Parked Domains, pantry moths, and you

Enterprise digital ecosystems are ripe for compromise via long-forgotten domains.

Parked domains have little security

In a span of just 30 days, Equifax morphed from a reputable credit bureau to the latest victim of cybercrime. Sadly, Equifax is just one in a slew of recent website compromises. In fact, the past 12 months bore witness to the malicious use of consumer-facing websites belonging to embassies, national banks, popular brands, premium digital publications, and government organizations. Comparing these incidents with The Media Trust’s historic malware attack data reveals an uncanny commonality – parked domains.

Parked domains are pests

Pantry moths are like parked domainsYes, parked domains are a security problem. Let’s take the real-world example of pantry moths as an analogy. Imagine hoarding supplies in your kitchen pantry due to forecasts like historical storms, end of the world, etc. Alas, the event turns out to be not so epic and life moves on unaffected. Except now, you have a cartload of forgotten excess supplies sitting in your pantry, attracting pantry moths, their larvae (gross), and other pests. Translate this to the digital world: companies buy domains for various purposes such as marketing campaigns, testing advertising code, domain squatting prevention, or holding for future use. Unfortunately, life happens; companies do not renew domain ownership, forget to manage them, campaigns end, or the company may go out of business. This leaves these domains ripe for compromise, as it’s the perfect opportunity for a bad actor to either buy a legitimate-looking link or stealthily infect it to load malicious code.

“We detect parked domains in more than 10% of web-based incidents and have recorded a steady increase in parked domains in the consumer internet,” stated Patrick Ciavolella, Head Malware Desk and Analytics, The Media Trust. “Saying parked domains are a cause for concern, is an understatement. Malicious parked domains in a large corporation’s digital ecosystem can not only damage an enterprise’s reputation but can inflict widespread harm on consumers.”

By putting Equifax’s second website compromise under the scanner, we can better understand how parked domains are exploited by bad actors. 

Equifax Case File

The user experience: When users visited certain credit reporting service page(s) on Equifax’s website, they were automatically redirected to a malicious domain or page. This landing page falsely alerted users to an outdated program (Adobe Flash) and prompted a download of an update, which when clicked, would eventually deliver a malicious exploit kit to user devices. Sounds like a typical and simple website-level malware attack, but what happened behind the screens points to an interesting revelation about parked domains.
Parked domains are dangerous

Behind the screens: After entering the credit report discounts assistance page, there were at least five rapid auto-redirects (no user interaction required) that delivered users to the malicious domain (Centerbluray.info), which hosted the Fake Flash Update alert. This fake online asset appeared legitimate and even used Adobe’s logo to trick users. Once the user clicked on this fake prompt, malicious toolbars or exploit kits were delivered to the devices.

Culprit: Centerbluray.info was the domain hosting malicious code, but the multiple redirect links that navigated to this malicious page were all parked domains. “Our Malware Desk blacklisted Centerbluray.info well before the Equifax incident and detected it in at least six different web-based malware incidents. In every case, parked domains were used to navigate to the final malicious domain,” added Patrick.

Parked Domains FAQs:
Parked Domains FAQs

  1. Wait, so a parked domain via a third-party vendor running code on my website can affect my website?
    Yes. Today’s websites and mobile apps are inundated with unmonitored third-party vendors that contribute code (content management systems, video hosting, data management platforms, marketing analytics, social media widgets, and more) to the rendering of digital content. Often, these third-parties will bring fourth and fifth party code into the mix, increasing the probability of a parked domain’s presence in your enterprise digital ecosystem.
  2. Can my own parked domain be compromised?
    Yes. The Karmic forces of the internet are strong. Without caution and care, your own parked domains are vulnerable to compromise. Let’s not forget that parked domains are still affiliated with your digital assets. Now would be a good time to ask your teams—marketing, sales, product, operations—about all the domains your company has ever purchased.
  3. Can my current website security solution detect these parked domains?
    Sigh, if only! For the most part, website appsec only monitors owned and operated code, which is an increasingly small part of today’s website and mobile app code. Also, most website security solutions do not comprehensively monitor outside the firewall, which is exactly where your users are! Without real-time monitoring of executing code, you would not know if your website has been compromised unless users complain or, even worse, you read about it in the paper.
  4. So what can I do?
    Based on the incidents detected in the broader digital ecosystem and managed by The Media Trust, here’s what Patrick recommends:
    “When it comes to your own domains, renew them or cancel the ones that are not in use; please cancel through the appropriate channels. Once canceled, the domain code needs to be completely removed from your website and mobile app codebase. Where it makes sense, sign up for an auto-renewing domain. Remember, when it comes to third-party parked domains, the only way to detect and manage them is through continuous, real-time monitoring of code rendering on user devices.
  5. Ok, since you brought up pantry moths – how does one get rid of those annoying pests?
    Ah! Clean out your pantry. Get rid of the old dry supplies as they are probably infested by moths and larvae (gross). When you eventually do buy fresh supplies, freeze it first before transferring to storage containers and use the supplies as quickly as you can.

