opportunity to work with different people: volunteering, mentoring, working with people and being able to communicate effectively and connect to people and understand, be empathetic, understand their issues and try to help is something that everyone can do and I think everyone can be an effective PM.


Sam Schwartz:

On the security side, I think reading and listening. I mean even the fact that ... I mean the hypothetical is someone listening to this podcast are already light years ahead of I was when I- when I started, but just listening, keeping up to date, reading what's going on in the news, understanding the threats, scouring Twitter for all the- all the goodness going on. (Laughing)


Sam Schwartz:

That's a way to- to stay on- on top.


Nic Fillingham:

Tell us about your role and how you interface with data scientists that are building machine learning models and sort of AI systems. Where- where are you able to ... Are you a consumer of those models and systems? Are you contributing to them? Are you helping design them? What's ... How do you- how do you fit into that picture?


Sam Schwartz:

So a little bit of all of the things that you mentioned. Being a part of- of our MTE service, we have so many parts that would love some- some data science, ML, AI help, and we are both consumers and contributors to that. So we have data scientists who are creating those traps that I was talking about earlier for us, who are creating the indicators of malicious, anomalous behavior that our hunters then key off of. Our hunters also grade these traps and then, we can provide that back to the data scientists to make their algorithms better. So we provide that grading feedback back to them to have them then make their traps better. And our hope is that eventually, their traps, so these low fidelity signals, become so good and so high fidelity that we actually don't even need them in our service. We can just put them directly in the product. So we work, we start from the- the incubation, we provide feedback and then we, hopefully, see our- our anomaly detection traps grow and- and become product detections, which is an awesome lifecycle to be a part of.


Natalia Godyla:

Thank you, Sam for joining us on the show today. It was great to chat with you.


Sam Schwartz:

Thank you so much for having me. I've had such a fun time.


Natalia Godyla:

Well, we had a great time unlocking insights into security from research to artificial intelligence. Keep an eye out for our next episode.


Nic Fillingham:

And don't forget to tweet us @msftsecurity or email us at securityunlocked@microsoft.com with topics you'd like to hear on a future episode. Until then, stay safe.


Natalia Godyla:

Stay secure.

