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Latest Astaroth living-off-the-land attacks are even more invisible but not less observable

March 23rd, 2020 No comments

Following a short hiatus, Astaroth came back to life in early February sporting significant changes in its attack chain. Astaroth is an info-stealing malware that employs multiple fileless techniques and abuses various legitimate processes to attempt running undetected on compromised machines. The updated attack chain, which we started seeing in late 2019, maintains Astaroth’s complex, multi-component nature and continues its pattern of detection evasion.

Figure 1. Microsoft Defender ATP data showing revival of Astaroth campaigns

Heat map showing Astaroth encounters, with Brazil accounting for majority of encounters

Figure 2. Geographic distribution of Astaroth campaigns this year, with majority of encounters recorded in Brazil

When we first blogged about Astaroth’s methods, we noted how it completely lived off the land to avoid detection: only system tools that are already existing on the machine are ever executed. In fact, it was an unusual spike in activities related to Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line (WMIC) that prompted our investigation and eventually exposed the Astaroth campaign.

Astaroth now completely avoids the use of WMIC and related techniques to bypass existing detections. Instead, the attackers introduced new techniques that make the attack chain even stealthier:

  • Abusing Alternate Data Streams (ADS) to hide malicious payloads
  • Abusing the legitimate process ExtExport.exe, a highly uncommon attack vector, to load the payload

Astaroth exemplifies how living-off-the-land techniques have become standard components of today’s attacks intent on evading security solutions. However, as we mentioned in our previous blog on Astaroth, fileless threats are very much observable. These threats still leave a great deal of memory footprint that can be inspected and blocked as they happen. Next-generation protection and behavioral containment and blocking capabilities in Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (Microsoft Defender ATP) lead the charge in exposing threats like Astaroth.

In this blog, we’ll share our technical analysis of the revamped Astaroth attack chain and demonstrate how specific Microsoft technologies tackle the multiple advanced components of the attack.

Dismantling the new Astaroth attack chain

The attackers were careful to ensure the updates didn’t make Astaroth easier to detect; on the contrary, the updates only make Astaroth’s activities even more invisible.

One of the most significant updates is the use of Alternate Data Stream (ADS), which Astaroth abuses at several stages to perform various activities. ADS is a file attribute that allows a user to attach data to an existing file. The stream data and its size are not visible in File Explorer, so attacks abuse this feature to hide malicious code in plain sight.

Astaroth 2020 attack chain

Figure 2. Astaroth attack chain 2020

In the case of Astaroth, attackers hide binary data inside the ADS of the file desktop.ini, without changing the file size. By doing this, the attackers create a haven for the payloads, which are read and decrypted on the fly.

Screenshot comparing contents of desktop.ini before and after infection

Figure 3. Desktop.ini before and after infection

The complex attack chain, which involves the use of multiple living-off-the-land binaries (LOLBins), results in the eventual loading of the Astaroth malware directly in memory. When running, Astaroth decrypts plugins that allow it to steal sensitive information, like email passwords and browser passwords.

In the succeeding sections, we describe each step of Astaroth’s attack chain in detail.

Arrival

The attack begins with an email with a message in Portuguese that translates to: “Please find in the link below the STATEMENT #56704/2019 AND LEGAL DECISION, for due purposes”. The email contains a link that points to URL hosting an archive file, Arquivo_PDF_<date>.zip, which contains a LNK file with a similarly misleading name. When clicked, the LNK file runs an obfuscated BAT command line.

Email used in Astaroth campaign

Figure 4. Sample email used in latest Astaroth attacks

The BAT command drops a single-line JavaScript file to the Pictures folder and invokes explorer.exe to run the JavaScript file.

Malware code showing GetObject technique

The dropped one-liner script uses the GetObject technique to fetch and run the much larger main JavaScript directly in memory:

Malware code showing BITSAdmin abuse

BITSAdmin abuse

The main script then invokes multiple instances of BITSAdmin using a benign looking command-line to download multiple binary blobs from a command-and-control (C2) server:

Malware code showing downloaded content showing ADS

The downloaded payloads are encrypted and have the following file names:

  • masihaddajjaldwwn.gif
  • masihaddajjalc.jpg
  • masihaddajjala.jpg
  • masihaddajjalb.jpg
  • masihaddajjaldx.gif
  • masihaddajjalg.gif
  • masihaddajjalgx.gif
  • masihaddajjali.gif
  • masihaddajjalxa.~
  • masihaddajjalxb.~
  • masihaddajjalxc.~
  • masihaddajjal64w.dll
  • masihaddajjal64q.dll
  • masihaddajjal64e.dll

Alternate Data Streams abuse

As mentioned, the new Astaroth attacks use a clever technique of copying downloaded data to the ADS of desktop.ini. For each download, the content is copied to the ADS, and then the original content is deleted. These steps are repeated for all downloaded payloads.

Malware code showing abuse of ADS to run script to find security products

Another way that Astaroth abuses ADS is when it runs a script to find installed security products. A malicious script responsible for enumerating security products is dropped and then copied as an ADS to an empty text file. The execution command-line looks like this:

ExtExport.exe abuse

The main script combines three separately downloaded binary blobs to form the first-stage malware code:

Malware code showing three blobs forming first-stage malware code

The script then uses a LOLBin not previously seen in Astaroth attacks to load the first-stage malware code: ExtExport.exe, which is a legitimate utility shipped as part of Internet Explorer. Attackers can load any DLL by passing an attacker-controlled path to the tool. The tool searches for any DLL with the following file names: mozcrt19.dll, mozsqlite3.dll, or sqlite3.dll. Attackers need only to rename the malicious payload to one of these names, and it is loaded by ExtExport.exe.

