Security Experts:

You Can't Find What You're Not Looking For Because of Goat Parkour

SSL Encryption

Following the “Snowden leaks” of 2013, the trend toward encrypting all Internet traffic spread faster than Pokemon GO. Pre-Snowden, it’s estimated that less than three percent of all Internet traffic was encrypted. Today, estimates run as high as 70 percent.

While an all-encrypted Internet is great for personal privacy, it’s a double-edged sword for organizations trying to protect their networks and internal resources from fraud, malware, and data theft. The problem is that the same encryption measures designed to protect data also hide the bad stuff from administrators.

When a system on a corporate network (or any network, for that matter) is infected with malware and becomes part of a botnet, it’s under the control of a botmaster who sends the bot instructions to carry out any number of nefarious deeds. In the past, security solutions like firewalls, IDSs, and sandboxes, would alert you to this kind of malicious activity because these solutions were able to intercept and inspect unencrypted traffic. 

Today, that’s all changed with the majority of Internet traffic being encrypted. Among the many methods hackers use to communicate and send instructions to bots, one of the most popular is a “call back” via HTTPS to the attacker’s command and control (C2 or C&C but not C&C music factory) site. It’s a clever tactic, because Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) encrypted traffic has become so common today that the attack communication with bots now goes undetected by these security solutions. The unfortunate result is that the security solutions IT has relied on for years to alert them to malicious code are sending out far fewer alerts.

So that’s the problem. But how bad is it?

Numbers on exactly how much enterprise traffic is encrypted are hard to come by. Yes, some ISPs can tell you, but they’re seeing lots of encrypted Netflix and goat parkour videos on YouTube. And that’s not what we’re interested in. (Yes, we will wait while you see if goat parkour is really a thing.)

So to figure out how much enterprise traffic is encrypted, IDC conducted a survey of infosecurity professionals at over 300 firms across the United States. The survey found that 90 percent of respondents believe their visibility into network traffic is significantly diminished by SSL-encrypted traffic. Yet, surprisingly, only 25 percent said their organizations decrypt and inspect inbound and outbound communications for potential threats.

 Other highlights from the 2016 IDC encryption survey.

• 50-75 percent of today’s attacks are shrouded in encrypted communication

• SSL/TLS inspection is enabled in less than half of all security appliances

• Increased use of Office 365, web-based applications, social media, and other popular websites accounts for the rise in SSL/TLS traffic

• Bandwidth requirements for handling such encrypted traffic are already approaching 100 Gbps and are expected to increase 20 percent over the next three years

You can read the full IDC report here.

Related Reading: SSL Encryption - Keep Your Head in the Game

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David Holmes, CISSP, is a security researcher and a low-rent technical evangelist. He has a background in cryptography, application security, architecture, and development. He has spoken at more than 50 conferences, including RSA, InfoSec Europe, the Australian CyberSecurity Conference, and Gartner Data Center. He researches and writes regularly about cryptography, the Internet of Things, malware, policy, vulnerabilities, technical solutions, and the security industry in general as an expert contributor at SecurityWeek. Holmes studied Computer Science and Engineering Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and has awards from Toastmasters International. On Twitter he is @capmblade.