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Ep. 36
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I'm Nic Fillingham.Natalia Godyla:And I'm Natalia Godyla. In each episode, we'll discuss the latest stories from Microsoft Security, deep dive into the newest threat intel, research and data science.Nic Fillingham:And profile some of the fascinating people working on artificial intelligence in Microsoft Security.Natalia Godyla:And now, let's unlock the pod. (music)Natalia Godyla:Welcome everyone to another episode of Security Unlocked. Today we are joined by first time guest, Arjmand Samuel, who is joining us to discuss IoT Security, which is fitting as he is an Azure IoT Security leader a Microsoft. Now, everyone has heard the buzz around IoT. There's been constant talk of it over the past several years, and, but now we've all also already had some experience with IoT devices in our personal life. Would about you, Nic? What do you use in your everyday life? What types of IoT devices?Nic Fillingham:Yeah. I've, I've got a couple of smart speakers, which I think a lot of people have these days. They seem to be pretty ubiquitous. And you know what? I sort of just assumed that they automatically update and they've got good security in them. I don't need to worry about it. Uh, maybe that's a bit naïve, but, but I sort of don't think of them as IoT. I just sort of, like, tell them what I music I want to play and then I tell them again, because they get it wrong. And then I tell them a third time, and then I go, "Ugh," and then I do it on my phone.Nic Fillingham:I also have a few cameras that are pointed out around the outside of the house. Because I live on a small farm with, with animals, I've got some sheep and pigs, I have to be on the look out for predators. For bears and coyotes and bobcats. Most of my IoT, though, is very, sort of, consummary. Consumers have access to it and can, sort of, buy it or it comes from the utility company.Natalia Godyla:Right. Good point. Um, today, we'll be talking with Arjmand about enterprise grade IoT and OT, or Internet of Things and operational technology. Think the manufacturing floor of, uh, plants. And Arjmand will walk us through the basics of IoT and OT through to the best practices for securing these devices.Nic Fillingham:Yeah. And we spent a bit of time talking about zero trust and how to apply a zero trust approach to IoT. Zero trust, there's sort of three main pillars to zero trust. It's verify explicitly, which for many customers just means sort of MFA, multi factorial authentication. It's about utilizing least privilege access and ensuring that accounts, users, devices just have access to the data they need at the time they need it. And then the third is about always, sort of, assuming that you've been breached and, sort of, maintaining thing philosophy of, of let's just assume that we're breached right now and let's engage in practices that would, sort of, help root out a, uh, potential breach.Nic Fillingham:Anyway, so, Arjmand, sort of, walks us through what it IoT, how does it relate to IT, how does it relate to operational technology, and obviously, what that zero trust approach looks like. On with the pod.Natalia Godyla:On with the pod. (music) Today, we're joined by Arjmand Samuel, principle program manager for the Microsoft Azure Internet of Things Group. Welcome to the show, Arjmand.Arjmand Samuel:Thank you very much, Natalia, and it's a pleasure to be on the show.Natalia Godyla:We're really excited to have you. Why don't we kick it off with talking a little bit about what you do at Microsoft. So, what does your day to day look like as a principle program manager?Arjmand Samuel:So, I am part of the Azure IoT Engineering Team. I'm a program manager on the team. I work on security for IoT and, uh, me and my team, uh, we are responsible for making sure that, uh, IoT services and clients like the software and run times and so on are, are built securely. And when they're deployed, they have the security properties that we need them and our customers demand that. So, so, that's what I do all a long.Nic Fillingham:And, uh, we're going to talk about, uh, zero trust and the relationship between a zero trust approach and IoT. Um, but before we jump into that, Arjmand, uh, we, we had a bit of a look of your, your bio here. I've got a couple of questions I'd love to ask, if that's okay. I want to know about your, sort of, tenure here at Microsoft. Y- y- you've been here for 13 years. Sounds like you started in, in 2008 and you started in the w- what was called the Windows Live Team at the time, as the security lead. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your, your entry in to Microsoft and being in security in Microsoft for, for that amount of time. You must have seen some, sort of, pretty amazing changes, both from an industry perspective and then also inside Microsoft.Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah, definitely. So, uh, as you said, uh, 2008 was the time, was the year when I came in. I came in with a, a, a degree in, uh, security, in- information security. And then, of course, my thinking and my whole work there when I was hired at Microsoft was to be, hey, how do we actually make sure that our product, which was Windows Live at that time, is secure? It has all the right security properties that, that we need that product to have. So, I- I came in, started working on a bunch of different things, including identity and, and there was, these are early times, right? I mean, we were all putting together this infrastructure, reconciling all the identity on times that we had. And all of those were things that we were trying to bring to Windows Live as well.Arjmand Samuel:So, I was responsible for that as well as I was, uh, working on making sure that, uh, our product had all the right diligence and, and security diligence that is required for a product to be at scale. And so, a bunch of, you know, things like STL and tech modeling and those kind of things. I was leading those efforts as well at, uh, Windows Live.Natalia Godyla:So, if 2008 Arjmand was talking to 2021 Arjmand, what would he be most surprised about, about the evolution over the past 13 years, either within Microsoft or just in the security industry.Arjmand Samuel:Yeah. Yeah. (laughs) That's a great, great question, and I think in the industry itself, e- evolution has been about how all around us. We are now engulfed in technology, connected technology. We call it IoT, and it's all around us. That was not the landscape 10, 15 years back. And, uh, what really is amazing is how our customers and partners are taking on this and applying this in their businesses, right? This meaning the whole industry of IoT and, uh, Internet of Things, and taking that to a level where every data, every piece of data in the physical world can be captured or can be acted upon. That is a big change from the last, uh, 10, 15 to where we are today.Nic Fillingham:I thought you were going to say TikTok dance challenges.Arjmand Samuel:(laughs)Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:... because that's, that's where I would have gone.Arjmand Samuel:(laughs) that, too. That, too, right? (laughs)Nic Fillingham:That's a (laughs) digression there. So, I'm pretty sure everyone knows what IoT is. I think we've already said it, but let's just, sort of, start there. So, IoT, Internet of Things. Is, I mean, that's correct, right? Is there, is there multiple definitions of IoT, or is it just Internet of Things? And then, what does the definition of an Internet of Things mean?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah. It;s a... You know, while Internet of Things is a very recognized acronym these days, but I think talking to different people, different people would have a different idea about how Internet of Thing could be defined. And the way I would define it, and again, not, not, uh, necessarily the authority or the, the only definition. There are many definitions, but it's about having these devices around us. Us is not just people but also our, our manufacturing processes, our cars, our, uh, healthcare systems, having all these devices around, uh, these environments. They are, these devices, uh, could be big, could be small. Could be as small as a very small temperature sensor collecting data from an environment or it could be a Roboticom trying to move a full car up and down an assembly line.Arjmand Samuel:And first of all, collecting data from these devices, then bringing them, uh, uh, using the data to do something interesting and insightful, but also beyond that, being able to control these devices based on those insights. So, now there's a feedback loop where you're collecting data and you are acting on that, that data as well. And that is where, how IoT is manifesting itself today in, in, in the world. And especially for our customers who are, who tend to be more industrial enterprises and so on, it's a big change that is happening. It's, it's a huge change that, uh, they see and we call it the transformation, the business transformation happening today. And part of that business transformation is being led or is being driven through the technology which we call IoT, but it's really a business transformation.Arjmand Samuel:It's really with our customers are finding that in order to remain competitive and in order to remain in business really, at the end of the day, they need to invest. They need to bring in all these technologies to bear, and Internet of Things happens that technology.Nic Fillingham:So, Arjmand, a couple other acronyms. You know, I think, I think most of our audience are pretty familiar with IoT, but we'll just sort of cover it very quickly. So, IoT versus IT. IT is, obviously, you know, information technology, or I think that's the, that's the (laughs) globally accepted-Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah.Nic Fillingham:... definition. You know, do you we think of IoT as subset of IT? What is the relationship of, of those two? I mean, clearly, there are three letters versus two letters, (laughs) but there is relationship there. Wh- wh- what are your thoughts?