Malware code showing ExtExport.exe abuse

Userinit.exe abuse

The newly loaded DLL (mozcrt19.dll, mozsqlite3.dll, or sqlite3.dll) is a proxy that reads three binary ADS streams (desktop.ini:masihaddajjalxa.~, desktop.ini:masihaddajjalxb.~, and desktop.ini:masihaddajjalxc.~) and combines these into a DLL. The newly formed DLL is the second-stage malware code and is loaded in the same process using the reflective DLL loading technique.

The newly loaded DLL is also a proxy that reads and decrypts another ADS stream (desktop.ini:masihaddajjalgx.gif) into a DLL. This DLL is injected into userinit.exe using the process hollowing technique.

The newly loaded DLL inside userinit.exe is again a proxy that reads and decrypts another ADS stream (desktop.ini:masihaddajjalg.gif) into a DLL. This DLL is the malicious info-stealer known as Astaroth and is reflectively loaded inside userinit.exe. Hence, Astaroth never touches the disk and is loaded directly in memory, making it very evasive.

Astaroth payload

When running, the Astaroth payload then reads and decrypts more components from the ADS stream of desktop.ini (desktop.ini:masihaddajjaldwwn.gif, desktop.ini:masihaddajjalc.jpg, desktop.ini:masihaddajjala.jpg, desktop.ini:masihaddajjalb.jpg, and desktop.ini:masihaddajjali.gif).

Some of these components are credential-stealing plugins hidden inside the ADS stream of desktop.ini. Astaroth abuses these plugins to steal information from compromised systems:

  • NirSoft’s MailPassView – an email client password recovery tool
  • NirSoft’s WebBrowserPassView – a web browser password recovery tool

As mentioned, Astaroth also finds installed security products. It then attempts to disable these security products. For Microsoft Defender Antivirus customers, tamper protection prevents such malicious and unauthorized changes to security settings.

Comprehensive, dynamic protection against living-off-the-land, fileless, and other sophisticated threats with Microsoft Threat Protection

Attackers are increasingly turning to living-off-the-land techniques to attempt running undetected for as long as possible on systems. Because these attacks use multiple executables that are native to the system and have legitimate uses, they require a comprehensive, behavior-based approach to detection.

Microsoft Threat Protection combines and orchestrates into a single solution the capabilities of multiple Microsoft security services to coordinate protection, detection, response, and prevention across endpoints, email, identities, and apps.

In the case of Astaroth, Office 365 ATP detects the malware delivery via email. Using detonation-based heuristics and machine learning, Office 365 ATP inspects links and attachments to identify malicious artifacts.

On endpoints, next-generation protection capabilities in Microsoft Defender ATP detect and prevent some components of Astaroth’s new attack chain. Notably, through Antimalware Scan Interface (AMSI), Microsoft Defender ATP can inspect the encrypted malicious scripts used in the initial stages of the attack.

For the more sophisticated sections of the attack chain, behavioral blocking and containment capabilities provide dynamic protection that can stop malicious behaviors and process trees. Behavior-based protections are key to exposing living-off-the-land threats that abuse and hide behind legitimate processes. These protections identify suspicious behavior sequences and advanced attack techniques observed on the client, which are used as triggers to analyze the process tree using real-time machine learning models in the cloud.

Diagram showing preventive and behavior-based blocking & containment solutions against Astaroth

Figure 5. Preventive and behavior-based blocking & containment protections against Astaroth

These behavior-based detections raise alerts in Microsoft Defender Security Center. With behavioral blocking and containment, not only are evasive threats exposed, detected, and stopped; security operations personnel are also notified so they can thoroughly investigate and remediate the root cause.

Figure 6. Sample Microsoft Defender ATP alerts on behavior-based detections of Astaroth’s activities

Microsoft Defender ATP’s EDR capabilities also have very strong coverage of advanced techniques employed by Astaroth, including cross-process migration, code injection, and use of LOLBins.

Figure 7. Sample Microsoft Defender ATP EDR alert and process tree on Astaroth’s behaviors

We expect Astaroth to further develop and increase in complexity, as long-running malware campaigns do. We will continue to watch this evolving threat and ensure that customers are protected from future updates through durable behavior-based protections.

 

 

Hardik Suri

Microsoft Defender ATP Research Team

 

 


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Human-operated ransomware attacks: A preventable disaster

March 5th, 2020 No comments

Human-operated ransomware campaigns pose a significant and growing threat to businesses and represent one of the most impactful trends in cyberattacks today. In these hands-on-keyboard attacks, which are different from auto-spreading ransomware like WannaCry or NotPetya, adversaries employ credential theft and lateral movement methods traditionally associated with targeted attacks like those from nation-state actors. They exhibit extensive knowledge of systems administration and common network security misconfigurations, perform thorough reconnaissance, and adapt to what they discover in a compromised network.

These attacks are known to take advantage of network configuration weaknesses and vulnerable services to deploy devastating ransomware payloads. And while ransomware is the very visible action taken in these attacks, human operators also deliver other malicious payloads, steal credentials, and access and exfiltrate data from compromised networks.

News about ransomware attacks often focus on the downtimes they cause, the ransom payments, and the details of the ransomware payload, leaving out details of the oftentimes long-running campaigns and preventable domain compromise that allow these human-operated attacks to succeed.

Based on our investigations, these campaigns appear unconcerned with stealth and have shown that they could operate unfettered in networks. Human operators compromise accounts with higher privileges, escalate privilege, or use credential dumping techniques to establish a foothold on machines and continue unabated in infiltrating target environments.