 

GDPR: The Pandora’s Box is Open for Enterprise Websites

Authored by Chris Olson, CEO & Co-Founder, The Media Trust

This article originally appeared in Website Magazine in September 2017

GDPR Pandora's Box
Compliance officers need to rein in the regulatory risks associated with their digital properties. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a conversation starter for most companies looking to control compliance, reputational and revenue risks. However, while focus has been on identifying data elements–customer, partner and employee–held by the organization, most have overlooked the data collection activities occurring via the company’s websites and mobile apps. Just as with Pandora’s box, there’s a slew of GDPR-driven evil emitting from your digital properties. 

Digital vendors and the GDPR

The internet is a highly-dynamic environment and most websites require a host of third-party providers to render content on a consumer’s browser. In fact, enterprises tend to find two to three times more external code on their websites than expected. The purpose of this code is to provide or enable services–data management platforms, image or video hosting, marketing analytics, content delivery, customer identification, payment processing, etc.–required to deliver the website experience. However, most enterprises are not aware of the full depth of their reliance on these vendors and therefore do not fully examine the code executing in their own digital environment. This results in “Digital Shadow IT”, which is rampant on most enterprise digital properties since a majority of third-party contributed code executing on the consumer browser operates outside IT infrastructure.

True, third-party digital vendors power today’s robust and feature-rich websites and apps; the downside, however, is that their code execution goes largely unchecked, enabling unauthorized and unmonitored data tracking. This applies to not only known third-party vendors, but also other vendors with whom they are associated—frequently an external provider needs to call a fourth, fifth and sixth party to help execute its requested service. This essentially means that not only do organizations need to get their own house in order, they need to ensure their digital vendors do so as well.

Reliance on web application security tools (appsec) to holistically monitor website and app code is misguided since current web appsec tools are inadequate in capturing third-party code execution. Additionally, security and compliance professionals aren’t fully aware of the amount of consumer data collection activity that takes place–such as cookie drops, pixel fires, device ID fingerprint collection, and more. When GDPR goes live in May 2018, Ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law excuses not) will not be a valid defense when confronted with a data privacy violation. It comes as little surprise that around 86% of organizations worldwide are concerned about GDPR noncompliance.

What goes online stays online

One of GDPR’s key requirements centers around personal online behavior data—specifically information collected from an individual’s digital activity, i.e., websites visited, links clicked, forms submitted, etc.–and imposes restrictions on its safe transfer outside the European Union to other businesses or legal entities. Organizations will need a clear understanding of whose data is being collected, what data is being collected, what it is used for, and, if the data subject resides within the EU, where this information is being transferred and confidence that it is adequately protected!

Thanks to the density of code executing behind today’s websites and mobile apps this data inventory task is easier said than done.

Data documentation is much harder than companies anticipate, particularly for media and ecommerce websites offering digital display advertising space. Ultimately companies will need to ensure each of their advertising partners do not engage in activity which could put their organization or customer data in violation of GDPR.