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah. There's a relationship as well as there's a difference, and, and it's important to bring those two out. Information technology is IT, as we know it now for many years, is all about enterprises running their applications, uh, business applications mostly. For that, they need the network support. They need databases. They need applications to be secured and so on. So, all these have to work together. The function of IT, information technology, is to make sure that the, there is availability of all these resources, applications, networks and databases as well as you have them secured and private and so on.Arjmand Samuel:So, all of that is good, but IoT takes it to the next level where now it's not only the enterprise applications, but it's also these devices, which are now deployed by the enterprise. I mentioned Roboticoms. Measured in a conference room you have all these equipment in there, projection and temperature sensors and occupancy sensors and so on. So, all of those beco- are now the, the add on to what we used to call IT and we are calling it the IoT.Arjmand Samuel:Now, the interesting part here is in the industrial IoT space. Th- this is also called OT, operation technology. So, you know, within an organization there'll be IT and OT. OT's operation technology and these are the people or the, uh, function within an organization who deal with the, with the physical machines, the physical plant. You know, the manufacturing line, the conveyor belts, the Roboticoms, and these are called OT functions.Arjmand Samuel:The interesting part here is the goal of IT is different from the goal of OT. OT is all about availability. OT's all about safety, safety so that it doesn't hurt anybody working on the manufacturing line. OT's all about environmental concerns. So, it should not leak bad chemicals and so on. A while, if you talk about security, and this is, like, a few years back when we would talk about security with an OT person, the, the person who's actually... You know, these are people who actually wear those, uh, hard hats, you know, on, uh, a manufacturing plant. And if you talk about security to an OT person, they will typically refer to that guard standing outside and, and, uh, the-Nic Fillingham:Physical security.Arjmand Samuel:The physical security and the, the walls and the cameras, which would make sure that, you know, and then a key card, and that's about all. This was OT security, but now when we started going in and saying that, okay, all these machines can be connected to, to each other and you can collect all this data and then you can actually start doing something interesting with this data. That is where the definition of security and the functions of OT evolved. And not evolving, I mean different companies are at different stages, but they're now evolving where they're thinking, okay, it's not only about the guard standing outside. It's also the fact that the Roboticom could be taken over remotely and somebody outside, around the world, around the globe could actually be controlling that Roboticom to do something bad. And that realization and the fact that now you actually have to control it in the cyber sense and not only in the physical sense is the evolution that happened between OT.Arjmand Samuel:Now, IT and OT work together as well because the same networks are shared typically. Some of the applications that use the data from these devices are common. So, IT and OT, this is the other, uh, thing that has changed and, and we are seeing that change, is starting to work and come closer. Work together more. IoT's really different, but at the same time requires a lot of stuff that IT has traditionally done.Natalia Godyla:Hmm. So, what we considered to be simple just isn't simple anymore.Arjmand Samuel:That's life, right? (laughs) Yeah.Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Arjmand Samuel:(laughs)Natalia Godyla:So, today we wanted to talk about IoT security. So, let's just start with, with framing the conversation a little bit. Why is IoT security important and what makes it more challenging, different than traditional security?Arjmand Samuel:As I just described, right, I mean, we are now infusing compute and in every environment around us. I mean, we talked a little bit about the conveyor belt. Imagine the conference rooms, the smart buildings and, and all the different technologies that are coming in. These are technologies, while they're good, they're serve a scenario. They, they make things more efficient and so on, but they're also now a point of, uh, of failure for that whole system as well as a way for malicious sectors to bring in code if possible. And to either, uh, imagine a scenario where or an attack where a malicious sector goes into the conveyor belt and knows exactly the product that is passing through. And imagine that's something either takes the data and sells it to somebody or, worse case, stops the conveyor belt. That is millions of dollars of loss very, uh, that data that the company might be incurring.Arjmand Samuel:So, now that there's infused computer all around us, we are now living in a target which in a environment which can be attacked, and which can be used for bad things much more than what it was when we were only applications, networks and databases. Easy to put a wall around. Easy to understand what's going on. They're easy to lock down. But with all these devices around us, it's becoming much and much harder to do the same.Nic Fillingham:And then what sort of, if, if we think about IoT and IoT security, one of the things that, sort of, makes it different, I- I th- think, and here I'd love you to explain this, sort of... I- I'm thinking of it as a, as a, as a spectrum of IoT devices that, I mean, they have a CPU. They have some memory. They have some storage. They're, they're running and operating system in some capacity all the way through to, I guess, m- much more, sort of, rudimentary devices but do have some connection, some network connection in order for instruction or data to, sort of, move backwards and forwards. What is it that makes this collection of stuff difficult to protect or, you know, is it difficult to protect? And if so, why? And then, how do we think about the, the, the potential vectors for attack that are different in this scenario versus, you know, protecting lap tops and servers?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah. That's a good one. So, uh, what happens is you're right. Uh, IoT devices can be big and small, all right. They could be a small MCU class device with a real-time operating system on it. Very small, very, uh, single purpose device, which is imagine collecting temperature or humidity only. Then we have these very big, what we call the edge or heavy edge devices, which are like server class devices running a Roboticom or, or even a gateway class device, which is aggregating data from many devices, right, as a, a, and then take, taking the data and acting on it.Arjmand Samuel:So, now with all this infrastructure, one of the key things that we have seen is diversity and heterogeneity of these devices. Not just in terms of size, but also in terms of who manufactured them, when they were manufactured. So, many of the temperature sensors in environments could be very old. Like, 20 years old and people are trying to use the same equipment and not have to change anything there. And which they can. Technically they could, but then those devices were never designed in for a connected environment for these, this data to actually, uh, be aggregated and sent on the network, meaning they per- perhaps did not have encryption built into it. So, we have to do something, uh, additional there.Arjmand Samuel:And so now with the diversity of devices, when they came in, the, the feature set is so diverse. Some of them were, are more recent, built with the right security principles and the right security properties, but then some of them might not be. So, this could raise a, a challenge where how do you actually secure an infrastructure where you have this whole disparity and many different types of devices, many different manufacturers, many of ages different for these devices. Security properties are different and as we all know talking about security, the attack would always come from the weakest link. So, the attacker would always find, within that infrastructure, the device which has the least security as a entry point into that infrastructure. So, we can't just say, "Oh, I'll just protect my gateway and I'm fine." We have to have some mitigation for everything on that network. Everything. Even the older ones, older devices. We call them brownfield devices because they tend to be old devices, but they're also part of the infrastructure.Arjmand Samuel:So, how do we actually think about brownfield and the, the newer ones we call greenfield devices? Brownfield and greenfield, how do we think about those given they will come from different vendors, different designs, different security properties? So, that's a key challenge today that we have. So, they want to keep those devices as well as make sure that they are secure because the current threat vectors and threat, uh, the, and attacks are, are much more sophisticated.Natalia Godyla:So, you have a complex set of devices that the security team has to manage and understand. And then you have to determine at another level which of those devices have vulnerabilities or which one is the most vulnerable, and then, uh, assume that your most vulnerable, uh, will be the ones that are exploited. It, so, is that, that typically the attack factor? It's going to be the, the weakest link, like you said? And h- how does an attacker try to breach the IoT device?