Human-operated ransomware campaigns often start with “commodity malware” like banking Trojans or “unsophisticated” attack vectors that typically trigger multiple detection alerts; however, these tend to be triaged as unimportant and therefore not thoroughly investigated and remediated. In addition, the initial payloads are frequently stopped by antivirus solutions, but attackers just deploy a different payload or use administrative access to disable the antivirus without attracting the attention of incident responders or security operations centers (SOCs).

Some well-known human-operated ransomware campaigns include REvil, Samas, Bitpaymer, and Ryuk. Microsoft actively monitors these and other long-running human-operated ransomware campaigns, which have overlapping attack patterns. They take advantage of similar security weaknesses, highlighting a few key lessons in security, notably that these attacks are often preventable and detectable.

Combating and preventing attacks of this nature requires a shift in mindset, one that focuses on comprehensive protection required to slow and stop attackers before they can succeed. Human-operated attacks will continue to take advantage of security weaknesses to deploy destructive attacks until defenders consistently and aggressively apply security best practices to their networks. In this blog, we will highlight case studies of human-operated ransomware campaigns that use different entrance vectors and post-exploitation techniques but have overwhelming overlap in the security misconfigurations they abuse and the devastating impact they have on organizations.

PARINACOTA group: Smash-and-grab monetization campaigns

One actor that has emerged in this trend of human-operated attacks is an active, highly adaptive group that frequently drops Wadhrama as payload. Microsoft has been tracking this group for some time, but now refers to them as PARINACOTA, using our new naming designation for digital crime actors based on global volcanoes.

PARINACOTA impacts three to four organizations every week and appears quite resourceful: during the 18 months that we have been monitoring it, we have observed the group change tactics to match its needs and use compromised machines for various purposes, including cryptocurrency mining, sending spam emails, or proxying for other attacks. The group’s goals and payloads have shifted over time, influenced by the type of compromised infrastructure, but in recent months, they have mostly deployed the Wadhrama ransomware.

The group most often employs a smash-and-grab method, whereby they attempt to infiltrate a machine in a network and proceed with subsequent ransom in less than an hour. There are outlier campaigns in which they attempt reconnaissance and lateral movement, typically when they land on a machine and network that allows them to quickly and easily move throughout the environment.

PARINACOTA’s attacks typically brute forces their way into servers that have Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) exposed to the internet, with the goal of moving laterally inside a network or performing further brute-force activities against targets outside the network. This allows the group to expand compromised infrastructure under their control. Frequently, the group targets built-in local administrator accounts or a list of common account names. In other instances, the group targets Active Directory (AD) accounts that they compromised or have prior knowledge of, such as service accounts of known vendors.

The group adopted the RDP brute force technique that the older ransomware called Samas (also known as SamSam) infamously used. Other malware families like GandCrab, MegaCortext, LockerGoga, Hermes, and RobbinHood have also used this method in targeted ransomware attacks. PARINACOTA, however, has also been observed to adapt to any path of least resistance they can utilize. For instance, they sometimes discover unpatched systems and use disclosed vulnerabilities to gain initial access or elevate privileges.

Wadhrama PARINACOTA attack chain

Figure 1. PARINACOTA infection chain

We gained insight into these attacks by investigating compromised infrastructure that the group often utilizes to proxy attacks onto their next targets. To find targets, the group scans the internet for machines that listen on RDP port 3389. The attackers do this from compromised machines using tools like Masscan.exe, which can find vulnerable machines on the entire internet in under six minutes.

Once a vulnerable target is found, the group proceeds with a brute force attack using tools like NLbrute.exe or ForcerX, starting with common usernames like ‘admin’, ‘administrator’, ‘guest’, or ‘test’. After successfully gaining access to a network, the group tests the compromised machine for internet connectivity and processing capacity. They determine if the machine meets certain requirements before using it to conduct subsequent RDP brute force attacks against other targets. This tactic, which has not been observed being used by similar ransomware operators, gives them access to additional infrastructure that is less likely to be blocked. In fact, the group has been observed leaving their tools running on compromised machines for months on end.

On machines that the group doesn’t use for subsequent RDP brute-force attacks, they proceed with a separate set of actions. This technique helps the attackers evade reputation-based detection, which may block their scanning boxes; it also preserves their command-and-control (C2) infrastructure. In addition, PARINACOTA utilizes administrative privileges gained via stolen credentials to turn off or stop any running services that might lead to their detection. Tamper protection in Microsoft Defender ATP prevents malicious and unauthorized to settings, including antivirus solutions and cloud-based detection capabilities.

After disabling security solutions, the group often downloads a ZIP archive that contains dozens of well-known attacker tools and batch files for credential theft, persistence, reconnaissance, and other activities without fear of the next stages of the attack being prevented. With these tools and batch files, the group clears event logs using wevutil.exe, as well as conducts extensive reconnaissance on the machine and the network, typically looking for opportunities to move laterally using common network scanning tools. When necessary, the group elevates privileges from local administrator to SYSTEM using accessibility features in conjunction with a batch file or exploit-laden files named after the specific CVEs they impact, also known as the “Sticky Keys” attack.

The group dumps credentials from the LSASS process, using tools like Mimikatz and ProcDump, to gain access to matching local administrator passwords or service accounts with high privileges that may be used to start as a scheduled task or service, or even used interactively. PARINACOTA then uses the same remote desktop session to exfiltrate acquired credentials. The group also attempts to get credentials for specific banking or financial websites, using findstr.exe to check for cookies associated with these sites.

Microsoft Defender ATP alert for credential theft

Figure 2. Microsoft Defender ATP alert for credential theft

With credentials on hand, PARINACOTA establishes persistence using various methods, including:

  • Registry modifications using .bat or .reg files to allow RDP connections
  • Setting up access through existing remote assistance apps or installing a backdoor
  • Creating new local accounts and adding them to the local administrators group

To determine the type of payload to deploy, PARINACOTA uses tools like Process Hacker to identify active processes. The attackers don’t always install ransomware immediately; they have been observed installing coin miners and using massmail.exe to run spam campaigns, essentially using corporate networks as distributed computing infrastructure for profit. The group, however, eventually returns to the same machines after a few weeks to install ransomware.

