Ending Soon! Online Training Special Offer: Get iPad Pro w/ Smart Keyboard, HP ProBook, or $350 Off through July 24!

Reading Room: Most Popular Papers

Subscribe to SANS Newsletters

Join the SANS Community to receive the latest curated cyber security news, vulnerabilities and mitigations, training opportunities, and our webcast schedule.






Featuring the 25 most popular papers within the past week as of July 18, 2019

  • DICE and MUD Protocols for Securing IoT Devices STI Graduate Student Research
    by Muhammed Ayar - June 5, 2019 in Internet of Things

    An exponential growth of Internet of Things (IoT) devices on communication networks is creating an increasing security challenge that is threatening the entire Internet community. Attackers operating networks of IoT devices can target any site on the Internet and bring it down using denial of service attacks. As exemplified in various DDoS attacks that took down portions of the Internet in the past few years (such as the attacks on Dyn and KrebsOnSecurity (Hallman, Bryan, Palavicini Jr, Divita, Romero- Mariona, 2017)), IoT users need to take drastic steps in securing them. This research will discuss the steps in attempting to secure IoT devices using DICE and MUD.


  • Attackers Inside the Walls: Detecting Malicious Activity STI Graduate Student Research
    by Sean Goodwin - July 2, 2019 in Intrusion Detection

    Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do not always have the budget for an advanced intrusion detection system (IDS) technology. Open-source software can fill this gap, but these free solutions may not provide full coverage for known attacks, especially once the attacker is inside the perimeter. This paper investigates the IDS capabilities of a stand-alone Security Onion device when combined with built-in event logging in a small Windows environment to detect malicious actors on the internal network.


  • Tracking Malware With Public Proxy Lists by James Powers - January 27, 2011 in Malicious Code, Tools

    The Web was born on Christmas Day, 1990 when the CERN Web server (CERN httpd 1.0) went online. By version 2.0, released in 1993, CERN httpd, was also capable of performing as an application gateway. By 1994, content caching was added. With the publication of RFC 1945 two years later, proxy capabilities were forever embedded into the HTTP specification (Berners-Lee, Fielding, & Frystyk, 1996).


  • Incident Handler's Handbook by Patrick Kral - February 21, 2012 in Incident Handling

    An incident is a matter of when, not if, a compromise or violation of an organization's security will happen.


  • Implementing a Vulnerability Management Process by Tom Palmaers - April 9, 2013 in Threats/Vulnerabilities

    A vulnerability is defined in the ISO 27002 standard as "A weakness of an asset or group of assets that can be exploited by one or more threats" (International Organization for Standardization, 2005).


  • Methods for Understanding and Reducing Social Engineering Attacks STI Graduate Student Research
    by Michael Alexander - May 3, 2016 in Critical Controls, Social Engineering

    Social engineering is arguably the easiest way for an attacker to penetrate the defenses of an organization.


  • Physical Security and Why It Is Important by David Hutter - July 28, 2016 in Physical Security

    Physical security is often a second thought when it comes to information security. Since physical security has technical and administrative elements, it is often overlooked because most organizations focus on "technology-oriented security countermeasures" (Harris, 2013) to prevent hacking attacks.


  • Automating Response to Phish Reporting STI Graduate Student Research
    by Geoffrey Parker - June 12, 2019 in Email Issues

    Phish Reporting buttons have become easy buttons. They are used universally for reporting spam, real phishing attacks when detected, and legitimate emails. Phish Reporting buttons automate the reporting process for users; however, they have become a catch-all to dispose of unwanted messages and are now overwhelming Response Teams and overflowing Help Desk ticket queues. The excessive reporting leads to a problem of managing timely responses to real phishing attacks. Response times to false positives, spam, and legitimate messages incorrectly reported are also significant factors. Vendors sold phish alert buttons with phishing simulation systems which then became part of more in-depth training systems and later threat management systems. Because of this organic growth, many companies implemented a phish reporting system but did not know that they needed an automation system to manage the resulting influx of tickets. Triage systems can automate a high percentage of these phish alerts, freeing the incident response teams to deal with the genuine threats to the enterprise on a prioritized basis.


  • Template Injection Attacks - Bypassing Security Controls by Living off the Land by Brian Wiltse - February 1, 2019 in Intrusion Detection, Incident Handling, Intrusion Prevention, Penetration Testing, Threats/Vulnerabilities

    As adversary tactics continue to adapt and embrace the concept of living off the land by using legitimate company software instead of a virus or other malwareRut15, their tactics techniques and procedures (TTPs) often leverage programs and features in target environments that are normal and expected. The adversaries leverage these features in a way that enables them to bypass security controls to complete their objective. In May of 2017, a suspected APT group began to leverage one such feature in Microsoft Office, utilizing a Template Injection attack to harvest credentials, or gain access to end users computers at a US power plant operator, Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp. In this Gold Paper, we will review in detail what the Template Injection attacks may have looked like against this target, and assess their ability to bypass security controls.