Let’s not forget that recent website security breaches also demonstrate that third-parties are often the weakest link in the security chain. While an organization may employ rigorous security controls around physical vendors and contracted partners, they fail to extend the same rigor to their digital counterparts. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 33% of attacks experienced by enterprises will be as a result of shadow IT resources. Based on this evidence it is no wonder the GDPR focuses so heavily on third-party relationships. Clearly, when it comes to unchecked third-party code on websites and mobile apps, it isn’t just compliance risks but significant security risks that enterprises need to consider. How do firms control something they enable but don’t see and can ill-afford to ignore?

Limiting the risks

The odds are stacked against enterprise website operators, but creating a holistic digital vendor risk management program is a step in the right direction. The first step is documenting a few basic facts about your specific digital environment by asking website teams the following:

1. How many third-party vendors execute on websites and mobile apps?
2. What are the names of these vendors?
3. What exactly are they doing, i.e., intended purpose and also any additional, out-of-scope activity?
4. Do we have contracts to authorize the scope of the work?
5. How does third-party vendor activity affect overall website and mobile app performance?
6. What are the risks to data privacy?
7. What is my business’s exposure to regulatory risk via vendor behavior?
8. Is my organization maintaining encryption throughout the code execution chain?
9. As these vendors change over time, what is the process to identify new vendors and their activity on websites and apps?
10. Have Data Compliance policies been communicated to digital vendors?

Once these questions are successfully (or satisfactorily) answered, they should be revisited on a regular basis. Continuous monitoring of the digital environment helps create a compliance mechanism that alerts you to violations.

Organizations must then, of course, strive to document how their third-party partners handle this same data—another GDPR requirement. This information is critical to ensuring customer data is not being put at risk at any time regardless of data holder. In effect, both your organization and your third parties need to develop, communicate and enforce the policies, processes and technologies necessary to support all digital-related aspects of GDPR, from consumer online behavior data collection, use, storage and transfer.

When the regulation comes into force, enterprises that look at this as a key opportunity to protect user/ consumer data, and their own brand, could establish a competitive advantage. The end result should also translate to fewer breaches, less opportunities for cybercriminals, and a much safer cyberspace. The internet’s Pandora’s box may have been opened, but it doesn’t have to spread evil into the world.

5 Reasons to Focus on Malware Delivery Mechanisms

Authored by Chris Olson, CEO and Co-Founder, The Media Trust.

Originally published by Security Magazine

Malware Delivery Mechanism

Defending against today’s pervasive web-based malware is not as straightforward and simple as it used to be. According to Symantec’s Monthly Threat report, the number of web attacks almost doubled in April of this year alone, up from 584,000 per day to 1,038,000 per day. Bad actors – seasoned cyber criminals, hacktivists, insiders, script kiddies and more – target premium, frequently whitelisted websites with varied motives such as financial, espionage and sabotage, to name a few. These web-based attacks are more targeted, complex and hard to detect, and when an employee visits an infected website, the damage to an enterprise network can be debilitating. Traditional security defenses like blacklists, whitelists, generic threat intelligence, AVs, web filters and firewalls fail to offer comprehensive protection. An alternative security approach is necessary, especially when working with malware data.

Managing malware data needs a paradigm shift

Currently, Information Security Professionals (InfoSec) and IT teams are trained to focus on the context of the web-based malware: What the payload might be; Is it replicating or morphing; Where’s the payload analysis; Who is targeting the website and why; along with a host of other variables. These are definitely valid questions, but should only be asked after action is taken to block it – not in order to take action.

Using existing analysis tactics to assess the ever-increasing volume of malware information is a Sisyphean task in the digital environment. The time it takes to agree that something is malicious is in direct proportion to your network’s exposure to web-based malware.

It’s time for InfoSec and IT teams to take a new, proactive approach to shielding customers and Internet real estate from web-based malware. It starts with adopting this simpler definition of malware: “Any code, program or application that behaves abnormally or that has an unwarranted presence on a device, network or digital asset.”

In essence, any code or behavior not germane to the intended execution of a web-based asset is considered malware. While this definition covers the obvious overt offenders it also includes seemingly non-malicious items including toolbars, redirects, bot drops, etc. Adopting a simple, yet broad definition enables you to focus on shielding your enterprise network from a wide range of active and potential malware attacks.