The group performs the same general activities to deliver the ransomware payload:

  • Plants a malicious HTA file (hta in many instances) using various autostart extensibility points (ASEPs), but often the registry Run keys or the Startup folder. The HTA file displays ransom payment instructions.
  • Deletes local backups using tools like exe to stifle recovery of ransomed files.
  • Stops active services that might interfere with encryption using exe, net.exe, or other tools.

Figure 3. PARINACOTA stopping services and processes

  • Drops an array of malware executables, often naming the files based on their intended behavior. If previous attempts to stop antivirus software have been unsuccessful, the group simply drops multiple variants of a malware until they manage to execute one that is not detected, indicating that even when detections and alerts are occurring, network admins are either not seeing them or not reacting to them.

As mentioned, PARINACOTA has recently mostly dropped the Wadhrama ransomware, which leaves the following ransom note after encrypting target files:

Figure 4. Wadhrama ransom note

In several observed cases, targeted organizations that were able to resolve ransomware infections were unable to fully remove persistence mechanisms, allowing the group to come back and deploy ransomware again.

Figure 5. Microsoft Defender ATP machine view showing reinfection by Wadhrama

PARINACOTA routinely uses Monero coin miners on compromised machines, allowing them to collect uniform returns regardless of the type of machine they access. Monero is popular among cybercriminals for its privacy benefits: Monero not only restricts access to wallet balances, but also mixes in coins from other transactions to help hide the specifics of each transaction, resulting in transactions that aren’t as easily traceable by amount as other digital currencies.

As for the ransomware component, we have seen reports of the group charging anywhere from .5 to 2 Bitcoins per compromised machine. This varies depending on what the attackers know about the organization and the assets that they have compromised. The ransom amount is adjusted based on the likelihood the organization will pay due to impact to their company or the perceived importance of the target.

Doppelpaymer: Ransomware follows Dridex

Doppelpaymer ransomware recently caused havoc in several highly publicized attacks against various organizations around the world. Some of these attacks involved large ransom demands, with attackers asking for millions of dollars in some cases.

Doppelpaymer ransomware, like Wadhrama, Samas, LockerGoga, and Bitpaymer before it, does not have inherent worm capabilities. Human operators manually spread it within compromised networks using stolen credentials for privileged accounts along with common tools like PsExec and Group Policy. They often abuse service accounts, including accounts used to manage security products, that have domain admin privileges to run native commands, often stopping antivirus software and other security controls.

The presence of banking Trojans like Dridex on machines compromised by Doppelpaymer point to the possibility that Dridex (or other malware) is introduced during earlier attack stages through fake updaters, malicious documents in phishing email, or even by being delivered via the Emotet botnet.

While Dridex is likely used as initial access for delivering Doppelpaymer on machines in affected networks, most of the same networks contain artifacts indicating RDP brute force. This is in addition to numerous indicators of credential theft and the use of reconnaissance tools. Investigators have in fact found artifacts indicating that affected networks have been compromised in some manner by various attackers for several months before the ransomware is deployed, showing that these attacks (and others) are successful and unresolved in networks where diligence in security controls and monitoring is not applied.

The use of numerous attack methods reflects how attackers freely operate without disruption – even when available endpoint detection and response (EDR) and endpoint protection platform (EPP) sensors already detect their activities. In many cases, some machines run without standard safeguards, like security updates and cloud-delivered antivirus protection. There is also the lack of credential hygiene, over-privileged accounts, predictable local administrator and RDP passwords, and unattended EDR alerts for suspicious activities.

Figure 6. Sample Microsoft Defender ATP alert

The success of attacks relies on whether campaign operators manage to gain control over domain accounts with elevated privileges after establishing initial access. Attackers utilize various methods to gain access to privileged accounts, including common credential theft tools like Mimikatz and LaZange. Microsoft has also observed the use of the Sysinternals tool ProcDump to obtain credentials from LSASS process memory. Attackers might also use LSASecretsView or a similar tool to access credentials stored in the LSA secrets portion of the registry. Accessible to local admins, this portion of the registry can reveal credentials for domain accounts used to run scheduled tasks and services.

Figure 7. Doppelpaymer infection chain

Campaign operators continually steal credentials, progressively gaining higher privileges until they control a domain administrator-level account. In some cases, operators create new accounts and grant Remote Desktop privileges to those accounts.

Apart from securing privileged accounts, attackers use other ways of establishing persistent access to compromised systems. In several cases, affected machines are observed launching a base64-encoded PowerShell Empire script that connects to a C2 server, providing attackers with persistent control over the machines. Limited evidence suggests that attackers set up WMI persistence mechanisms, possibly during earlier breaches, to launch PowerShell Empire.

After obtaining adequate credentials, attackers perform extensive reconnaissance of machines and running software to identify targets for ransomware delivery. They use the built-in command qwinsta to check for active RDP sessions, run tools that query Active Directory or LDAP, and ping multiple machines. In some cases, the attackers target high-impact machines, such as machines running systems management software. Attackers also identify machines that they could use to stay persistent on the networks after deploying ransomware.

Attackers use various protocols or system frameworks (WMI, WinRM, RDP, and SMB) in conjunction with PsExec to move laterally and distribute ransomware. Upon reaching a new device through lateral movement, attackers attempt to stop services that can prevent or stifle successful ransomware distribution and execution. As in other ransomware campaigns, the attackers use native commands to stop Exchange Server, SQL Server, and similar services that can lock certain files and disrupt attempts to encrypt them. They also stop antivirus software right before dropping the ransomware file itself.

