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Mr. Robot and Your Crown Jewels

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Through Season 2 of Mr. Robot, we saw the aftermath of the 5/9 hacks and gained more of an understanding of what roles each character plays in the attack. While last season focused on gaining initial entry to E Corp, this season showed what happens after the initial breach. Many security professionals spend huge amounts of time, effort, and money on trying to prevent malicious actors from breaching the perimeter, but neglect what can happen once inside.

The crown jewels

In penetration testing, the goal for any attack simulation should be to identify and attack the organization’s “crown jewels” – the thing that would cause them the most harm if compromised, stolen, or made unavailable. These can be things like patient records for medical facilities, stored credit card numbers for merchants, or intellectual property for software companies. Unfortunately, many penetration testers still end their assessments after gaining domain administrator permissions and completely neglect demonstrating impact to their clients, leaving them to wonder what the point of the assessment was and where to go next.

Mr. Robot Season 2 Spoiler Alert!

F Society and the Dark Army decided to target the uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) in E Corp’s paper backup facility as their crown jewel. This makes sense because the original goal was to completely wipe out E Corp’s records of customer debt. Season 1 showed F Society wiping the digital records, but the paper backups were still being shipped to a separate facility. By getting their malware in the UPS firmware and causing the battery regulators to stop working, F Society can destroy the last remaining records of the debt by causing a massive fire in the backup facility.

Now I don’t recommend terrorism as a method for demonstrating impact to an organization, but these are the “what if’s” we should be identifying and simulating as red teamers and trying to defend against on the blue team. Domain admin credentials are a very useful tool, but shouldn’t be the stopping point (unless that was all the scope allowed). This provides much more value to the organization by identifying risks with tangible impacts and gives them an idea of where they should invest their security budget to help protect the crown jewels.

Insider threats

The other risk is the insider. Many times throughout this season, F Society relied on Angela, who is now an employee at E Corp, to do something for them that would be very risky or impossible for them to do themselves. Angela had legitimate access to the E Corp office and a computer on the domain. F Society used Angela to plant the femtocell on the controlled floor to compromise the FBI agent phones, as well as having her plug the USB Rubber Ducky into Mr. Green’s workstation to steal his credentials. Insiders can be blackmailed, coerced, or act on their own motivation. Regardless of the driver towards maliciousness, they pose a serious threat because insiders often know what your crown jewels are, where they are, and how to get to them. This pre-existing knowledge combined with legitimate access can be a perfect storm for a breach.

As Mr. Robot shows us, all it takes is a single employee to open the door for attackers. Rules only apply to those willing to follow them; attackers always ignore the rules. No amount of policy and paperwork can stop someone who is determined to harm an organization. You need a plan for identifying weaknesses and for validating that your security policies are properly implemented. You also need to wargame that plan to make sure that the plan is implemented and functioning properly on a continual basis. Always assume that you will be breached at some point, and that you must be ready to identify, contain, and eradicate a compromise in short order.

Protective action

To protect your organization from insider threats, focus on these issues:

  • Track, correlate, and alert on insider movement via network logs; establish a baseline of normal behavior, and then alert on divergences
  • Monitor and follow up on any exfiltration of data, regardless of whether or not the actor is a “trusted source”
  • Train your employees to recognize and report social engineering (attempts to manipulate an employee into sharing confidential information)
  • Educate employees to avoid falling prey to phishing emails (messages supposedly authored by a trusted insider and making a questionable request, such as sending confidential financial data to an executive)

A product like SecurityCenter Continuous View® provides tools such as the Insider Threat Dashboard to help differentiate the activity of trusted sources from malicious behavior.

Knowing who and what is on your network, what your crown jewels are, and having a plan to protect them not just from the outside, but also from insiders, is a great lesson we can learn from this season of Mr. Robot.