Understanding the digital environment is critical to breaking the analysis paralysis cycle and replacing it with a “block and tackle” approach. To do so, IT professionals need to focus on what matters: identifying the delivery mechanism in order to stop malware from penetrating the enterprise network. Here are five reasons why you should focus on the delivery mechanism:

Reason 1: Temporal malware is still dangerous

Web-based malware or malware delivered via the consumer internet (websites a typical person visits in the course of their daily activities, such as news, weather, travel, social and ecommerce sites) is fleeting and temporal. Research from The Media Trust reveals that in many scenarios web-based malware is active for as short as a few hours, giving little time for a deep dive analysis before blocking offending domains. If you spend time on analysis, you are a target for compromise because if the malware doesn’t infect your organization at the outset, it will most likely morph into another malicious domain or code to retarget the website with something more debilitating such as ransomware or keystroke logging.

Reason 2: Non-overt malware will turn on you eventually

Malware does not necessarily need to be complex or overtly malicious right from the start or upon initial detection. Annoying or seemingly innocuous behavior such as out-of-browser redirects, excessive cookie use, non-human clicks/actions or toolbar drops qualify as malware. While these behaviors may initially appear benign, they will frequently reveal their true intention upon a closer look at both Indicators of Threat (IOC) and Patterns of Attack (POA).

It happens quite often and reports suggest that every year researchers track 500+ malware evasion tactics used to bypass detection. For instance, a recent attack on several small and medium-tier ecommerce websites demonstrates malicious domains executing over varying time intervals and, in at least one instance, move from website to website across various geographies in order to avoid detection. In other instances, malware is specifically coded to look benign and only execute when certain conditions are met, e.g., geography, device, user profile or combinations of conditions. Taking weeks or months, this delayed execution is an effective technique to evade detection by most scanners. An auto-refresh ad on the browser or an alert to update software could be a red flag.

Reason 3: What’s in a name? 

While names are understandably necessary to tag malware, there is a tendency to initially fixate on labels rather than block the malware itself. For professionals in the frontlines of trying to stop web-based malware from infecting the enterprise network, focusing on the name can increase the dwell time and do more harm than good. Instead compromised domains will give teams better insight and allow them to block the malware from penetrating networks.

Reason 4: Past malware doesn’t predict future attacks

Just because malware is validated with a name or belongs to a recognized family; it does not always mean that information to defend against future attacks is necessarily reliable. The polymorphic nature of web-based malware allows it to propagate via different domains in various shapes and forms – embed malicious code on a web page through a particular CMS platform, execute an out-of-browser redirect, or present a fake system update alert. Not only is the delivery channel constantly changing, but also the actual intent and payload may change as well. Relying on past research is not a foolproof defense when it comes to ever-changing malware propagating in the digital ecosystem, which is a complex, mostly opaque environment.

Reason 5: Death by analysis

Extensive analysis of web-based malware before blocking it could have severe repercussions – either by way of a corrupted endpoint or a larger network breach. Once web-based malware reach endpoints, it is already past the security perimeter which means remediation efforts are necessary. According to reports, the average cost for an enterprise to clean up a web-based attack is estimated to be $96,000 and more.  Think of how many resources – people, time, money – could be saved if malware was immediately blocked upon detection.

By focusing on the delivery mechanism, security professionals can take a proactive stance to harden website defenses against web-based malware and also significantly reduce the time to action when it comes to securing endpoints and the enterprise networks. Real-time response is required or it provides the perfect window of opportunity for an attack to be successful.

Agencies and the Ad Quality Quandary

Authored by Chris Olson, CEO and Co-Founder, The Media Trust.

Increasing advertiser demands turn the wheels of change for agencies.

Media buyers and ad quality

There’s no denying that two major phenomena are actively reshaping the existing digital advertising supply chain:

  1. Accountability is being pushed upstream

Not long ago, digital publishers bore the brunt of the blame, shame and liability (financial and legal) for ad-related problems such as performance issues, unauthorized collection of audience data, and security concerns (malvertising). Today, armed with more public awareness (in the form of ad blocking, among others), industry best practices (e.g., TAG, IAB LEAN) and regulations (GDPR anyone?), publishers are finally pushing back on upstream partners when policy-flouting ads are served to their digital environments. And, many partners are listening. Now, several other ad tech players on the buy side of the digital supply chain are joining this publisher revolt and to direct accountability for creative issues to their upstream partners.