Attempts to bypass antivirus protection and deploy ransomware are particularly successful in cases where:

  • Attackers already have domain admin privileges
  • Tamper protection is off
  • Cloud-delivered protection is off
  • Antivirus software is not properly managed or is not in a healthy state

Microsoft Defender ATP generates alerts for many activities associated with these attacks. However, in many of these cases, affected network segments and their associated alerts are not actively being monitored or responded to.

Attackers also employ a few other techniques to bypass protections and run ransomware code. In some cases, we found artifacts indicating that they introduce a legitimate binary and use Alternate Data Streams to masquerade the execution of the ransomware binary as legitimate binary.

Command prmpt dump output of the Alternate Data Stream

Figure 8. Command prompt dump output of the Alternate Data Stream

The Doppelpaymer ransomware binary used in many attacks are signed using what appears to be stolen certificates from OFFERS CLOUD LTD, which might be trusted by various security solutions.

Doppelpaymer encrypts various files and displays a ransom note. In observed cases, it uses a custom extension name for encrypted files using information about the affected environment. For example, it has used l33tspeak versions of company names and company phone numbers.

Notably, Doppelpaymer campaigns do not fully infect compromised networks with ransomware. Only a subset of the machines have the malware binary and a slightly smaller subset have their files encrypted. The attackers maintain persistence on machines that don’t have the ransomware and appear intent to use these machines to come back to networks that pay the ransom or do not perform a full incident response and recovery.

Ryuk: Human-operated ransomware initiated from Trickbot infections

Ryuk is another active human-operated ransomware campaign that wreaks havoc on organizations, from corporate entities to local governments to non-profits by disrupting businesses and demanding massive ransom. Ryuk originated as a ransomware payload distributed over email, and but it has since been adopted by human operated ransomware operators.

Like Doppelpaymer, Ryuk is one of possible eventual payloads delivered by human operators that enter networks via banking Trojan infections, in this case Trickbot. At the beginning of a Ryuk infection, an existing Trickbot implant downloads a new payload, often Cobalt Strike or PowerShell Empire, and begins to move laterally across a network, activating the Trickbot infection for ransomware deployment. The use of Cobalt Strike beacon or a PowerShell Empire payload gives operators more maneuverability and options for lateral movement on a network. Based on our investigation, in some networks, this may also provide the added benefit to the attackers of blending in with red team activities and tools.

In our investigations, we found that this activation occurs on Trickbot implants of varying ages, indicating that the human operators behind Ryuk likely have some sort of list of check-ins and targets for deployment of the ransomware. In many cases, however, this activation phase comes well after the initial Trickbot infection, and the eventual deployment of a ransomware payload may happen weeks or even months after the initial infection.

In many networks, Trickbot, which can be distributed directly via email or as a second-stage payload to other Trojans like Emotet, is often considered a low-priority threat, and not remediated and isolated with the same degree of scrutiny as other, more high-profile malware. This works in favor of attackers, allowing them to have long-running persistence on a wide variety of networks. Trickbot, and the Ryuk operators, also take advantage of users running as local administrators in environments and use these permissions to disable security tools that would otherwise impede their actions.

Figure 9. Ryuk infection chain

Once the operators have activated on a network, they utilize their Cobalt Strike or PowerShell tools to initiate reconnaissance and lateral movement on a network. Their initial steps are usually to use built-in commands such as net group to enumerate group membership of high-value groups like domain administrators and enterprise administrators, and to identify targets for credential theft.

Ryuk operators then use a variety of techniques to steal credentials, including the LaZagne credential theft tool. The attackers also save various registry hives to extract credentials from Local Accounts and the LSA Secrets portion of the registry that stores passwords of service accounts, as well as Scheduled Tasks configured to auto start with a defined account. In many cases, services like security and systems management software are configured with privileged accounts, such as domain administrator; this makes it easy for Ryuk operators to migrate from an initial desktop to server-class systems and domain controllers. In addition, in many environments successfully compromised by Ryuk, operators are able to utilize the built-in administrator account to move laterally, as these passwords are matching and not randomized.

Once they have performed initial basic reconnaissance and credential theft, the attackers in some cases utilize the open source security audit tool known as BloodHound to gather detailed information about the Active Directory environment and probable attack paths. This data and associated stolen credentials are accessed by the attacker and likely retained, even after the ransomware portion is ended.

The attackers then continue to move laterally to higher value systems, inspecting and enumerating files of interest to them as they go, possibly exfiltrating this data. The attackers then elevate to domain administrator and utilize these permissions to deploy the Ryuk payload.

The ransomware deployment often occurs weeks or even months after the attackers begin activity on a network. The Ryuk operators use stolen Domain Admin credentials, often from an interactive logon session on a domain controller, to distribute the Ryuk payload. They have been seen doing this via Group Policies, setting a startup item in the SYSVOL share, or, most commonly in recent attacks, via PsExec sessions emanating from the domain controller itself.

Improving defenses to stop human-operated ransomware

In human-operated ransomware campaigns, even if the ransom is paid, some attackers remain active on affected networks with persistence via PowerShell Empire and other malware on machines that may seem unrelated to ransomware activities. To fully recover from human-powered ransomware attacks, comprehensive incident response procedures and subsequent network hardening need to be performed.

