The recent SolarWinds supply-chain attack went undetected for months. The earliest suspicious activity was detected in September 2019; by Dec. 12, stakeholders were notified, and a formal investigation by law enforcement, intelligence teams, and branches of the US government was launched.
Following the attack, announcement, and investigation, many cybersecurity teams have likely been prompted to take a closer look at their internal security systems, applications, and infrastructure in general to reduce areas of vulnerability. The SolarWinds attack offers many lessons that can be learned, including these from two cybersecurity experts.
Ori Arbel, CTO of Cyrebro, which makes an online SOC platform, said companies need to acknowledge and understand that no one is safe from cyber-attacks, not even the US government and security corporations. Arbel believes faster response can save companies millions. Even the most sophisticated attacks are executed with at least one of the shelf tools.
Third-party vendor evaluation is critical, he said. An organization's solid security posture won't help once a third-party vendor is attacked. Patch management can no longer count on the fact that the patch is from the vendor. We need to create patch security validation processes.
Arbel shares these key security lessons that could have reduced vulnerabilities.
- Digitally signed software has failed us once again. New binaries should have been checked and verified, even once they are signed.
- Auditing, monitoring cloud environments, and segregating app/service accounts as much as possible could have stopped the attack or helped to pinpoint it in real time.
- The secure System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) process might have made it possible to catch the attackers in real time and prevent the damage.
- The use of stronger passwords on code management platforms could have helped.
How can the SolarWinds attack help companies better prepare going forward?
To combat future attacks, said Eyal Wachsman, co-founder and CEO of security validation platform Cymulate, attacks like SolarWinds is an all-hands-on-deck event that requires every organization to prove it is safe. Much like WannaCry or NotPetya, the attack on SolarWinds should be assumed to be on a mass scale.
"Please don't assume that you are safe if you don't have a Solarwinds product; this is what supply chain attacks do, they move fast, and they move far," he said. "Remove assumptions and validate your security".
As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; however, preventing future large-scale attacks like SolarWinds requires learning from past mistakes. Although these aren't the only lessons that can be learned, nor are they the only keys to addressing vulnerabilities—they offer some practical takeaways from two experienced cybersecurity experts who understand security risks and prevention.