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A Shifting Email Conversation: Email Security is Stuck Looking to the Past

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29
Mar 2023
29
Mar 2023
As attackers move from low sophistication, spray-and-pray campaigns to more targeted and sophisticated attacks, email security needs to understand the organization, not past attacks, to be able to keep up with attacker innovation and stop novel attacks on the first time of asking.

In an escalating threat landscape with email as the primary target, IT teams need to move far beyond traditional methods of email security that haven’t evolved fast enough – they’re trained on historical attack data, so only catch what they’ve seen before. By design, they are permanently playing catch up to continually innovating attackers, taking an average of 13 days to recognize new attacks[1]

Phishing attacks are getting more targeted and sophisticated as attackers innovate in two key areas: delivery tactics, and social engineering. On the malware delivery side, attackers are increasingly ‘piggybacking’ off the legitimate infrastructure and reputations of services like SharePoint and OneDrive, as well as legitimate email accounts, to evade security tools. 

To evade the human on the other end of the email, attackers are tapping into new social engineering tactics, exploiting fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) and evoking a sense of urgency as ever, but now have tools at their disposal to enable tailored and personalized social engineering at scale. 

With the help of tools such as ChatGPT, threat actors can leverage AI technologies to impersonate trusted organizations and contacts – including damaging business email compromises, realistic spear phishing, spoofing, and social engineering. In fact, Darktrace found that the average linguistic complexity of phishing emails has jumped by 17% since the release of ChatGPT.  

This is just one example of accelerating attack sophistication – lowering the barrier to entry and improving outcomes for attackers. It forms part of a wider trend of the attack landscape moving from low-sophistication, low-impact, and generic phishing tactics - a 'spray and pray' approach - to more targeted, sophisticated, and higher impact attacks that fall outside of the typical detection remit for any tool relying on rules and signatures. Generative AI and other technologies in the attackers' toolkit will soon enable the launch of these attacks at scale, and only being able to catch known threats that have been seen before will no longer be enough.

Figure 1: The progression of attacks and relative coverage of email security tools

In an escalating threat landscape with email as the primary target, the vast majority of email security tools haven't evolved fast enough – they’re trained on historical attack data, so only catch what they’ve seen before. They look to the past to try and predict the next attack, and are designed to catch today’s attacks tomorrow.

Organizations are increasingly moving towards AI systems, but not all AI is the same, and the application of that AI is crucial. IT and security teams need to move towards email security that is context-aware and leverages AI for deep behavioral analysis. And it’s a proven approach, successfully catching attacks that slip by other tools across thousands of organizations. And email security today needs to be more about just protecting the inbox. It needs to address not just malicious emails, but the full 360-degree view of a user across their email messages and accounts, as well as extended coverage where email bleeds into collaboration tools/SaaS. For many organizations, the question is not if they should upgrade their email security, but when – how much longer can they risk relying on email security that’s stuck looking to the past?  

The Email Security Industry: Playing Catch-Up

Gateways and ICES (Integrated Cloud Email Security) providers have something in common: they look to past attacks in order to try to predict the future. They often rely on previous threat intelligence and on assembling ‘deny-lists’ of known bad elements of emails already identified as malicious – these tools fail to meet the reality of the contemporary threat landscape. Some of these tools attempt to use AI to improve this flawed approach, looking not only for direct matches, but using "data augmentation" to try and find similar-looking emails. But this approach is still inherently blind to novel threats. 

These tools tend to be resource-intensive, requiring constant policy maintenance combined with the hand-to-hand combat of releasing held-but-legitimate emails and holding back malicious phishing emails. This burden of manually releasing individual emails typically falls on security teams, teams that are frequently small with multiple areas of responsibility. The solution is to deploy technology that autonomously stops the bad while allowing the good through, and adapts to changes in the organization – technology that actually fits the definition of ‘set and forget’.  

Becoming behavioral and context-aware  

There is a seismic shift underway in the industry, from “secure” email gateways to intelligent AI-driven thinking. The right approach is to understand the behaviors of end users – how each person uses their inbox and what constitutes ‘normal’ for each user – in order to detect what’s not normal. It makes use of context – how and when people communicate, and with who – to spot the unusual and to flag to the user when something doesn’t look quite right – and why. Basically, a system that understands you. Not past attacks.  