As we have learned from the adaptability and resourcefulness of attackers, human-operated campaigns are intent on circumventing protections and cleverly use what’s available to them to achieve their goal, motivated by profit. The techniques and methods used by the human-operated ransomware attacks we discussed in this blog highlight these important lessons in security:

  1. IT pros play an important role in security

Some of the most successful human-operated ransomware campaigns have been against servers that have antivirus software and other security intentionally disabled, which admins may do to improve performance. Many of the observed attacks leverage malware and tools that are already detected by antivirus. The same servers also often lack firewall protection and MFA, have weak domain credentials, and use non-randomized local admin passwords. Oftentimes these protections are not deployed because there is a fear that security controls will disrupt operations or impact performance. IT pros can help with determining the true impact of these settings and collaborate with security teams on mitigations.

Attackers are preying on settings and configurations that many IT admins manage and control. Given the key role they play, IT pros should be part of security teams.

  1. Seemingly rare, isolated, or commodity malware alerts can indicate new attacks unfolding and offer the best chance to prevent larger damage

Human-operated attacks involve a fairly lengthy and complex attack chain before the ransomware payload is deployed. The earlier steps involve activities like commodity malware infections and credential theft that Microsoft Defender ATP detects and raises alerts on. If these alerts are immediately prioritized, security operations teams can better mitigate attacks and prevent the ransomware payload. Commodity malware infections like Emotet, Dridex, and Trickbot should be remediated and treated as a potential full compromise of the system, including any credentials present on it.

  1. Truly mitigating modern attacks requires addressing the infrastructure weakness that let attackers in

Human-operated ransomware groups routinely hit the same targets multiple times. This is typically due to failure to eliminate persistence mechanisms, which allow the operators to go back and deploy succeeding rounds of payloads, as targeted organizations focus on working to resolve the ransomware infections.

Organizations should focus less on resolving alerts in the shortest possible time and more on investigating the attack surface that allowed the alert to happen. This requires understanding the entire attack chain, but more importantly, identifying and fixing the weaknesses in the infrastructure to keep attackers out.

While Wadhrama, Doppelpaymer, Ryuk, Samas, REvil, and other human-operated attacks require a shift in mindset, the challenges they pose are hardly unique.

Removing the ability of attackers to move laterally from one machine to another in a network would make the impact of human-operated ransomware attacks less devastating and make the network more resilient against all kinds of cyberattacks. The top recommendations for mitigating ransomware and other human-operated campaigns are to practice credential hygiene and stop unnecessary communication between endpoints.

Here are relevant mitigation actions that enterprises can apply to build better security posture and be more resistant against cyberattacks in general:

  • Harden internet-facing assets and ensure they have the latest security updates. Use threat and vulnerability management to audit these assets regularly for vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and suspicious activity.
  • Secure Remote Desktop Gateway using solutions like Azure Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). If you don’t have an MFA gateway, enable network-level authentication (NLA).
  • Practice the principle of least-privilege and maintain credential hygiene. Avoid the use of domain-wide, admin-level service accounts. Enforce strong randomized, just-in-time local administrator passwords. Use tools like LAPS.
  • Monitor for brute-force attempts. Check excessive failed authentication attempts (Windows security event ID 4625).
  • Monitor for clearing of Event Logs, especially the Security Event log and PowerShell Operational logs. Microsoft Defender ATP raises the alert “Event log was cleared” and Windows generates an Event ID 1102 when this occurs.
  • Turn on tamper protection features to prevent attackers from stopping security services.
  • Determine where highly privileged accounts are logging on and exposing credentials. Monitor and investigate logon events (event ID 4624) for logon type attributes. Domain admin accounts and other accounts with high privilege should not be present on workstations.
  • Turn on cloud-delivered protection and automatic sample submission on Windows Defender Antivirus. These capabilities use artificial intelligence and machine learning to quickly identify and stop new and unknown threats.
  • Turn on attack surface reduction rules, including rules that block credential theft, ransomware activity, and suspicious use of PsExec and WMI. To address malicious activity initiated through weaponized Office documents, use rules that block advanced macro activity, executable content, process creation, and process injection initiated by Office applications Other. To assess the impact of these rules, deploy them in audit mode.
  • Turn on AMSI for Office VBA if you have Office 365.
  • Utilize the Windows Defender Firewall and your network firewall to prevent RPC and SMB communication among endpoints whenever possible. This limits lateral movement as well as other attack activities.

Figure 10. Improving defenses against human-operated ransomware

How Microsoft empowers customers to combat human-operated attacks

The rise of adaptable, resourceful, and persistent human-operated attacks characterizes the need for advanced protection on multiple attack surfaces. Microsoft Threat Protection delivers comprehensive protection for identities, endpoints, data, apps, and infrastructure. Through built-intelligence, automation, and integration, Microsoft Threat Protection combines and orchestrates into a single solution the capabilities of Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), Office 365 ATP, Azure ATP, and Microsoft Cloud App Security, providing customers integrated security and unparalleled visibility across attack vectors.

Building an optimal organizational security posture is key to defending networks against human-operated attacks and other sophisticated threats. Microsoft Secure Score assesses and measures an organization’s security posture and provides recommended improvement actions, guidance, and control. Using a centralized dashboard in Microsoft 365 security center, organizations can compare their security posture with benchmarks and establish key performance indicators (KPIs).

On endpoints, Microsoft Defender ATP provides unified protection, investigation, and response capabilities. Durable machine learning and behavior-based protections detect human-operated campaigns at multiple points in the attack chain, before the ransomware payload is deployed. These advanced detections raise alerts on the Microsoft Defender Security Center, enabling security operations teams to immediately respond to attacks using the rich capabilities in Microsoft Defender ATP.

The Threat and Vulnerability Management capability uses a risk-based approach to the discovery, prioritization, and remediation of misconfigurations and vulnerabilities on endpoints. Notably, it allows security administrators and IT administrators to collaborate seamlessly to remediate issues. For example, through Microsoft Defender ATP’s integration with Microsoft Intune and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), security administrators can create a remediation task in Microsoft Intune with one click.