  • Disrupting the Empire: Identifying PowerShell Empire Command and Control Activity by Michael C. Long II - February 23, 2018 in Intrusion Detection, Forensics, Incident Handling

    Windows PowerShell has quickly become ubiquitous in enterprise networks. Threat actors are increasingly utilizing attack frameworks such as PowerShell Empire because of its robust APT-like capabilities, stealth, and flexibility. This research identifies specific artifacts, behaviors, and indicators of compromise that can be observed by network defenders in order to quickly identify PowerShell Empire command and control activity in the enterprise. By applying these techniques, defenders can dramatically reduce dwell time of adversaries utilizing PowerShell Empire.


  • An Overview of Threat and Risk Assessment by James Bayne - January 22, 2002 in Auditing & Assessment

    The purpose of this document is to provide an overview of the process involved in performing a threat and risk assessment


  • Defending with Graphs: Create a Graph Data Map to Visualize Pivot Paths STI Graduate Student Research
    by Brianne Fahey - June 26, 2019 in Logging Technology and Techniques, Tools

    Preparations made during the Identify Function of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can often pay dividends once an event response is warranted. Knowing what log data is available improves incident response readiness and providing a visual layout of those sources enables responders to pivot rapidly across relevant elements. Thinking in graphs is a multi-dimensional approach that improves upon defense that relies on one-dimensional lists and two-dimensional link analyses. This paper proposes a methodology to survey available data element relationships and apply a graph database schema to create a visual map. This graph data map can be used by analysts to query relationships and determine paths through the available data sources. A graph data map also allows for the consideration of log sources typically found in a SIEM alongside other data sources like an asset management database, application whitelist, or HR information which may be particularly useful for event context and to review potential Insider Threats. The templates and techniques described in this paper are available in GitHub for immediate use and further testing.


  • Dissect the Phish to Hunt Infections STI Graduate Student Research
    by Seth Polley - February 3, 2017 in Security Awareness

    Internal defense is a perilous problem facing many organizations today. The sole reliance on external defenses is all too common, leaving the internal organization largely unprotected. The times when internal defense is actually considered, how many think beyond the fallible antivirus (AV) or immature data loss prevention (DLP) solutions? Considering the rise of phishing emails and other social engineering campaigns, there is a significantly increased risk that an organization’s current external and internal defenses will fail to prevent compromises. How would a cyber security team detect an attacker establishing a foothold within the center of the organization or undetectable malware being downloaded internally if a user were to fall for a phishing attempt?


  • Case Study: Critical Controls that Could Have Prevented Target Breach STI Graduate Student Research
    by Teri Radichel - September 12, 2014 in Case Studies

    Target shoppers got an unwelcome holiday surprise in December 2013 when the news came out 40 million Target credit cards had been stolen (Krebs, 2013f) by accessing data on point of sale (POS) systems (Krebs, 2014b).


  • Extracting Files from Network Packet Captures STI Graduate Student Research
    by Rebecca Deck - December 28, 2015 in Forensics, Tools

    Full content packet captures provide analysts with the ability to review exactly what has transpired on a network. Analysts neither have to rely on questionable logs nor perform guesswork when determining what data have been transferred.


  • Hunting for Ghosts in Fileless Attacks by Buddy Tancio - May 13, 2019 in Malicious Code

    Hunting for a fileless threat can be a tedious and labor-intensive task for any analyst. It is, most often than not, extremely time-consuming and requires a significant amount of data gathering. On top of that, the traditional tools, methods, and defenses seem to be less effective when dealing with these almost invisible threats. Threat actors are frequently using attack techniques that work directly from the memory or using legitimate tools or services pre-installed in the system to achieve their goals (Trend Micro, 2017). It is a popular technique among targeted attacks and advanced persistent threats (APT), and now it has been adopted by conventional malware such as trojans, ransomwares, and even the most recent emerging threat – cryptocurrency miners. In some incidents, searching for a malicious file that resides in the hard drive seems to be insufficient. This study explores the different variations of fileless attacks that targeted the Windows operating system and what kind of artifacts or tools can provide clues for forensic investigation.