  1. Advertisers have spoken

Earlier this month, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, P&G’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard didn’t mince words when it came to expressing his irritation with everyone’s acceptance of serious flaws with the digital advertising supply chain. While he highlighted the complexities of digital advertising and confusing agency contracts, what stood out were his comments on the quality of the digital ad experience for consumers:

“Sometimes we deliver a high-quality media experience, but all too often the experience is, well, crappy. We bombard consumers with thousands of ads a day, subject them to endless ad load times, interrupt them with pop-ups and overpopulate their screens and feeds…”

This comment from the world’s biggest advertiser underscores the importance of digital ad quality in regards to what is being “presented” to audiences today and rightfully so. According to recent research, the consumer packed goods (CPG) industry spends almost 20% of their $225 billion annual marketing budget on digital advertising, yet retailers and shoppers alike gave digital advertising low marks for effectiveness. This provides further impetus for more advertisers to focus on improving the digital ad experience, thus putting the sell-side is under immense pressure to not just launch high-quality ads into the digital supply chain but to prove that those are high-quality ads.

New priorities, New challenges

As the digital ad ecosystem evolves, agencies and media buyers need to re-establish trust with both consumers and advertisers. The first step is adopting industry best practices and standards for ad quality and security. This includes being judicious about audience data collection activity and keeping abreast of the ever-evolving guidelines for a plethora of ad formats.

Agencies have a lot of work to do. As depicted in the image 1, most media buyers today need to take a more farsighted approach to campaign development and scanning. The assumption that an ad, upon entrance into the digital ecosystem, is exactly the same when it renders on a website showcases this ignorance. To meet changing advertiser demands for a better digital ad experience, agencies need to look at:

Creative vs. Total Ad Experience Characteristics

Image 1

Simply put: agencies need to adopt a more comprehensive view of the entire ad experience – creative + ad (the actual creative with all the corresponding analytics code) + landing page, not just the creative. 

A paradigm shift in agency priorities is required. Agencies and media buyers are under unprecedented scrutiny to address ad quality as they are where creatives originate. Their inability to meet the changing demands of both advertisers and publishers directly impact the following areas:  

  • Ability to Launch and Serve Ads

As ad formats and standards continue to evolve, meeting these specs across publishers, platforms, and networks impact your ability to serve ads

  • Ad Spend and Campaigns

Delays in launching campaigns jeopardize ad spend and campaign metrics. Also, the inability to verify the campaign and its success – is the ad getting served the way it should be and to the target audience – could damage relationships with advertisers

  • Brand Image

Noncompliance with complex and changing regulations damage brand image and lead to penalties potentially for the advertiser, publisher and the agency itself

Pressure changes the status quo

While the brief to media buyers about what to do and what is expected is clear, it will be interesting to see how agencies actually adapt to the changing digital advertising landscape. Balancing advertiser demands while trying to achieve operational efficiencies and scale and trying to win a turf war against big consulting firms can prove to be a heavy lift for agencies. These bi-directional pressures coming from advertisers on one end and published on the other end of the digital ad supply chain will force revolutionary change. If done right, the end result is a transformed digital advertising ecosystem: positive UX via an optimized and profitably monetized channel.

Chasing the Revenue Dragon

While chasing the smoky revenue dragon, publishers miss a different monster: Data Leakage.dragon-fotolia_34730412_s

In October The Guardian’s Chief Revenue Officer revealed[1] that numerous ad tech providers in the ad supply chain were extracting up to 70% of advertisers’ money without quantifying the value to the brand. Yes, this revenue loss situation is eye opening, but it’s not the only activity affecting your bottom line. Protecting your data assets is critical for maintaining and maximizing revenue. Inability to control digital audience data within the supply chain is a catalyst for revenue loss. The looming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulations, that take effect in May 2018, makes the case for data protection that much stronger.