Microsoft experts have been tracking multiple human operated ransomware groups. To further help customers, we released a Microsoft Defender ATP Threat Analytics report on the campaigns and mitigations against the attack. Through Threat Analytics, customers can see indicators of Wadhrama, Doppelpaymer, Samas, and other campaign activities in their environments and get details and recommendations that are designed to help security operations teams to investigate and respond to attacks. The reports also include relevant advanced hunting queries that can further help security teams look for signs of attacks in their network.

Customers subscribed to Microsoft Threat Experts, the managed threat hunting service in Microsoft Defender ATP, get targeted attack notification on emerging ransomware campaigns that our experts find during threat hunting. The email notifications are designed to inform customers about threats that they need to prioritize, as well as critical information like timeline of events, affected machines, and indicators of compromise, which help in investigating and mitigating attacks. Additionally, with experts on demand, customers can engage directly with Microsoft security analysts to get guidance and insights to better understand, prevent, and respond to human-operated attacks and other complex threats.

 

Microsoft Threat Protection Intelligence Team

 

The post Human-operated ransomware attacks: A preventable disaster appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Unifying security policy across all mobile form-factors with Wandera and Microsoft

February 19th, 2020 No comments

The way we work is evolving—technology enables more effective employees by helping them to be productive where and when they choose. Businesses have also been enjoying the productivity benefits of an always-on and always-connected workforce.

While new business applications and device form-factors helped to accelerate these changes, organizations are now discovering the challenges with managing security and compliance policies in the modern workplace. As devices physically leave the corporate campus, administrators need tools to effectively manage end user applications and the corresponding access to company data; this is a particularly complex challenge for businesses who manage mobile devices running a variety of operating systems with significantly different management capabilities.

Mobile devices also introduce new IT challenges that can seriously impact business operations, such as:

  • Legacy security infrastructure such as Secure Web Gateways aren’t built for mobile devices, and backhauling traffic isn’t feasible for enforcing acceptable use policies, meaning that inappropriate content could be accessed, or shadow IT tools used, potentially creating legal liability for the business.
  • Insecure apps and content risks such as mobile phishing represent new attack vectors; modern app distribution methods and mobile-specific attack vectors (e.g., SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) represent significantly expanded surface area that IT teams must now protect.
  • Excessive mobile data usage can lead to bill shock and result in unexpected financial risk for businesses of all sizes.

The modern business needs to manage risk in the simplest and most effective way, while simultaneously enabling worker productivity. Embracing tools that meet the needs of mobile work will improve employee and organizational productivity, and ultimately make the business more agile.

Mobility comes in many form factors and OSs, leading to admin complexity

The explosion in the number of iOS and Android smartphones and tablets sold over the last decade is a testament to their revolutionary impact in providing always-on communication, productivity, and organizational tools. Mobility has been great for businesses; according to Frost and Sullivan, portable devices increase productivity on work tasks by 34 percent and save employees 58 minutes per day.

While smartphones have been at the forefront of transforming personal productivity and improving business operations, they are not the only form-factor available for work that is performed on-the-go. Many worker tasks, such as manipulating large data sets or refining high resolution images, require specialized hardware such as a large display or a trackball to optimize the user experience and efficiency. A different type of mobile tool is needed for certain remote workers with job-specific tasks.

Windows devices have long been a key tool for enabling office employees, and in recent years, laptops have become lightweight and highly portable, making them as versatile as mobile devices. Many laptops now also include a physical SIM or eSIM to enable always-on connectivity, and the 2-in-1 form factor is proving to be a popular choice for office workers because of the resulting flexibility in working style.

Challenges managing a diverse mobile workforce go beyond the device

Supporting Windows devices outside of the office creates new challenges for IT teams—principally, how does the admin effectively manage users working remotely? Separate tools exist to manage apps and user access on different operating systems, creating management overhead. Additionally, Windows devices are typically attached to Wi-Fi and other unmetered networks where users are not constrained in how much data they can consume without penalty. As these devices are enabled for mobile data networks, these powerful systems need to be more intelligent in the way they consume data.

The difference in managing apps and data on mobile vs on Windows led to increased complexity for the admin. For example, Microsoft Word may be deployed via an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution such as Microsoft Intune on mobile, while on Windows, System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) may be used. The different management infrastructures required for these tools have increased overhead and created challenges for IT teams maintaining more than one service to manage employees that simultaneously use mobile and Windows devices for working.

Any changes to users, such as employees joining or leaving the company, must be replicated across both tools. Additionally, the different tools have disparate controls, meaning that it is impossible to apply consistent security, acceptable use, and Conditional Access policies. Applying policies inconsistently can result in users receiving inappropriate privileges or disparate access to services across different form factors and operating systems. As a result, employees may be drawn to using a corporate-approved app on their Windows device but an unapproved consumer variant on their mobile device, leading to increased risk.

Strategies for effectively enabling a mobile workforce

It is just as important to protect users working remotely as it is to protect users within the network perimeter. Extending security policy in a consistent manner to mobile devices can be achieved with three services: a Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) service such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager, inclusive of both Microsoft Intune and Configuration Manager, an Identity and Access Management (IAM) service such as Azure Active Directory (AD), and a network-based risk management service such as the Wandera Mobile Security Suite that protects against cyber threats and usage risks.