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah. And, and this is where we, we started using the term zero trust IoT.Natalia Godyla:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Arjmand Samuel:So, IoT devices are deployed in an environment which can not be trusted, should not be trusted. You should assume that there is zero trust in that environment, and then all these devices, when they are in there, you will do the right things. You'll put in the right mitigations so that the devices themselves are robust. Now, another example I always give here is, and, uh, I, your question around the attack vectors and, and how attacks are happening, typically in the IT world, now that we, we have the term defined, in the IT world, you will always have, you know, physical security. You will always put servers in a room and lock it, and, and so on, right, but in an IoT environment, you have compute devices. Imagine these are powerful edge nodes doing video analytics, but they're mounted on a pole next to a camera outside on the road, right? So, which means the physical access to that device can not be controlled. It could be that edge node, again, a powerful computer device with lots of, you know, CPU and, and so on, is deployed in a mall looking at video streams and analyzing those video streams, again, deployed out there where any attacker physically can get a hold of the device and do bad things.Arjmand Samuel:So, again, the attack vectors are also different between IT and OT or IoT in the sense that the devices might not be physically contained in a, in an environment. So, that puts another layer of what do we do to protect such, uh, environments?Nic Fillingham:And then I want to just talk about the role of, sort of, if we think about traditional computing or traditional, sort of, PC based computing and PC devices, a lot of the attack vectors and a lot of the, sort of, weakest link is the user and the user account. And that's why, you know, phishing is such a massive issue that if we can socially engineer a way for the person to give us their user name and password or whatever, we, we, we can get access to a device through the user account. IoT devices and OT devices probably don't use that construct, right? They probably, their userless. Is that accurate?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah. That's very accurate. So, again, all of the attack vectors which we know from IT are still relevant because, you know, if you, there's a phishing attack and the administrator password is taken over you can still go in and destroy the infrastructure, both IT and IoT. But at the same time, these devices, these IoT devices typically do not have a user interacting with them, typically in the compute sense. You do not log into an IoT device, right? Except in sensor with an MCU, it doesn't even have a user experience, uh, a screen on it. And so, there is typically no user associated with it, and that's another challenge. So you need to still have an identity off the device, not on the device, but off the device, but that identity has to be intrinsic off the device. It has to be part of the device and it has to be stable. It has to be protected, secure, and o- on the device, but it does not typically a user identity.Arjmand Samuel:And, and that's not only true for temperature sensors. You know, the smaller MCU class devices. That's true for edge nodes as well. Typically, an edge node, and by the way, when I say the edge node, edge node is a full blown, rich operating system. CPU, tons of memory, even perhaps a GPU, but does not typically have a user screen, a keyboard and a mouse. All it has is a video stream coming in through some protocol and it's analyzing that and then making some AI decisions, decisions based on AI. And, and, but that's a powerful machine. Again, there might never ever be a user interactively signing into it, but the device has an identity of its own. It has to authenticate itself and it workload through other devices or to the Cloud. And all of that has to be done in a way where there is no user attached to it.Natalia Godyla:So, with all of this complexity, how can we think about protecting against IoT attacks. You discussed briefly that we still apply the zero trust model here. So, you know, at a high level, what are best practices for protecting IoT?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Now that we, we just described the environment, we described the devices and, and the attacks, right? The bad things that can happen, how do we do that? So, the first thing we want to do, talk about is zero trust. So, do not trust the environment. Even if it is within a factory and you have a guard standing outside and you have all the, you know, the physical security, uh, do not trust it because there are still vectors which can allow malicious sectors to come into those devices. So, that's the first one, zero trust.Arjmand Samuel:Uh, do not trust anything that is on the device unless you explicitly trust it, you explicitly make sure that you can go in and you can, attest the workload, as an example. You can attest the identity of the device, as an example. And you can associate some access control polices and you have to do it explicitly and never assume that this is, because it's a, uh, environment in a factory you're good. So, you never assume that. So, again, that's a property or a principle within zero trust that we always exercise.Arjmand Samuel:Uh, the other one is you always assume breach. You always assume that bad things will happen. I- it's not if they'll happen or not. It's about when they're s- uh, going to happen. So, for the, that thinking, then you're putting in place mitigations. You are thinking, okay, if bad things are going to happen, how do I contain the bad things? How do I contain? How do I make sure that first of all, I can detect bad things happening. And we have, and we can talk about some of the offerings that we have, like Defender for IoT as an example, which you can deploy on to the environment. Even if it's brownfield, you can detect bad things happening based on the network characteristics. So, that's Defender for IoT.Arjmand Samuel:And, and once you can detect bad things happening then you can do something about it. You get an alert. You can, you can isolate that device or take that device off the network and refresh it and do those kind of things. So, the first thing that needs to happen is you assume that it's going breach. You always assume that whatever you are going to trust is explicitly trusted. You always make sure that there is a way to explicitly trust, uh, uh, uh, either the workload or the device or the network that is connected onto the device.Nic Fillingham:So, if we start with verify explicitly, in the traditional compute model where it's a user on a device, we can verify explicitly with, usually, multi factor authentication. So, I have my user name and password. I add an additional layer of authentication, whether it's an, you know, app on my phone, a key or something, some physical device, there's my second factor and I'm, I'm verified explicitly in that model. But again, no users or the user's not, sort of, interacting with the device in, sort of, that traditional sense, so what are those techniques to verify explicitly on an IoT device?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah. I, exactly. So, we, in that white paper, which we are talking about, we actually put down a few things that you can actually do to, to, en- ensure that you have all the zero trust requirements together. Now, the first one, of course, is you need, uh, all devices to have strong identity, right? So, because identity is a code. If you can not identi- identify something you can not, uh, give it an access control policy. You can not trust the data that is coming out from that, uh, device. So, the first thing you do is you have a strong identity. By a strong identity we mean identity, which is rooted in hardware, and so, what we call the hardware based root of trust. It's technologies like TPM, which ensure that you have the private key, which is secured in our hardware, in the hardware and you can not get to it, so and so on. So, you, you ensure that you have a, a strong identity.Arjmand Samuel:You always have these privilege access so you do not... And these principles have been known to our IT operations forever, right? So, many years they have been refined and, uh, people know about those, but we're applying them to the IoT world. So, these privilege access, if our device is required to access another device or data or to push out data, it should only do that for the function it is designed for, nothing more than that. You should always have some level of, uh, device health check. Perhaps you should be able to do some kind of test station of the device. Again, there is no user to access the device health, but you should be able to do, and there are ways, there are services which allow you to measure something on the device and then say yes it's good or not.Arjmand Samuel:You should be able to do a continuous update. So, in case there is a device which, uh, has been compromised, you should be able to reclaim that device and update it with a fresh image so that now you can start trusting it. And then finally you should be able to securely monitor it. And not just the device itself, but now we have to technologies which can monitor the data which is passing through the network, and based on those characteristics can see if a device is attacked or being attacked or not. So, those are the kind of things that we would recommend for a zero trust environment to take into account and, and make those requirements a must for, for IoT deployments.Natalia Godyla:And what's Microsoft's role in protecting against these attacks?