Data: a Publisher’s lifeblood

Every digital publisher intrinsically knows that one of their most valuable assets is their audience data – it drives a publisher’s stickiness with lucrative advertisers, their inventory value, and ultimately their brand image.

Data leakage is the unauthorised transfer of information from one entity to another. In the digital ad ecosystem, data loss traditionally occurred when a brand or marketing agency collected publishers’ audience data and reused it without authorisation. Today, this scenario is much more convoluted due to the volume of players in the digital advertising landscape, causing data loss to steadily permeate the entire digital ad industry.

Publishers lose when they can’t control their valuable consumer data:

1. Depleted market share: With your audience data in their hands, advertisers and ad tech providers can always go to other publications and target the exact audiences, thereby devaluing your brand.

2. Reduced ad pricing:  When advertisers or ad tech providers can purchase your audience at a fraction of the cost it decreases the demand for your ads, thus devaluing your ad prices.

3. Exposure to regulatory penalties & risk mitigation: Collection and use of consumer data is a publisher’s prerogative, but protection of this data is a weighty responsibility. Inability to safeguard data gathered from your website leaves a publisher vulnerable to running afoul of government regulations. Saying the penalties under GDPR are severe is an understatement. The repercussion of noncompliance is losing up to 4% of your total global turnover or €20 million, whichever is greater.

4. Reputation loss: Ultimately, data loss and any news of noncompliance could negatively affect consumer trust and brand reputation.

The hands behind data loss

On average, The Media Trust detects at least 10 parties contributing to the execution or delivery of a single digital ad, and this is a conservative figure considering that frequently this number is as high as 30, and at times more than 100, depending on the size of the campaign, type of ad, and so forth. The contributing parties are typically DSPs, SSPs, Ad Exchanges, Trading Desks, DMPs, CDNs and other middlemen who actively participate in the delivery of the ad as it traverses from advertiser to publisher. Any upstream player, including the advertiser or original buyer, has access to a publisher’s proprietary audience data if not monitored for compliance.

The advertising ecosystem isn’t the only offender. The bulk of third-party vendor code that executes on the publisher’s website goes unmonitored, exposing the publisher to excessive and unauthorised data collection. In these cases, a publisher’s own website acts as a sieve leaking audience data into the digital ecosystem.

Ending the chase

Resolving revenue lost from data leakage isn’t an unsolvable conundrum, but one that can be addressed by applying the following:

  1. Data Collection: Get smart about the tools used for assuring clean ads and content. Your solution provider for ad quality should check for ad security, quality, performance and help with data protection. Reducing excessive data collection is the first step in addressing data leakage.
  1. Data Access: With GDPR, EU-US Privacy Shield, and many more such timely regulations and programs, the onus is on the publisher to understand what data activity their upstream partners engage in via advertising. Instead of today’s rampant mistrust, the supply chain must move to accountability for non-compliant behavior.
  1. Governance: Publishers absolutely need to start adopting and enforcing stricter terms and conditions around data collection and data use.

Ultimately, every publisher needs to monitor and govern third-party partners on their website to close loopholes that facilitate data leakage before pointing fingers at others.

The Great Data Leakage Whodunit

Safeguarding valuable, first-party data isn’t as easy as you think

If your job is even remotely connected to the digital advertising ecosystem, you are probably aware that data leakage has plagued publishers for many years. But you are most likely still in the dark about the scope and gravity of this issue. Simply put, data leakage is the unauthorized transfer of information from one entity to another. In the digital ad ecosystem, this data loss traditionally occurred when a brand or marketing agency collected publishers’ audience data and reused it without authorization. Today, this scenario is much more complicated due to the sheer number of players across the digital advertising landscape, which causes data loss to steadily permeate the entire digital ad industry, and leading to a “whodunit” pandemonium.

Surveying the Scene

On average, at The Media Trust we detect at least 10 parties contributing to the execution or delivery of a single digital ad, and this is a conservative figure considering that frequently this number is as high as 30, and in some cases more than 100, depending on the size of the campaign, type of ad, and so forth. The other contributing parties are typically DSPs, SSPs, Ad Exchanges, Trading Desks, CDNs and other middlemen that actively participate in the delivery of the ad as it moves from advertiser to publisher. Just imagine the cacophony of “not me!” that breaks out when unauthorized data collection is detected. To make matters worse: few understand how data leakage impacts their business and ultimately, the consumer. As a result, an unwieldy game of whodunit is afoot.