Darktrace has developed a fundamentally different approach to AI, one that doesn’t learn what’s dangerous from historical data but from a deep continuous understanding of each organization and their users. Only a complex understanding of the normal day-to-day behavior of each employee can accurately determine whether or not an email actually belongs in that recipient’s inbox. 

Whether it’s phishing, ransomware, invoice fraud, executive impersonation, or a novel technique, leveraging AI for behavioral analysis allows for faster decision-making – it doesn’t need to wait for a Patient Zero to contain a new attack because it can stop malicious threats on first encounter. This increased confidence in detection allows for more a precise response – targeted action to remove only the riskiest parts of an email, rather than taking a broad blanket response out of caution – in order to reduce risk with minimal disruption to the business. 

Returning to our attack spectrum, as the attack landscape moves increasingly towards highly sophisticated attacks that use novel or seemingly legitimate infrastructure to deliver malware and induce victims, it has never been more important to detect and issue an appropriate response to these high-impact and targeted attacks. 


Fig 2: How Darktrace combined with native email security to cover the full spectrum of attacks

Understanding you and a 360° view of the end user  

We know that modern email security isn’t limited to the inbox alone – it has to encompass a full understanding of a user’s normal behavior across email and beyond. Traditional email tools are focused solely on inbound email as the point of breach, which fails to protect against the potentially catastrophic damage caused by a successful email attack once an account has been compromised.    

Fig 3: A 360° understanding of a user reveals their digital touchpoints beyond Microsoft


In order to have complete context around what is normal for a user, it’s crucial to understand their activity within Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Salesforce, Dropbox, and even their device on the network. Monitoring devices (as well as inboxes) for symptoms of infection is crucial to determining whether or not an email has been malicious, and if similar emails need to be withheld in the future. Combining with data from cloud apps enables a more holistic view of identity-based attacks. 

Understanding a user in the context of the whole organization – which also means network, cloud, and endpoint data – brings additional context to light to improve decision making, and connecting email security with external data on the attack surface can help proactively find malicious domains, so that defenses can be hardened before an attack is even launched.

Educating and Engaging Your Employees

Ultimately, it’s employees who interact with any given email. If organizations can successfully empower this user base, they will end up with a smarter workforce, fewer successful attacks, and a security team with more time on their hands for better, strategic work. 

The tools that succeed best will be those that can leverage AI to help employees become more security-conscious. While some emails are evidently malicious and should never enter an employee’s inbox, there is a significant grey area of emails that have potentially risky elements. The majority of security tools will either withhold these emails completely – even though they might be business critical – or let them through scot-free. But what if these grey-area emails could in fact be used as training opportunities?    

As opposed to phishing simulation vendors, behavioral AI can improve security awareness holistically throughout organizations by training users with a light touch via their own inboxes – bringing the end user into the loop to harden defenses.  

The new frontier of email security fights AI with AI, and organizations who lag behind might end up learning the hard way. Read on for our blog series about how these technologies can transform the employee experience, dynamize deployment, augment security teams and form part of an integrated defensive loop.    

[1] 13 days is the mean average of phishing payloads active in the wild between the response of Darktrace/Email compared to the earliest of 16 independent feeds submitted by other email security technologies.

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AUTOR
ÜBER DEN AUTOR
Dan Fein
VP, Produkt

Based in New York, Dan joined Darktrace’s technical team in 2015, helping customers quickly achieve a complete and granular understanding of Darktrace’s product suite. Dan has a particular focus on Darktrace/Email, ensuring that it is effectively deployed in complex digital environments, and works closely with the development, marketing, sales, and technical teams. Dan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from New York University.

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Looking Beyond Secure Email Gateways with the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/Email

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09
Apr 2024

Organizations Should Demand More from their Email Security

In response to a more intricate threat landscape, organizations should view email security as a critical component of their defense-in-depth strategy, rather than defending the inbox alone with a traditional Secure Email Gateway (SEG). Organizations need more than a traditional gateway – that doubles, instead of replaces, the capabilities provided by native security vendor – and require an equally granular degree of analysis across all messaging, including inbound, outbound, and lateral mail, plus Teams messages.  

Darktrace/Email is the industry’s most advanced cloud email security, powered by Self-Learning AI. It combines AI techniques to exceed the accuracy and efficiency of leading security solutions, and is the only security built to elevate, not duplicate, native email security.  