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah. So, uh, a few products that we always recommend. If somebody is putting together a new IoT device right from the silicone and putting that device together, we have a great secure be design device, which is called Azure Sphere. Azure Sphere has a bunch of different things that it does, including identity, updates, cert management. All these are important functions that are required for that device to function. And so, a new device could use the design that we have for Azure Sphere.Arjmand Samuel:Then we have, a gateway software that you put on a gateway which allows you to secure the devices behind that gateway for on time deployments. We have Defender for IoT, again as I mentioned, but Defender for IoT is on-prem, so you can actually monitor all the tracks on the network and on the devices. You could also put a agent, a Micro Agent on these devices, but then it also connects to Azure Sentinel. Azure Sentinel is a enterprise class user experience for security administrators to know what bad things are happening on, on-prem. So, it, the whole end to end thing could works all the way from the network, brownfield devices to the Cloud.Arjmand Samuel:We also have things like, uh, IoT Hub Device Provisioning service. Device provisioning service is an interesting concept. I'll try to briefly describe that. So, what happens is when you have an identity on a device and you want to actually put that device, deploy that device in your environment, it has to be linked up with a service in the Cloud so that it can, it knows the device, there's an identity which is shared and so on. Now, you could do it manually. You could actually bring that device in, read a code, put it in the Cloud and your good to go because now the Cloud knows about that device, but then what do you do when you have to deploy a million devices? And we're talking about IoT scale, millions. A fleet of millions of devices. If you take that same approach of reading a key and putting it in the Cloud, one, you'd make mistakes. Second, you will probably need a lifetime to take all those keys and put them in the cloud.Arjmand Samuel:So, in order to solve that problem, we have the device provisioning service, which it's a service in the Cloud. It is, uh, linked up to the OEMs or manufacturing devices. And when you deploy our device in your field, you do not have to do any of that. Your credentials are passed between the service and the, and the device. So, so, that's another service. IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service.Arjmand Samuel:And then we have, uh, a work, the, uh, a piece of work that we have done, which is the Certification of IoT Devices. So, again, you need the devices to have certain security properties. And how do you do that? How do you ensure that they have the right security properties, like identity and cert management and update ability and so on, we have what we call the Edge Secured-core Certification as well as Azure Certified Device Program. So, any device which is in there has been tested by us and we certify that that device has the right security properties. So, we encourage our customers to actually pick from those devices so that they, they actually get the best security properties.Natalia Godyla:Wow. That's a lot, which is incredible. What's next for Microsoft's, uh, approach to IoT security?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, yeah. So, uh, one of the key things that we have heard our customers, anybody who's going into IoT ask the question, what is the risk I'm taking? Right? So, I'm deploying all these devices in my factories and Roboticom's connecting them, and so on, but there's a risk here. And how do I quantify that risk? How do I understand th- that risk and how do I do something about that risk?Arjmand Samuel:So, we, we got those questions many years back, like four, five years back. We started working with the industry and together with the Industrial Internet Consortium, IIC, which a consortium out there and there are many companies part of that consortium, we led something called The Security Maturity Model for IoT. So, so, we put down a set of principles and a set of processes you follow to evaluate the maturity of your security in IoT, right? So, it's a actionable thing. You take the document, you evaluate, and then once you have evaluated, it actually give you a score.It says you're level one, or two, or three, or four. Four, that's the authentication. All else is controlled management. And then based on th- that level, you know where you care, first of all. So, you know what your weaknesses are and what you need to do. So, that's a very actionable thing. But beyond that, if you're at level two and you want to be at level four, and by want to means your scenario dictates that you should be at level four, it is actionable. It gives you a list of things to do to go from level two to level four. And then you can reevaluate yourself and then you know that you're at level four. So, that's a maturityArjmand Samuel:Now, In order to operationalize that program with in partnership with IAC, we also have been, and IAC's help, uh, has been instrumental here, we have been working on a training program where we have been training auditors. These are IoT security auditors, third party, independent auditors who are not trained on SMMs Security Maturity Model. And we tell our customers, if you have a concern, get yourself audited using SMM, using the auditors and that will tell you where you are and where you need to go. So, it's evolving. Security for IoT's evolving, but I think we are at the forefront of that evolution.Nic Fillingham:Just to, sort of, finish up here, I'm thinking of some of the recent IoT security stories that were in the news. We won't mention any specifically, but there, there have been some recently. My take aways hearing those stories reading those stories in the news is that, oh, wow, there's probably a lot of organizations out here and maybe individuals at companies that are using IoT and OT devices that maybe don't see themselves as being security people or having to think about IoT security, you know T security. I just wonder if do you think there is a, a population of folks out here that don't think of themselves as IoT security people, but they really are? And then therefore, how do we sort of go find those people and help them go, get educated about securing IoT devices?Arjmand Samuel:Yeah, that's, uh, that's exactly what we are trying to do here. So, uh, people who know security can obviously know the bad things that can happen and can do something about it, but the worst part is that in OT, people are not thinking about all the bad things that can happen in the cyber world. You mentioned that example with that treatment plant. It should never have been connected to the network, unless required. And if it was connected to the, uh, to the network, to the internet, you should have had a ton a mitigations in place in case somebody was trying to come in and should have been stopped. And in that particular case, y- there was a phishing attack and the administrative password was, was taken over. But even with that, with the, some of our products, like Defender for IoT, can actually detect the administrative behavior and can, can detect if an administrator is trying to do bath things. It can still tell other administrators there's bad things happening.Arjmand Samuel:So, there's a ton of things that one could do, and it all comes down, what we have realized is it all comes down to making sure that this word gets out, that people know that there is bad things that can happen with IoT and it's not only your data being stolen. It's very bad things as in that example. And so, the word out, uh, so that we can, uh, we can actually make IoT more secure.Nic Fillingham:Got it. Arjmand, again, thanks so much for your time. It sounds like we really need to get the word out. IoT security is a thing. You know, if you work in an organization that employs IoT or OT devices, or think you might, go and download this white paper. Um, we'll put the link in the, uh, in the show notes. You can just search for it also probably on the Microsoft Security Blog and learn more about cyber security for IoT, how to apply zero trust model. Share it with your, with your peers and, uh, let's get as much education as we can out there.Arjmand Samuel:Thank you very much for this, uh, opportunity.Nic Fillingham:Thanks, Arjmand, for joining us. I think we'll definitely touch on cyber security for IoT, uh, in future episodes. So, I'd love to talk to you again. (music)Arjmand Samuel:Looking forward to it. (music)Natalia Godyla:Well, we had a great time unlocking insights into security from research to artificial intelligence. Keep an eye out for our next episode.Nic Fillingham:And don't forget to Tweet us @MSFTSecurity or email us at securityunlocked@Microsoft.com with topics you'd like to hear on a future episode. (music) Until then, stay safe.Natalia Godyla:Stay secure. (music)
7/7/2021

