Putting a precision payload on top of more generic malware makes perfect sense for malware operators
Virus Bulletin this year brought a fresh batch of amped-up, refreshed malware with lots more horsepower and devilish amounts of custom-tailored targeting. From singled-out political activist individual targets to regionalized targets, malware’s aim is getting better.
Putting a precision payload on top of more generic malware makes sense. Why forklift a whole new stack under your exploit when you can just replace the tip of the spear to best effect? For example, Lyceum seems like a redo after Talos and others got wise to previous operations. But much of the secret sauce came from threat actors just tacking on some interesting bits like turning the IP octets into four ASCII encoded commands for the C&C server, which is kind of cool.
For malware operators, there’s a certain deniability in using standard tools, which thwarts malware analysis efforts if much of the evidence is a mash-up of standard tools. How would you prove who did it with high confidence? This year we also saw plenty of “technical overlap” where shifts from prior POS hack malware to “big game hunting” ransomware basically follow the money with the smallest possible effort.
Another trend: Highly targeted, nation-state-flavored malware. Political activists in particular are a perennial target (thanks Amnesty International for insight following on from Netscout/Bitdefender work), with hackers tempting targets via malicious smartphone apps for families from the Stealjob/Knspy Donot team. When installed, the rogue app prompts for elevated Android access permissions, then records screen and keyboard input. Attackers tag team with email, and even try to get better at language localization to seem more legitimate (their French wasn’t very good in earlier attempts).
Another thing, PowerShell is the rather new darling for doing bad things on computer targets. Due to more extensive capabilities, it now can provide a host of functionality that can wreak havoc and provides a useful control panel for threat actors like file exfiltration, download of future payloads and interaction with C&C servers.
And if PowerShell is the new hotness on end-user computers, it’s just that much better on a Windows server. That’s almost game over for an affected server, and attackers have definitely noticed this year, crafting ever-more-powerful assaults against the platform.
Not to be outdone, we still have the perennial low-level target: UEFI. ESET researchers recently found a new entrant called ESPecter that alters the boot process via its ESP component, ramping up super-stealthy malware hiding spots that give security software fits.
How do you defend against these kinds of malware? Surprisingly, simple mistakes like spelling errors are still baked into the malicious exploits, like one that misspelled “backdoor” and then copied the misspelling to multiple files, thereby providing a strong thread of a clue.
Ironically, in most of the investigations highlighted, it’s striking how many pieces in the puzzle came together ultimately due to a “fortuitous discovery”: that means the researchers got lucky somewhere along the way. This may also mean finding something obvious posted on the public web that helps identify the malware authors by usernames still left on social media somewhere that clearly links to the operator identities. It’s funny, in the shadowy workings of the researcher’s palette, how often luck reigns.
Speaking of threat actors for hire, special mention goes to the name contest that must’ve been behind the “Operation Hangover” hacker-for-hire group, regardless of their level of success, which I suppose may be related in some way to the clues represented therein.
We’re looking forward to Virus Bulletin next year in Prague – we hope.
Anatomy of native IIS malware (available also as a series of articles and a white paper on WeLiveSecurity)
Sandworm: reading the indictment between the lines (see also this research on WeLiveSecurity)
Security: the hidden cost of Android stalkerware (available also as an article and a white paper here on WeLiveSecurity)
“Fool Us!”, or is it “Us Fools!”? … 11 “Fools” years later…
Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.
The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.
“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.
Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.
The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.
The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.
For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.
Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.
In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.
Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.
The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.
Why Was Sam Altman Fired? Possible Ties to China D2 (Double Dragon) Data from Hackers
Theories are going around the internet why Sam Altman was fired. On an insider tech forum (Blind) – one person claims to know by third-hand account and how this news will trickle into the media over the next couple of weeks.
It’s said OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models, which includes GPT-4. This data was obtained through a hidden business contract with a D2 shell company called Whitefly, which was based in Singapore. This D2 group has the largest and biggest crawling/indexing/scanning capacity in the world 10x more than Alphabet Inc (Google), hence the deal so Open AI could get their hands on vast quantities of data for training after exhausting their other options.
The Chinese government became aware of this arrangement and raised concerns with the Biden administration. As a result, the NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed that OpenAI had been using data from D2. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, which is a major investor in OpenAI, was informed of the findings and ordered Altman’s removal.
There was also suggestion that Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board. This lack of candor ultimately led to his dismissal and is what the board publicly alluded to when they said “not consistently candid in his communications with the board.”
To summarize what happened with Sam Altman’s firing:
1. Sam Altman was removed from OpenAI due to his ties to a Chinese cyber army group.
2.OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models.
3. The Chinese government raised concerns about this arrangement with the Biden administration.
4. The NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed OpenAI’s use of D2 data.
5. Satya Nadella ordered Altman’s removal after being informed of the findings.
6. Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board.
We’ll see in the next couple of weeks if this story holds up or not.
AMAZON says cloud operating normally after outage left publishers unable to operate websites…
SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon’s cloud computing unit Amazon Web Services experienced an outage on Tuesday, affecting publishers that suddenly found themselves unable to operate their sites.
The company said on its website that the root cause of the issue was tied to a service called AWS Lambda, which lets customers run code for different types of applications.
Roughly two hours after customers began experiencing errors, the company posted on its AWS status page that many of the affected AWS services were “fully recovered” and it was continuing to recover the rest. Soon after 6:30 pm E.T., the company announced all AWS services were operating normally.
Amazon said it had experienced multiple error rates for AWS services in the Northern Virginia region where it clusters data centers. The company said customers may be dealing with authentication or sign-in errors when using some AWS services, and experiencing challenges when attempting to connect with AWS Support. The issue with Lambda also indirectly affected other AWS services.
Patrick Neighorn, a company spokesperson, declined to provide additional details about the outage.
AWS is the market leader in the cloud arena, and its customers include some of the world’s biggest businesses and organizations, such as Netflix, Coca-Cola and government agencies.
Tuesday’s outage was first confirmed shortly after 3 p.m. ET. and it was unclear how widespread the problem extended. But many companies, including news organizations such as The Verge and Penn Live, said they were experiencing issues. The Associated Press was also hampered by the outage, unable to operate their sites amid breaking news that former President Donald Trump was appearing in court in Miami.
Morgan Durrant, a spokesperson for Delta Air Lines, said the company experienced “some slowing of inbound calls for some minutes” on Tuesday afternoon. But he said the outage did not impact bookings, flights or other airport operations.
The episode on Tuesday is reminiscent of a much longer AWS outage in December 2021, which affected a host of U.S. companies for more than five hours.
The outage comes as Amazon is holding a two-day security conference in Anaheim, California to tout its cloud offerings to its clients or other companies that might be interested in storing their data on its vast network of servers around the world. Companies have been cutting back their spending on the unit, causing growth to slow during the most recent quarter.