With its largest update ever, Darktrace/Email introduces the following innovations, finally allowing security teams to look beyond secure email gateways with autonomous AI:

  • AI-augmented data loss prevention to stop the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats
  • an easy way to deploy DMARC quickly with AI
  • major enhancements to streamline SOC workflows and increase the detection of sophisticated phishing links
  • expansion of Darktrace’s leading AI prevention to lateral mail, account compromise and Microsoft Teams

What’s New with Darktrace/Email  

Data Loss Prevention  

Block the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats with advanced data loss prevention that builds on tags in native email to stop unknown, accidental, and malicious data loss

Darktrace understands normal at individual user, group and organization level with a proven AI that detects abnormal user behavior and dynamic content changes. Using this understanding, Darktrace/Email actions outbound emails to stop unknown, accidental and malicious data loss.  

Traditional DLP solutions only take into account classified data, which relies on the manual input of labelling each data piece, or creating rules to catch pattern matches that try to stop data of certain types leaving the organization. But in today’s world of constantly changing data, regular expression and fingerprinting detection are no longer enough.

  • Human error – Because it understands normal for every user, Darktrace/Email can recognize cases of misdirected emails. Even if the data is correctly labelled or insensitive, Darktrace recognizes when the context in which it is being sent could be a case of data loss and warns the user.  
  • Unclassified data – Whereas traditional DLP solutions can only take action on classified data, Darktrace analyzes the range of data that is either pending labels or can’t be labeled with typical capabilities due to its understanding of the content and context of every email.  
  • Insider threat – If a malicious actor has compromised an account, data exfiltration may still be attempted on encrypted, intellectual property, or other forms of unlabelled data to avoid detection. Darktrace analyses user behaviour to catch cases of unusual data exfiltration from individual accounts.

And classification efforts already in place aren’t wasted – Darktrace/Email extends Microsoft Purview policies and sensitivity labels to avoid duplicate workflows for the security team, combining the best of both approaches to ensure organizations maintain control and visibility over their data.

End User and Security Workflows

Achieve more than 60% improvement in the quality of end-user phishing reports and detection of sophisticated malicious weblinks1

Darktrace/Email improves end-user reporting from the ground up to save security team resource. Employees will always be on the front line of email security – while other solutions assume that end-user reporting is automatically of poor quality, Darktrace prioritizes improving users’ security awareness to increase the quality of end-user reporting from day one.  

Users are empowered to assess and report suspicious activity with contextual banners and Cyber AI Analyst generated narratives for potentially suspicious emails, resulting in 60% fewer benign emails reported.  

Out of the higher-quality emails that end up being reported, the next step is to reduce the amount of emails that reach the SOC. Darktrace/Email’s Mailbox Security Assistant automates their triage with secondary analysis combining additional behavioral signals – using x20 more metrics than previously – with advanced link analysis to detect 70% more sophisticated malicious phishing links.2 This directly alleviates the burden of manual triage for security analysts.

For the emails that are received by the SOC, Darktrace/Email uses automation to reduce time spent investigating per incident. With live inbox view, security teams gain access to a centralized platform that combines intuitive search capabilities, Cyber AI Analyst reports, and mobile application access. Analysts can take remediation actions from within Darktrace/Email, eliminating console hopping and accelerating incident response.

Darktrace takes a user-focused and business-centric approach to email security, in contrast to the attack-centric rules and signatures approach of secure email gateways

Microsoft Teams

Detect threats within your Teams environment such as account compromise, phishing, malware and data loss

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services, particularly Teams and SharePoint.3

Darktrace now leverages the same behavioral AI techniques for Microsoft customers across 365 and Teams, allowing organizations to detect threats and signals of account compromise within their Teams environment including social engineering, malware and data loss.  

The primary use case for Microsoft Teams protection is as a potential entry vector. While messaging has traditionally been internal only, as organizations open up it is becoming an entry vector which needs to be treated with the same level of caution as email. That’s why we’re bringing our proven AI approach to Microsoft Teams, that understands the user behind the message.  

Anomalous messaging behavior is also a highly relevant indicator of whether a user has been compromised. Unlike other solutions that analyze Microsoft Teams content which focus on payloads, Darktrace goes beyond basic link and sandbox analysis and looks at actual user behavior from both a content and context perspective. This linguistic understanding isn’t bound by the requirement to match a signature to a malicious payload, rather it looks at the context in which the message has been delivered. From this analysis, Darktrace can spot the early symptoms of account compromise such as early-stage social engineering before a payload is delivered.