Looking a Gift Card Horse in the Mouth

Ep. 35
Is it just me, or do you also miss the goodoledays of fraudulent activity?You remember the kind I’m talking about, theemails from princes around the world asking for just a couple hundred dollars to help them unfreeze or retrieve their massive fortune which they would share with you. Attacks havegrownmore nuanced, complex, and invasive since then, but because of the unbelievable talent at Microsoft, we’re constantly getting better at defending against it.On this episode of Security Unlocked, hosts Nic Fillingham and NataliaGodylasit down with returning champion, Emily Hacker, to discuss Business Email Compromise (BEC), an attack that has perpetrators pretending to be someone from the victim’s place of work and instructs them to purchase gift cards and send them to thescammer.Maybe it’s good tolookagift cardhorse in the mouth?In This Episode You Will Learn:Why BEC is such an effective and pervasive attackWhat are the key things to look out for to protect yourself against oneWhy BEC emails are difficult to trackSome Questions We Ask:How do the attackers mimic a true-to-form email from a colleague?Why do we classify this type of email attack separately from others?Why are they asking for gift cards rather than cash?Resources:Emily Hacker’s LinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/emilydhacker/FBI’s2020Internet Crime Reporthttps://www.ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2020_IC3Report.pdfNicFillingham’sLinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicfill/NataliaGodyla’sLinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/nataliagodyla/Microsoft Security Blog:https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/Related:Security Unlocked: CISO Series with Bret Arsenaulthttps://SecurityUnlockedCISOSeries.comTranscript:[Full transcript can be found athttps://aka.ms/SecurityUnlockedEp35]Nic Fillingham:Hello, and welcome to Security Unlocked, a new podcast from Microsoft, where we unlock insights from the latest in news and research from across Microsoft security engineering and operations teams. I'm Nic Fillingham.Natalia Godyla:And I'm Natalia Godyla. In each episode, we'll discuss the latest stories from Microsoft security, deep dive into the newest thread intel, research and data science.Nic Fillingham:And profile some of the fascinating people working on artificial intelligence in Microsoft security.Natalia Godyla:And now, let's unlock the pod.Nic Fillingham:Hello listeners, hello, Natalia, welcome to episode 35 of Security Unlocked. Natalia, how are you?Natalia Godyla:I'm doing well as always and welcome everyone to another show.Nic Fillingham:It's probably quite redundant, me asking you how you are and you asking me how you are, 'cause that's not really a question that you really answer honestly, is it? It's not like, "Oh, my right knee's packing at the end a bit," or "I'm very hot."Natalia Godyla:Yeah, I'm doing terrible right now, actually. I, I just, uh- Nic Fillingham:Everything is terrible.Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:Well, uh, our guest today is, is a returning champ, Emily Hacker. This is her third, uh, appearance on Security Unlocked, and, and she's returning to talk to us about a, uh, new business email compromise campaign that she and her colleagues helped unearth focusing on some sort of gift card scam.Nic Fillingham:We've covered business email compromise before or BEC on the podcast. Uh, we had, uh, Donald Keating join us, uh, back in the early days of Security Unlocked on episode six. The campaign itself, not super sophisticated as, as Emily sort of explains, but so much more sort of prevalent than I think a lot of us sort of realize. BEC was actually the number one reported source of financial loss to the FBI in 2020. Like by an order of magnitude above sort of, you know, just places second place, third place, fourth place. You know, I think the losses were in the billions, this is what was reported to the FBI, so it's a big problem. And thankfully, we've got people like, uh, Emily on it.Nic Fillingham:Natalia, can you give us the TLDR on the, on the campaign that Emily helps describe?Natalia Godyla:Yeah, as you said, it's, uh, a BEC gift card campaign. So the attackers use typosquatted domains, and socially engineered executives to request from employees that they purchase gift cards. And the request is very vague. Like, "I need you to do a task for me, "or "Let me know if you're available." And they used that authority to convince the employees to purchase the gift cards for them. And they then co-converted the gift cards into crypto at, at scale to collect their payout.Nic Fillingham:Yeah, and we actually discuss with Emily that, that between the three of us, Natalia, myself and Emily, we actually didn't have a good answer for how the, uh- Natalia Godyla:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... these attackers are laundering these gift cards and, and converting them to crypto. So we're gonna, we're gonna go and do some research, and we're gonna hopefully follow up on a, on a future episode to better understand that process. Awesome. And so with that, on with the pod.Natalia Godyla:On with the pod.Nic Fillingham:Welcome back to the Security Unlocked podcast. Emily hacker, how are you?Emily Hacker:I'm doing well. Thank you for having me. How are you doing?Nic Fillingham:I'm doing well. I'm trying very hard not to melt here in Seattle. We're recording this at the tail end of the heat wave apocalypse of late June, 2021. Natalia, are you all in, I should have asked, have you melted or are you still in solid form?Natalia Godyla:I'm in solid form partially because I think Seattle stole our heat. I'm sitting in Los Angeles now.Nic Fillingham:Uh huh, got it. Emily, thank you for joining us again. I hope you're also beating the heat. You're here to talk about business email compromise. And you were one of the folks that co-authored a blog post from May 6th, talking about a new campaign that was discovered utilizing gift card scams. First of all, welcome back. Thanks for being a return guest. Second of all, do I get credit or do I get blame for the tweet that enabled you to, to- Emily Hacker:(laughs) It's been so long, I was hoping you would have forgotten.Nic Fillingham:(laughs) Emily and I were going backward forward on email, and I basically asked Emily, "Hey, Emily, who's like the expert at Microsoft on business email compromise?" And then Emily responded with, "I am."Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:As in, Emily is. And so I, I think I apologized profusely. If I didn't, let me do that now for not assuming that you are the subject matter expert, but that then birthed a very fun tweet that you put out into the Twitter sphere. Do you wanna share that with the listeners or is this uncomfortable and we need to cut it from the audio?Emily Hacker:No, it's fine. You can share with the listeners. I, uh- Nic Fillingham:(laughs)Emily Hacker:... I truly was not upset. I don't know if you apologized or not, because I didn't think it was the thing to apologize for. Because I didn't take your question as like a, "Hey," I'm like, "Can you like get out of the way I did not take it that way at all. It was just like, I've been in this industry for five years and I have gotten so many emails from people being like, "Hey, who's the subject matter in X?" And I'm always having to be like, "Oh, it's so and so," you know, or, "Oh yeah, I've talked to them, it's so-and-so." And for once I was like, "Oh my goodness, it me."Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Emily Hacker:Like I'm finally a subject matter in something. It took a long time. So the tweet was, was me being excited that I got to be the subject matter expert, not me being upset at you for asking who it was.Nic Fillingham:No, I, I took it in it's, I did assume that it was excitement and not crankiness at me for not assuming that it would be you. But I was also excited because I saw the tweet, 'cause I follow you on Twitter and I'm like, "Oh, that was me. That was me." And I got to use- Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:... I got to use the meme that's the s- the, the weird side eye puppet, the side, side eye puppet. I don't know if that translates. There's this meme where it's like a we-weird sort of like H.R. Pufnstuf sort of reject puppet, and it's sort of like looking sideways to the, to the camera.Emily Hacker:Yes.Nic Fillingham:Uh, I've, and I've- Emily Hacker:Your response literally made me laugh a while though alone in my apartment.Nic Fillingham:(laughs_ I've never been able to use that meme in like its perfect context, and I was like, "This is it."Emily Hacker:(laughs) We just set that one up for a comedy home run basically.Nic Fillingham:Yes, yes, yes. And I think my dad liked the tweet too- Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:... so I think I had that, so that was good.Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:Um, he's like my only follower.Emily Hacker:Pure success.Nic Fillingham:Um, well, on that note, so yeah, we're here to talk about business email compromise, which we've covered on the, on the podcast before. You, as I said, uh, co-authored this post for May 6th. We'll have a, a broader conversation about BEC, but let's start with these post. Could you, give us a summary, what was discussed in this, uh, blog post back on, on May 6th?Emily Hacker:Yeah, so this blog post was about a specific type of business email compromise, where the attackers are using lookalike domains and lookalike email addresses to send emails that are trying, in this particular case, to get the user to send them a gift card. And so this is not the type of BEC where a lot of people might be thinking of in terms of conducting wire transfer fraud, or, you know, you read in the news like some company wired several million dollars to an attacker. That wasn't this, but this is still creating a financial impact and that the recipient is either gonna be using their own personal funds or in some cases, company funds to buy gift cards, especially if the thread actor is pretending to be a supervisor and is like, "Hey, you know, admin assistant, can you buy these gift cards for the team?" They're probably gonna use company funds at that point.Emily Hacker:So it's still something that we keep an eye out for. And it's actually, these gift card scams are far and away the most common, I would say, type of BEC that I am seeing when I look for BEC type emails. It's like, well over, I would say 70% of the BEC emails that I see are trying to do this gift card scam, 'cause it's a little easier, I would say for them to fly under the radar maybe, uh, in terms of just like, someone's less likely to report like, "Hey, why did you spend $30 on a gift card?" Than like, "Hey, where did those like six billion dollars go?" So like in that case, "This is probably a little easier for them to fly under the radar for the companies. But in terms of impact, if they send, you know, hundreds upon hundreds of these emails, the actors are still gonna be making a decent chunk of change at the end of the day.Emily Hacker:In this particular instance, the attackers had registered a couple hundred lookalike domains that aligned with real companies, but were just a couple of letters or digits off, or were using a different TLD, or use like a number or sort of a letter or something, something along the lines to where you can look at it and be like, "Oh, I can tell that the attacker is pretending to be this other real company, but they are actually creating their own."Emily Hacker:But what was interesting about this campaign that I found pretty silly honestly, was that normally when the attacker does that, one would expect them to impersonate the company that their domain is looking like, and they totally didn't in this case. So they registered all these domains that were lookalike domains, but then when they actually sent the emails, they were pretending to be different companies, and they would just change the display name of their email address to match whoever they were impersonating.Emily Hacker:So one of the examples in the blog. They're impersonating a guy named Steve, and Steve is a real executive at the company that they sent this email to. But the email address that they registered here was not Steve, and the domain was not for the company that Steve works at. So they got a little bit, I don't know if they like got their wires crossed, or if they just were using the same infrastructure that they were gonna use for a different attack, but these domains were registered the day before this attack. So it definitely doesn't seem like opportunistic, and which it doesn't seem like some actors were like, "Oh, hey look, free domains. We'll send some emails." Like they were brand new and just used for strange purposes.Natalia Godyla:Didn't they also fake data in the headers? Why would they be so careless about connecting the company to the language in the email body but go through the trouble of editing the headers?Emily Hacker:That's a good question. They did edit the headers in one instance that I was able to see, granted I didn't see every single email in this attack because I just don't have that kind of data. And what they did was they spoofed one of the headers, which is an in-reply-to a header, which makes it, which is the header that would let us know that it's a real reply. But I worked really closely with a lot of email teams and we were able to determine that it wasn't indeed a fake reply.Emily Hacker:My only guess, honestly, guess as to why that happened is one of two things. One, the domain thing was like a, a mess up, like if they had better intentions and the domain thing went awry. Or number two, it's possible that this is multiple attackers conducting. If one guy was responsible for the emails with the mess of domains, and a different person was responsible for the one that had the email header, like maybe the email header guy is just a little bit more savvy at whose job of crime than the first guy.Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:Yeah, I li- I like the idea of, uh, sort of ragtag grubbing. I don't mean to make them an attractive image, but, you know, a ragtag group of people here. And like, you've got a very competent person who knows how to go and sort of spoof domain headers, and you have a less competent person who is- Emily Hacker:Yeah. It's like Pinky and the Brain.Nic Fillingham:Yeah, it is Pinky and the Brain. That's fantastic. I love the idea of Pinky and the Brain trying to conduct a multi-national, uh- Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:... BEC campaign as their way to try and take over the world. Can we back up a little bit? We jumped straight into this, which is totally, you know, we asked you to do that. So, but let's go back to a little bit of basics. BEC stands for business email compromise. It is distinct from, I mean, do you say CEC for consumer email compromise? Like what's the opposite side of that coin? And then can you explain what BEC is for us and why we sort of think about it distinctly?Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative), so I don't know if there's a term for the non-business side of BEC other than just scam. At its basest form, what BEC is, is just a scam where the thread actors are just trying to trick people out of money or data. And so it doesn't involve any malware for the most part at the BEC stage of it. It doesn't involve any phishing for the most part at the BEC stage of it. Those things might exist earlier in the chain, if you will, for more sophisticated attacks. Like an attacker might use a phishing campaign to get access before conducting the BEC, or an attacker might use like a RAT on a machine to gain access to emails before the actual BEC. But the business email compromise email itself, for the most part is just a scam. And what it is, is when an attacker will pretend to be somebody at a company and ask for money data that can include, you know, like W-2's, in which case that was still kind of BEC.Emily Hacker:And when I say that they're pretending to be this company, there's a few different ways that that can happen. And so, the most, in my opinion, sophisticated version of this, but honestly the term sophisticated might be loaded and arguable there, is when the attacker actually uses a real account. So business email compromise, the term might imply that sometimes you're actually compromising an email. And those are the ones where I think are what people are thinking of when they're thinking of these million billion dollar losses, where the attacker gains access to an email account and basically replies as the real individual.Emily Hacker:Let's say that there was an email thread going on between accounts payable and a vendor, and the attacker has compromised the, the vendor's email account, well, in the course of the conversation, they can reply to the email and say, "Hey, we just set up a new bank account. Can you change the information and actually wire the million dollars for this particular project to this bank account instead?" And if the recipient of that email is not critical of that request, they might actually do that, and then the money is in the attacker's hands. And it's difficult to be critical of that request because it'll sometimes literally just be a reply to an ongoing email thread with someone you've probably been doing business with for a while, and nothing about that might stand out as strange, other than them changing the account. It can be possible, but difficult to get it back in those cases. But those are definitely the ones that are, I would say, the most tricky to spot.Emily Hacker:More common, I would say, what we see is the attacker is not actually compromising an email, not necessarily gaining access to it, but using some means of pretending or spoofing or impersonating an email account that they don't actually have access to. And that might include registering lookalike domains as in the case that we talked about in this blog. And that can be typosquatted domains or just lookalike domains, where, for example, I always use this example, even though I doubt this domain is available, but instead of doing microsoft.com, they might do Microsoft with a zero, or like Microsoft using R-N-I-C-R-O-S-O-F-t.com. So it looks like an M at first glance, but it's actually not. Or they might do something like microsoft-com.org or something, which that obviously would not be available, but you get the point. Where they're just getting these domains that kind of look like the right one so that somebody, at first glance, will just look up and be like, "Oh yeah, that looks like Microsoft. This is the right person."Emily Hacker:They might also, more commonly, just register emails using free email services and either do one of two things, make the email specific to the person they're targeting. So let's say that an attacker was pretending to be me. They might register emilyhacker@gmail.com, or more recently and maybe a little bit more targeted, they might register like emily.hacker.microsoft.com@gmail.com, and then they'll send an email as me. And then on the, I would say less sophisticated into the spectrum, is when they are just creating an email address that's like bob@gmail.com. And then they'll use that email address for like tons of different targets, like different victims. And they'll either just change the display name to match someone at the company that they're targeting, or they might just change it to be like executive or like CEO or something, which like the least believable of the bunch in my opinion is when they're just reusing the free emails.Emily Hacker:So that's kind of the different ways that they can impersonate or pretend to be these companies, but I see all of those being used in various ways. But for sure the most common is the free email service. And I mean, it makes sense, because if you're gonna register a domain name that cost money and it takes time and takes skill, same with compromising an email account, but it's quick and easy just to register a free email account. So, yeah.Nic Fillingham:So just to sort of summarize here. So business email compromise i-is obviously very complex. There's lots of facets to it.Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:It sounds like, first of all, it's targeted at businesses as opposed to targeted individuals. In targeted individuals is just more simple scams. We can talk about those, but business email compromise, targeted at businesses- Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... and the end goal is probably to get some form of compromise, and which could be in different ways, but some sort of compromise of a communication channel or a communication thread with that business to ultimately get some money out of them?Emily Hacker:Yep, so it's a social engineering scheme to get whatever their end goals are, usually money. Yeah.Nic Fillingham:Got it. Like if I buy a gift card for a friend or a family for their birthday, and I give that to them, the wording on the bottom says pretty clearly, like not redeemable for cash. Like it's- Emily Hacker:So- Nic Fillingham:... so what's the loophole they're taking advantage of here?Emily Hacker:Criminals kind of crime. Apparently- Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Emily Hacker:... there are sites, you know, on the internet specifically for cashing out gift cards for cryptocurrency.Nic Fillingham:Hmm.Emily Hacker:And so they get these gift cards specifically so that they can cash them out for cryptocurrency, which then is a lot, obviously, less traceable as opposed to just cash. So that is the appeal of gift cards, easier to switch for, I guess, cryptocurrency in a much less traceable manner for the criminals in this regard. And there are probably, you know, you can sell them. Also, you can sell someone a gift card and be like, "Hey, I got a $50 iTunes gift card. Give me $50 and you got an iTunes gift card." I don't know if iTunes is even still a thing. But like that is another means of, it's just, I think a way of like, especially the cryptocurrency one, it's just a way of distancing themselves one step from the actual payout that they end up with.Nic Fillingham:Yeah, I mean, it's clearly a, a laundering tactic.Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:It's just, I'm trying to think of like, someone's eventually trying to get cash out of this gift card-Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... and instead of going into Target with 10,000 gift cards, and spending them all, and then turning right back around and going to the returns desk and saying like, "I need to return these $10,000 that I just bought."Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:I guess I'm just puzzled as to how, at scale- Emily Hacker:Yeah.Nic Fillingham:... and I guess that's the key word here, at scale, at a criminal scale, how are they, what's the actual return? Are they getting, are they getting 50 cents on the dollar? Are they getting five cents on the dollar? Are they getting 95 cents on the dollar? Um, it sounds like, maybe I don't know how to ask that question, but I think it's a fascinating one, I'd love to learn more about.Emily Hacker:It is a good question. I would imagine that the, the sites where they exchange them for cryptocurrency are set up in a way where rather than one person ending up with all the gift cards to where that you have an issue, like what you're talking about with like, "Hey, uh, can I casually return these six million gift cards?" Like rather than that, they're, it's more distributed. But there probably is a surcharge in terms of they're not getting a one-to-one, but it's- Nic Fillingham:Yeah.Emily Hacker:... I would not imagine that it's very low. Or like I would not imagine that they're getting five cents on the dollar, I would imagine it's higher than that.Nic Fillingham:Got it.Emily Hacker:But I don't know. So, that's a good question.Natalia Godyla:And we're talking about leveraging this cryptocurrency model to cash them out. So has there been an increase in these scams because they now have this ability to cash them out for crypto? Like, was that a driver?Emily Hacker:I'm not sure. I don't know how long the crypto cash out method has been available.Natalia Godyla:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Emily Hacker:I've only recently learned about it, but that's just because I don't spend, I guess I don't spend a lot of time dealing with that end of the scam. For the most part, my job is looking at the emails