  • Scoping Security Assessments - A Project Management Approach by Ahmed Abdel-Aziz - June 7, 2011 in Auditing & Assessment, Security Awareness, Security Basics, Management & Leadership, Security Policy Issues, Protocols

    Security assessments can mean different things to different people. This paper will explore what a security assessment is, why it should be done, and how it is different than a security audit.


  • Adapting AppSec to a DevOps World by Rebecca Deck - February 20, 2018 in Application and Database Security

    DevOps software development presents a fundamental challenge to traditional software security practices. Multi-day static and dynamic analysis run by a small pool of security experts is not a tenable model when the business demands multiple software releases per day. Modern system administration and quality assurance roles have adapted by using automation to empower developers to elevate code safely and as often as possible. By operating within the DevOps culture and tooling, security experts can educate developers and instrument systems in much the same way as other stakeholders in the development process. Proper abuse case development, metrics, unit, and integration testing can minimize risk while still enabling the rapid software development that businesses demand.


  • The Industrial Control System Cyber Kill Chain by Michael J. Assante and Robert M. Lee - October 5, 2015 in Industrial Control Systems / SCADA

    Read this paper to gain an understanding of an adversary's campaign against ICS. The first two parts of the paper introduce the two stages of the ICS Cyber Kill Chain. The third section uses the Havex and Stuxnet case studies to demonstrate the ICS Cyber Kill Chain in action.


  • Finding the Human Side of Malware: A SANS Review of Intezer Analyze by Matt Bromiley - November 29, 2018 in Automation, Incident Handling, Malicious Code

    We tested Intezer Analyze, a revolutionary malware analysis tool that may change how you handle and assess malware. We found Analyze to be an impactful, immediate-result malware analysis platform.


  • Using IOC (Indicators of Compromise) in Malware Forensics by Hun-Ya Lock - April 17, 2013 in Forensics, Incident Handling, Malicious Code

    In the IT operations of an enterprise, malware forensics is often used to support the investigations of incidents.


  • Detecting DNS Tunneling STI Graduate Student Research
    by Greg Farnham - March 19, 2013 in DNS Issues

    Web browsing and email use the important protocol, the Domain Name System (DNS), which allows applications to function using names, such as example.com, instead of hard-to-remember IP addresses.


  • Building Cloud-Based Automated Response Systems STI Graduate Student Research
    by Mishka McCowan - July 2, 2019 in Cloud Computing

    When moving to public cloud infrastructures such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), organizations gain access to tools and services that enable automated responses to specific threats. This paper will explore the advantages and disadvantages of using native AWS services to build an automated response system. It will examine the elements that organizations should consider including developing the proper skills and systems that are required for the long-term viability of such a system.


  • Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP), Investigation of the Effectiveness of a RASP Solution in Protecting Known Vulnerable Target Applications STI Graduate Student Research
    by Alexander Fry - April 30, 2019 in Application and Database Security

    Year after year, attackers target application-level vulnerabilities. To address these vulnerabilities, application security teams have increasingly focused on shifting left - identifying and fixing vulnerabilities earlier in the software development life cycle. However, at the same time, development and operations teams have been accelerating the pace of software release, moving towards continuous delivery. As software is released more frequently, gaps remain in test coverage leading to the introduction of vulnerabilities in production. To prevent these vulnerabilities from being exploited, it is necessary that applications become self-defending. RASP is a means to quickly make both new and legacy applications self-defending. However, because most applications are custom-coded and therefore unique, RASP is not one-size-fits-all - it must be trialed to ensure that it meets performance and attack protection goals. In addition, RASP integrates with critical applications, whose stakeholders typically span the entire organization. To convince these varied stakeholders, it is necessary to both prove the benefits and show that RASP does not adversely affect application performance or stability. This paper helps organizations that may be evaluating a RASP solution by outlining activities that measure the effectiveness and performance of a RASP solution against a given application portfolio.


  • Common and Best Practices for Security Operations Centers: Results of the 2019 SOC Survey Analyst Paper (requires membership in SANS.org community)
    by Chris Crowley and John Pescatore - July 9, 2019 in Security Trends, SOC

    In this survey, senior SANS instructor and course author Christopher Crowley, along with advisor and SANS director of emerging technologies John Pescatore, provide objective data to security leaders who are looking to establish a SOC or optimize an existing one. This report captures common and best practices, provides defendable metrics that can be used to justify SOC resources to management, and highlights the key areas that SOC managers should prioritize to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of security operations.


All papers are copyrighted. No re-posting or distribution of papers is permitted.

STI Graduate Student Research - This paper was created by a SANS Technology Institute student as part of the graduate program curriculum.