Lateral Mail Analysis

Detect and respond to internal mailflow with multi-layered AI to prevent account takeover, lateral phishing and data leaks

The industry’s most robust account takeover protection now prevents lateral mail account compromise. Darktrace has always looked at internal mail to inform inbound and outbound decisions, but will now elevate suspicious lateral mail behaviour using the same AI techniques for inbound, outbound and Teams analysis.

Darktrace integrates signals from across the entire mailflow and communication patterns to determine symptoms of account compromise, now including lateral mailflow

Unlike other solutions which only analyze payloads, Darktrace analyzes a whole range of signals to catch lateral movement before a payload is delivered. Contributing yet another layer to the AI behavioral profile for each user, security teams can now use signals from lateral mail to spot the early symptoms of account takeover and take autonomous actions to prevent further compromise.

DMARC

Gain in-depth visibility and control of 3rd parties using your domain with an industry-first AI-assisted DMARC

Darktrace has created the easiest path to brand protection and compliance with the new Darktrace/DMARC. This new capability continuously stops spoofing and phishing from the enterprise domain, while automatically enhancing email security and reducing the attack surface.

Darktrace/DMARC helps to upskill businesses by providing step by step guidance and automated record suggestions provide a clear, efficient road to enforcement. It allows organizations to quickly achieve compliance with requirements from Google, Yahoo, and others, to ensure that their emails are reaching mailboxes.  

Meanwhile, Darktrace/DMARC helps to reduce the overall attack surface by providing visibility over shadow-IT and third-party vendors sending on behalf of an organization’s brand, while informing recipients when emails from their domains are sent from un-authenticated DMARC source.

Darktrace/DMARC integrates with the wider Darktrace product platform, sharing insights to help further secure your business across Email Attack Path and Attack Surface management.

Schlussfolgerung

To learn more about the new innovations to Darktrace/Email download the solution brief here.

All of the new updates to Darktrace/Email sit within the new Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform, creating a feedback loop between email security and the rest of the digital estate for better protection. Click to read more about the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform or to hear about the latest innovations to Darktrace/OT, the most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for critical infrastructures.  

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.

References

[1] Internal Darktrace Research

[2] Internal Darktrace Research

[3] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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Managing Risk Beyond CVE Scores With the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/OT

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09
Apr 2024

Identifying Cyber Risk in Industrial Organizations

Compromised OT devices in ICS and SCADA environments pose significant physical risks, even endangering lives. However, identifying CVEs in the multitude of complex OT devices is labor-intensive and time-consuming, draining valuable resources.

Even after identifying a vulnerability, implementing a patch presents its own challenges limited maintenance windows and the need for uninterrupted operations strain IT and OT teams often leading organizations to prioritize availability over security leading vulnerabilities remaining unresolved for over 5 years on average. (1)

Darktrace’s New Innovation

Darktrace is an industry leader in cybersecurity with 10+ years of experience securing OT environments where we take a fundamentally different approach using Self-Learning AI to enhance threat detection and response.

Continuing to combat the expanding threat landscape, Darktrace is excited to announce new capabilities that enable a contextualized and proactive approach to managing cyber risk at industrial organizations.

Today we launch an innovation to our OT Cybersecurity solution, Darktrace/OT, that will add a layer of proactivity, enabling a comprehensive approach to risk management. This industry leading innovation for Darktrace/OT moves beyond CVE scores to redefine vulnerability management for critical infrastructure, tackling the full breadth of risks not limited by traditional controls.  

Darktrace/OT is the only OT security solution with comprehensive Risk Management which includes:

  • Contextualized risk analysis unique to your organization
  • The most realistic evaluation and prioritization of OT risk
  • Effectively mitigate risk across your OT infrastructure, with and without patching.
  • The only OT security solution that evaluates your defenses against Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Groups.

The most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for Critical Infrastructures

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI technology is a cutting-edge innovation that implements real time prevention, detection, response, and recovery for operational technologies and enables a fundamental shift from the traditional approach to cyber defense by learning a ‘pattern of life’ for every network, device, and user.  