Sniffing out the culprit(s)

To unravel this data leakage mystery, let’s get down to brass tacks and build a basic story around just four actors: Bill the Luxury Traveler (Consumer), Brooke the Brand Marketer (Brand), Blair the Audience Researcher (Agency), and Ben the Ad Operations Director (Publisher).

data-leakage-who-dunnit

Bill the Luxury Traveler

Case File: As a typical consumer, Bill researched vacation package for his favorite Aspen resort on a popular travel website. He found a great bargain but wasn’t ready to make the final booking. As he spent the next few days thinking about his decision, he noticed ads for completely different resorts on almost every website he visited. How did “they” know he wants to travel?

Prime Suspects: Bill blames his favorite resort and the leading travel website for not protecting or, even worse, selling his personal data.

Brooke the Brand Marketer

Case File: Brooke is the marketer for a popular Aspen luxury resort. She invested a sizeable percentage of her marketing budget on an agency that specialized in audience research and paid a premium to advertise on a website frequented by consumers like Bill. To her dismay, she realized that this exact target audience is being served ads for competitive resorts on several other websites. How did her competitors know to target the same audience?

Prime Suspects: Brooke questions her ad agency leaking her valuable audience information to the ad ecosystem and also fears the leading travel website does not adequately safeguard audience data. What Brooke does not suspect is her own brand website, which could by itself be a sieve that filters audience data into the hands of competitors and bad actors alike.

Blair the Audience Researcher

Case File: With a decade of experience serving hospitality clients, Blair’s agency specializes in market research to understand the target audience and recommend digital placements for advertising campaigns. However, one of Blair’s prestigious clients questioned her about the potential use of the brand’s proprietary audience data by competitors. How does she prove the client-specific value of her research and justify the premium spend?

Prime Suspects: Blair is concerned about the backlash from her clients and the impact on the agency’s reputation. She now has to discuss the issue with her trading desk partner to understand what happened, but she is unaware that she is about to go down a rabbit hole that could lead right back to her client or the client’s brand website as the main culprit.

Ben the Director of Ad Operations:

Case File: Ben is the Director of Ad Operations for a premium travel website. As a digital publisher, the sanctity of his visitor/audience data directly translates to revenue. In this scenario, he suffered when his valuable audience data floated around the digital ecosystem without proper compensation Almost every upstream partner had access to his audience data and could collect it without permission. When his data leaked it devalued ad pricing, reduced market share and customer trust, and also raised data privacy concerns. How does he detect data leakage and catch the offending party?

Prime Suspects: Everyone. Publishers like Ben are tired of this whodunit scenario and the resulting finger-pointing. While ad exchanges and networks receive a bulk of the blame for data collection, he is aware that many agencies, brand marketers and their brand websites play a role in this caper, too.

And at the end of the day, consumers, people like Bill whose personal data is stolen, are ultimate the victims of this mysterious game.

Guilty until proven innocent

While the whole data leakage mystery is complex, it can be cracked. The first step is accepting that the entire display industry is riddled with mistrust and every participant is guilty until proven innocent. Several publishers, responsible DSPs, trading desks, exchanges, marketing agencies and brands have already taken it upon themselves to solve this endless whodunit. To bolster their innocence, these participants need to carefully review:

  1. Data Collection: Get smart about the tools used for assuring clean ads and content. Your solution provider should check for ad security, quality, performance and help with data protection. Reducing excessive data collection is the first step in addressing data leakage.
  1. Data Access: With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), EU-US Privacy Shield, and many more such timely regulations, the onus is on every player in the digital ad ecosystem to understand what data their upstream and downstream partners can access and collect via ads. Instead of today’s blame game, the industry should slowly see accountability for non-compliant behavior.
  1. Governance: Every entity across the ad ecosystem should adopt and enforce stricter terms and conditions around data collection and data use. This is especially crucial for publishers and brands – the two endpoints of the digital ad landscape.

