Criminals have adapted their attacks from generic and indiscriminate to personalized and targeted. Attackers continue to pursue personally identifiable information, but now this is used in targeted personalised emails that lure businesses to click and download malware. Spear phishing attacks can result in successful network compromises and data theft. The market opportunity today is for intellectual property (IP) and corporate credentials – we’ll look at a couple of examples shortly. Versatile, drag-and-drop toolkits allow criminals endless permutations of attack options, pursuing smaller businesses as the larger organizations improve their defences. Every business has a bank account, a customer database, a product design, or some other asset of value. Even if no data is stolen, every compromised system can add free compute cycles to a spam botnet.
The Operation Aurora source code thefts at Symantec, Google, Adobe, Intel and Morgan Stanley, targeted IP. They used multiple stages and avenues to enter the network and navigate to the data that had value. Many of them incorporated personal data gleaned from social media, as well as zero-day vulnerabilities. The first item of value stolen was often access credentials. Stolen credentials can open the doors to administration of the database, Web or email server. If it is the CFO’s credentials, it can be the authentication required to take over and withdraw funds from the corporate bank account.
The RSA attack in March 2011 theft of two-factor authentication data from RSA (a division of EMC) shows the strategic nature of these attacks: the intellectual property they stole from RSA “could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of a current two-factor authentication implementation as part of a broader attack,” allowing criminals to break in at enterprises around the world.
RSA was hacked some time in the first half of March 2011 when an employee was successfully spear phished and opened an infected spreadsheet. As soon as the spreadsheet was opened, a zero day payload permitted the installation of a backdoor Trojan (Poison Ivy). From there, the attackers basically had free reign of RSA’s internal network, which led to the eventual dissemination of data pertaining to RSA’s two-factor authenticators.”
A team of hackers from French security firm Vupen dismantled Chrome’s security to win an HP-sponsored hackathon. And while Google paid a $60,000 award to each of the two hackers who won its event on the condition that they tell Google every detail of their attacks and help the company fix the vulnerabilities they had used, Vupen’s chief executive and lead hacker, Chaouki Bekrar, says his company never had any intention of telling Google its secret techniques—certainly not for $60,000 in chump change. “ We wouldn’t share this with Google for even $1 million,” says Bekrar. “We don’t want to give them any knowledge that can help them in fixing this exploit or other similar exploits. We want to keep this for our customers.” Those customers, after all, don’t aim to fix Google’s security bugs or those of any other commercial software vendor. They’re government agencies who purchase such “zero-day” exploits, or hacking techniques that use undisclosed flaws in software, with the explicit intention of invading or disrupting the computers and phones of crime suspects and intelligence targets.
How does advanced malware get past traditional barriers? Firewalls: no use if the user opens a mail attachment containing a well-disguised zero-day exploit! IPS: Signatures, packet inspection, DNS analysis and heuristics will not detect anything unusual in a zero-day exploit, especially if the code is heavily disguised or delivered in stages Antivirus: Since the malware and the vulnerability it exploits are unknown (zero-day), traditional antivirus will not detect it. The volume of vulnerabilities in browser plug-ins like Adobe and the exponential combinations of these browsers with operating systems make it hard for antivirus vendors to keep up. Email spam filtering: Spoofed phishing sites use dynamic domains and URLs, so blacklisting lags behind criminal activities. It takes more than two days to shut down the average phishing site. Malicious code can also be carried in on laptops or USB devices, infecting a machine and spreading within the network. In general, even up-to-date machines can be infected using zero-day exploits and social engineering techniques, especially when the system is off the corporate network. Eventually, the code will phone home to the criminal for further instructions, a new payload or to deliver login credentials, financial data and other valuables. Many compromised hosts provide a privileged base so the criminal can explore further or expand his botnet with new victims. Most organisations don’t analyse outbound traffic for these malicious transmissions and destinations. Those organizations that do monitor outbound transmissions use tools that look for “known” bad actor addresses and regulated data
Out of the Blue: Responding to New Zero-Day Threats
Out of the Blue:Responding to New Zero-Day Threats An Ethical Hacker’s View Peter Wood Chief Executive Officer First Base Technologies LLP