Rather than relying on knowledge of past attacks, AI technology learns what is ‘normal’ for its environment, discovering previously unknown threats by detecting subtle shifts in behavior. Through identifying these unexpected anomalies, security teams can investigate novel attacks, discover blind spots, have live time visibility across all their physical and digital assets, and reduce time to detect, respond to, and triage security events.  

  • Achieve greater visibility of OT and IT devices across all levels of the Purdue Model.
  • The industry's only OT security to scale threat detection and response, with a 92% time saving from triage to recovery.  
  • The only OT focused security solution to provide bespoke Risk Management.

To learn more about how Darktrace/OT approaches unique use cases for industrial organizations visit the Darktrace/OT Webpage or join us LIVE at a city near you.

Read more below to discover how new innovations to Darktrace/OT are bringing a new, contextualized approach to Risk Management for Industrial organizations.

For more information on the entire Darktrace/OT Solution read our solution brief here.

Darktrace/OT and New Risk Management

Risk Identification

Leveraging the visibility of Darktrace/OT which identifies individual systems throughout the Purdue Model and the relationship between them, Darktrace/OT identifies high-risk CVEs and presents potential attack routes that go beyond techniques requiring a known exploit, such as misuse of legitimate services. Each attack path will have a mathematical evaluation of difficulty and impact from initial access to the high value objectives.  

Together this gives comprehensive coverage over your real and potential risks from both an attacker and known vulnerability perspectives. OT attack paths as seen here even leverage insights between the industrial and corporate communications to reveal ways threat actors may take advantage of IT-OT convergence. This revelation of imperceptible risks fills gaps in traditional risk analysis like remote access and insider threats.

Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 2: A specific Attack Path identified by Darktrace/OT

Risk Prioritization

Darktrace/OT prioritizes remediations and mitigations based on difficulty and damage to your unique organization, using the established Attack Paths.

We ascertain the priorities that apply to your organization beyond pure theoretical damage answering questions like:

  • How difficult is a particular vulnerability to exploit considering the steps an attacker would require to reach it?
  • And, how significant would the impact be if it was exploited within this particular network?

This expanded approach to risk prioritization has a much more comprehensive evaluation of your organization's unique risk than has ever been possible before. Traditional approaches of ranking only known vulnerabilities with isolated scores using CVSS and exploitability metrics, often leaves gaps in IT-OT risks and is blind to legitimate service exploitation.

Figure 3: Darktrace/OT leverages its contextual understand of the organization’s network to prioritize remediation that will have the positive impact on the risk score

Darktrace provides mitigation strategies associated with each identified risk and the relevant impact it has on your overall risk posture, across all MITRE ATT&CK techniques.

What sets Darktrace apart is our ability to contextualize these mitigations within the broader business. When patching vulnerabilities directly isn’t possible, Darktrace identifies alternative actions that harden attack paths leading to critical assets. Hardening the surrounding attack path increases the difficulty and therefore reduces the likelihood and impact of a breach.

That means unpatched vulnerabilities and vulnerable devices aren’t left unprotected. This also has an added bonus, those hardening techniques work for all devices in that network segment, so apply one change, secure many.

Figure 4: Darktrace prioritizes mitigation reducing accessibility of vulnerability and the overall risk score when patches aren’t available

Communicate Board Level Risk with APT Threat Mapping

Darktrace/OT bridges theory and practice as the only security solution that maps MITRE techniques, frequently used by APT Groups, onto AI-assessed critical Attack Paths. This unique solution provides unparalleled insights including sector and location intelligence, possible operating platforms, common techniques, exploited CVEs, and the number of potential devices affected in your environment, supporting holistic risk assessment and proactive defense measures.

Ultimately, this becomes a power dashboard to communicate board level risk, using both metric based evidence and industry standard threat mapping.

Schlussfolgerung

Darktrace/OT is part of the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform a native, holistic, AI-driven platform built on over ten years of AI research. It helps security teams shift to more a productive mode, finding the known and the unknown attacks and transforming the SOC with the various Darktrace products to drive efficiency gains. It does this across the whole incident lifecycle to lower risk, reduce time spent on active incidents, and drive return on investment.

Discover more about Darktrace's ever-strengthening platform with the upcoming changes coming to our Darktrace/Email product and other launch day blogs.

Join Darktrace LIVE half-day event to understand the reality versus the hype surrounding AI and how to achieve cyber resilience.

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.  

References

1. https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/313646831/Catch_Me_if_You_Can.pdf

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About the author
Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
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