themselves. So, the, learning what they're doing once they get the gift cards was relatively new to me, but I don't think it's new to the criminals. So it's hard for me to answer that question, not knowing how long the, the crypto cash out method has been available to them. But I will say that it does feel like, in the last couple of years, gift card scams have just been either increasing or coming into light more, but I think increasing.Nic Fillingham:Emily, what's new about this particular campaign that you discussed in the blog? I-it doesn't look like there's something very new in the approach here. This feels like it's a very minor tweak on techniques that have been employed for a while. Tell me what's, what's new about this campaign? (laughs)Emily Hacker:(laughs) Um, so I would agree that this is not a revolutionary campaign.Nic Fillingham:Okay.Emily Hacker:And I didn't, you know, choose to write this one into the blog necessarily because it's revolutionary, but rather because this is so pervasive that I felt like it was important for Microsoft customers to be aware that this type of scam is so, I don't know what word, now we're both struggling with words, I wanna say prolific, but suddenly the definition of that word seems like it doesn't fit in that sentence.Nic Fillingham:No, yeah, prolific, that makes sense. Emily Hacker:Okay.Nic Fillingham:Like, this is, it sounds like what you're saying is, this blog exists not because this campaign is very unique and some sort of cutting-edge new technique, it exists because it's incredibly pervasive.Emily Hacker:Yes.Nic Fillingham:And lots and lots of people and lots and lots of businesses are probably going to get targeted by it. Emily Hacker:Exactly.Nic Fillingham:And we wanna make sure everyone knows about it.Emily Hacker:And the difference, yes, and the, the only real thing that I would say set this one apart from some of the other ones, was the use of the lookalike domains. Like so many of the gift cards scams that I see, so many of the gift cards scams that I see are free email accounts, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, but this one was using the lookalike domains. And that kind of gave us a little bit more to talk about because we could look into when the domains were registered. I saw that they were registered the day, I think one to two days before the attack commenced. And that also gave us a little bit more to talk about in terms of BEC in the blog, because this kind of combined a couple of different methods of BEC, right? It has the gift cards scam, which we see just all the time, but it also had that kind of lookalike domain, which could help us talk about that angle of BEC.Emily Hacker:But I had been, Microsoft is, is definitely starting to focus in on BEC, I don't know, starting to focus in, but increasing our focus on BEC. And so, I think that a lot of the stuff that happens in BEC isn't new. Because it's so successful, there's really not much in the way of reason for the attackers to shift so dramatically their tactics. I mean, even with the more sophisticated attacks, such as the ones where they are compromising an account, those are still just like basic phishing emails, logging into an account, setting up forwarding rules, like this is the stuff that we've been talking about in BEC for a long time. But I think Microsoft is talking about these more now because we are trying to get the word out, you know, about this being such a big problem and wanting to shift the focus more to BEC so that more people are talking about it and solving it. Natalia Godyla:It seemed like there was A/B testing happening with the cybercriminals. They had occasionally a soft intro where someone would email and ask like, "Are you available?" And then when the target responded, they then tried to get money from that individual, or they just immediately asked for money.Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Natalia Godyla:Why the different tactics? Were they actually attempting to be strategic to test which version worked, or was it just, like you said, different actors using different methods?Emily Hacker:I would guess it's different actors using different methods or another thing that it could be was that they don't want the emails to say the same thing every time, because then it would be really easy for someone like me to just identify them- Natalia Godyla:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Emily Hacker:... in terms of looking at mail flow for those specific keywords or whatever. If they switch them up a little bit, it makes it harder for me to find all the emails, right? Or anybody. So I think that could be part of the case in terms of just sending the exact same email every time is gonna make it really easy for me to be like, "Okay, well here's all the emails." But I think there could also be something strategic to it as well. I just saw one just yesterday actually, or what day is it, Tuesday? Yeah, so it must've been yesterday where the attacker did a real reply.Emily Hacker:So they sent the, the soft opening, as you said, where it just says, "Are you available?" And then they had sent a second one that asked that full question in terms of like, "I'm really busy, I need you to help me, can you call me or email me," or something, not call obviously, because they didn't provide a phone number. Sometimes they do, but in this case, they didn't. And they had actually responded to their own email. So the attacker replied to their own email to kind of get that second push to the victim. The victim just reported the email to Microsoft so they didn't fall for it. Good for them. But it does seem that there might be some strategy involved or desperation. I'm not sure which one.Natalia Godyla:(laughs) Fine line between the two.Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:I'd want to ask question that I don't know if you can answer, because I don't wanna ask you to essentially, you know, jeopardize any operational security or sort of tradecraft here, but can you give us a little tidbit of a glimpse of your, your job, and, and how you sort of do this day-to-day? Are you going and registering new email accounts and, and intentionally putting them in dodgy places in hopes of being the recipient? Or are you just responding to emails that have been reported as phishing from customers? Are you doing other things like, again, I don't wanna jeopardize any of your operational security or, you know, the processes that you use, but how do you find these?Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:And how do you then sort of go and follow the threads and uncover these campaigns?Emily Hacker:Yeah, there's a few ways, I guess that we look for these. We don't currently have any kind of like Honey accounts set up or anything like that, where we would be hoping to be targeted and find them this way. I know there are different entities within Microsoft who are, who do different things, right? So my team is not the entity that would be doing that. So my team's job is more looking at what already exists. So we're looking at stuff that customers have reported, and we're also looking at open source intelligence if anyone else has tweeted or released a blog or something about an ongoing BEC campaign, that might be something that then I can go look at our data and see if we've gotten.Emily Hacker:But the biggest way outside of those, those are the two, like I would say smaller ways. The biggest way that we find these campaigns is we do technique tracking. So we have lots of different, we call them traps basically, and they run over all mail flow, and they look for certain either keywords or there are so many different things that they run on. Obviously not just keywords, I'm just trying to be vague here. But like they run on a bunch of different things and they have different names. So if an email hits on a certain few items, that might tell us, "Hey, this one might be BEC," and then that email can be surfaced to me to look into.Emily Hacker:Unfortunately, BEC is very, is a little bit more difficult to track just by the nature of it not containing phishing links or malware attachments or anything along those lines. So it is a little bit more keyword based. And so, a lot of times it's like looking at 10,000 emails and looking for the one that is bad when they all kind of use the same keywords. And of course, we don't just get to see every legitimate email, 'cause that would be like a crazy customer privacy concern. So we only get to really see certain emails that are suspected malicious by the customer, in which case it does help us a little bit because they're already surfacing the bad ones to us.Emily Hacker:But yeah, that's how we find these, is just by looking for the ones that already seem malicious kind of and applying logic over them to see like, "Hmm, this one might be BEC or," you know, we do that, not just for BEC, but like, "Hmm, this one seems like it might be this type of phishing," or like, "Hmm, this one seems like it might be a buzz call," or whatever, you know, these types of things that will surface all these different emails to us in a way that we can then go investigate them.Nic Fillingham:So for the folks listening to this podcast, what do you want them to take away from this? What you want us to know on the SOC side, on the- Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... on the SOC side? Like, is there any additional sort of, what are some of the fundamentals and sort of basics of BEC hygiene? Is there anything else you want folks to be doing to help protect the users in their organizations?Emily Hacker:Yeah, so I would say not to just focus on monitoring what's going on in the end point, because BEC activity is not going to have a lot, if anything, that's going to appear on the end point. So making sure that you're monitoring emails and looking for not just emails that contain malicious links or attachments, but also looking for emails that might contain BEC keywords. Or even better, if there's a way for you to monitor your organization's forwarding rules, if a user suddenly sets up a, a slew of new forwarding rules from their email account, see if there's a way to turn that into a notification or an alert, I mean, to you in the SOC. And that's a really key indicator that that might be BEC, not necessarily gift cards scam, but BEC.Emily Hacker:Or see if there is a way to monitor, uh, not monitor, but like, if your organization has users reporting phishing mails, if you get one that's like, "Oh, this is just your basic low-level credential phishing," don't just toss it aside and be like, "Well, that was just one person and has really crappy voicemail phish, no one's going to actually fall for that." Actually, look and see how many people got the email. See if anybody clicked, force password resets on the people that clicked, or if you can't tell who clicked on everybody, because it really only takes one person to have clicked on that email and you not reset their password, and now the attackers have access to your organization's email and they can be conducting these kinds of wire transfer fraud.Emily Hacker:So like, and I know we're all overworked in this industry, and I know that it can be difficult to try and focus on everything at once. And especially, you know, if you're being told, like our focus is ransomware, we don't want to have ransomware. You're just constantly monitoring end points for suspicious activity, but it's important to try and make sure that you're not neglecting the stuff that only exists in email as well. Natalia Godyla:Those are great suggestions. And I'd be remiss not to note that some of those suggestions are available in Microsoft Defender for Office 365, like the suspicious forwarding alerts or attack simulation training for user awareness. But thank you again for joining us, Emily, and we hope to have you back on the show many more times.Emily Hacker:Yeah, thanks so much for having me again.Natalia Godyla:Well, we had a great time unlocking insights into security from research to artificial intelligence. Keep an eye out for our next episode.Nic Fillingham:And don't forget to tweet us @msftsecurity, or email us at securityunlocked@microsoft.com with topics you'd like to hear on our future episode. Until then, stay safe.Natalia Godyla:Stay secure.