Ultimately, every participant in the digital advertising ecosystem first needs to monitor and govern their own website in an attempt to close loopholes that facilitate data leakage before pointing fingers at others.

You know nothing, CISO

Shadow IT can stab you in the back

CISO work overload

Disclaimer: This blog post contains strong references to Game of Thrones. Memes courtesy of ImgFlip. 

You, CISO, are a brave warrior who fights unknown threats from all corners of the digital world. You, CISO, try with all your might to manage an increasingly complex digital ecosystem of malware, exploit kits, Trojans, unwanted toolbars, annoying redirects and more. You, CISO, wrangle a shortage of security professionals and an overload of security solutions. You, CISO, have lost sleep over protecting your enterprise network and endpoints. You, CISO, are aware of the lurking threat of shadow IT, but you CISO, know nothing until you understand that your own corporate website is one of the biggest contributors of shadow IT.

Beware of your Corporate Website

Did you know it’s likely you are only monitoring around 20–25% of the code executing on your website? The remaining 75-80% is provided by third-parties who operate outside the IT infrastructure. You may think website application firewall (WAF) and the various other types of web app security tools like Dynamic Application Security (DAST), Static Application Security (SAST), and Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) adequately protect your website. News flash: these applications only monitor owned and operated code. In fact, they can’t even properly see third-party code as it’s triggered by user profiles. There is a dearth of security solutions that can emulate a true end user experience to detect threats.

Think about it, if there are so many traditional website security solutions available, why do websites still get compromised? This third-party code presents a multitude of opportunities for malware to enter your website and attack your website visitors–customers and employees alike–with the end goal to ultimately compromise endpoints and the enterprise network.

Shadow IT in the corporate website

Avoid the Shame!

Practical CISOs will keep these hard facts in mind:

1.  There is no true king

You could argue that marketing is the rightful king to the Iron Throne of your corporate website since it is responsible for the UX, messaging, branding and so forth. But the enterprise website requires so much more. Every department has a stake: IT, legal, ad ops (if you have an advertising-supported website), security and finance, to name a few. Each department’s differing objectives may lead to adoption of unsanctioned programs, plugins and widgets to meet their needs. As a result, the website’s third-party code operates outside the purview of IT and security. Further complicating matters, there is no one department or person to be accountable when the website is compromised. This makes it hard for security teams to detect a compromise via third-party code and easier for malware to evade traditional security tools. In the absence of ownership, the CISO is blamed.

2.  Malware is getting more evil

Bad actors continue to hone their malware delivery techniques. They use malicious code to fingerprint or steal information to develop a device profile which can be used to evade detection by security research systems and networks. Furthermore, web-based malware can also remain benign in a sandbox environment or be dormant until triggered to become overt at a later date.

3. You’re afraid of everyone’s website…but your own

You know the perils of the internet and have adopted various strategies to protect your network from the evils of world wide web. From black and white listing to firewall monitoring and ad blocking, these defenses help guard against intrusion. But what about your website?

As previously stated, everyday web-enablement programs such as a video platform or content recommendation engine operate outside the IT infrastructure. The more dynamic and function rich your website is, the more you are at risk of a breach from third-party vendor code. Below is a not so exhaustive list of apps and programs contributing third-party code:

  • RSS Feed
  • News Feed
  • Third Party Partner Widgets
  • Third Party Content MS Integrations
  • Third Party Digital Asset MS Integrations
  • Third Party ECommerce Platforms
  • Image Submission Sites
  • Ad Tags
  • Video Hosting Platform
  • Crowd Sharing Functionality
  • File Sharing Functionality
  • Customer Authentication Platforms
  • Third-Party Software Development (SD) Kits
  • Social Media Connectors
  • Marketing Software
  • Visitor Tracking Software

Stick ‘em with the pointy end

Yes, we know, what lies beyond the realm of your security team’s watchful eye is truly scary. But now that you know that your website’s third-party vendor code is a major contributor of shadow IT, you can more effectively address website security within your overall IT governance framework.