Organizations looking to adopt this suite of services for unified policy should seek solutions that are deeply integrated in order to achieve a fully secure and manageable mobility stack. Wandera and Microsoft have partnered together to offer an integrated secure technology stack:

  • UEM services bridge the management gap between Windows and mobile devices. Microsoft Endpoint Manager enables administrators to push applications and configuration profiles to enable homogeneous management across both mobile and Windows devices.
  • Pairing Microsoft Endpoint Manager with Azure AD means that the profiles can be managed at a user level, instead of at the device level, further improving management consistency.
  • Wandera Mobile Security Suite allows administrators to define security and acceptable use policies at the network level, agnostic to the device that is being used. This means that applications and websites can be whitelisted or blacklisted, preventing users from using dangerous or unapproved services regardless of device type.

For example, a business may choose to use OneDrive for storing files in the cloud and want to prevent other file sharing services from being used. Microsoft Endpoint Manager and Azure AD can be used to push and configure the OneDrive application to the Windows and mobile devices, enabling employees to use this service. Wandera Mobile Security Suite can then be used in tandem to prevent employees from using other services such as Dropbox, preventing the user from accessing shadow IT in the form of application and web browser versions.

Many organizations have found that the lack of consistent controls create new attack surfaces that hackers use to penetrate the organization and mischievous employees abuse to circumvent IT policies. It is not uncommon for users to be blocked by acceptable use policies as they browse to unsanctioned content from a desktop computer, only to enable tethering on a mobile device to circumvent the policy.

Managing different technologies and applying different policies creates undue complexity for admin teams and prevents business flexibility, potentially leading to overlooked security gaps. Wandera Mobile Security Suite’s in-network security technology allows content security policies to be applied consistently across different device types. This means that phishing attacks, which are how 90 percent of data breaches begin, can be prevented regardless of device type. Mobile Security Suite is also able to block spam sites and stop malware communicating with command-and-control (C2) servers.

Mobile data management is another area of disparate control for businesses. The rich set of features in Wandera Mobile Security Suite for managing data usage on mobile devices can help an organization prevent bill shock caused by data overages or roaming on any iOS, Android, or Windows 10 device, with detailed and holistic reporting so businesses can understand how they use data and where risk may enter through mobile usage.

Better together—Microsoft and Wandera

Businesses can benefit from the strong integration between Microsoft Endpoint Manager, Azure AD, and Wandera Mobile Security Suite, making device management processes seamless. The combined solution streamlines device lifecycle management, involves a single source-of-truth for users and roles that is applied consistently between products, and makes security policies more intelligent and effective by ensuring that all components in the solution are sharing intelligence to remediate threat as soon as it’s detected.

Using Azure AD to centrally manage user identities simplifies administration, as credentials do not need to be created across multiple systems. When an employee is added in Azure AD, a profile will automatically be created in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, enabling their devices to be managed. In turn, Wandera Mobile Security Suite can be integrated with Microsoft Endpoint Manager so that the same acceptable use, content security, and data management policies can be applied seamlessly. This workflow functions when an employee leaves the business, unenrolling them from all services, making integration of services an easy way to manage a device’s lifecycle and ensuring that sensitive data remains secure

The integrated solution also enables differentiated access for users through applying policies by role. The three services can be linked directly so that an organization’s directory hierarchy can be shared, and acceptable use policies applied to the user level simply and easily.

Enabling employees is very important for productivity, but equally as important is preventing unwanted parties accessing confidential information and critical systems. Infecting an endpoint is an easy way for malicious parties to infiltrate a businesses’ technology systems.

The integrated solution also incorporates risk signals from a variety of sources to ensure that the user, device, and data are safe. Microsoft Endpoint Manager provides a risk assessment of the device configuration, including whether the lockscreen is configured properly. Azure AD is able to determine when sign-in behavior is anomalous or risky, through signals integration with Azure AD Identity Protection. Wandera Mobile Security Suite provides an added set of security assessments on the device that includes vulnerability scans, app vetting, and Man-in-the-Middle checks. All of these risk signals are brought together through a single Conditional Access policy.

Best practices for mobility management with iOS, Android, and Windows 10 devices

As mobile employees are enabled with mobile iOS, Android, and Windows 10 devices, businesses need to embrace technology that will give admins the necessary controls to effectively manage employee devices consistently. Businesses need to be able to manage productivity tools, by providing access to acceptable applications and blocking unwanted applications. Organizations need to provide strong security across devices to close gaps in their defenses and prevent common threats from impacting business operations. Finally, businesses should ensure that Windows devices do not cause unexpected data charges by employing cost control tools.

To be able to effectively enforce acceptable use, content security, and control costs across a device fleet with many different device types, businesses should utilize integrated solutions that can support consistent management. Microsoft Endpoint Manager, Azure AD, and Wandera Mobile Security Suite provide features that organizations need to embrace a mobile fleet. Bringing these three services together creates a powerful joint solution that can improve businesses’ lifecycle management, policy application, and identity and security management.

Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Check out our security solutions that help to address these issues. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

The post Unifying security policy across all mobile form-factors with Wandera and Microsoft appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Ghost in the shell: Investigating web shell attacks

February 4th, 2020 No comments

Recently, an organization in the public sector discovered that one of their internet-facing servers was misconfigured and allowed attackers to upload a web shell, which let the adversaries gain a foothold for further compromise. The organization enlisted the services of Microsoft’s Detection and Response Team (DART) to conduct a full incident response and remediate the threat before it could cause further damage.

DART’s investigation showed that the attackers uploaded a web shell in multiple folders on the web server, leading to the subsequent compromise of service accounts and domain admin accounts. This allowed the attackers to perform reconnaissance using net.exe, scan for additional target systems using nbstat.exe, and eventually move laterally using PsExec.

The attackers installed additional web shells on other systems, as well as a DLL backdoor on an Outlook Web Access (OWA) server. To persist on the server, the backdoor implant registered itself as a service or as an Exchange transport agent, which allowed it to access and intercept all incoming and outgoing emails, exposing sensitive information. The backdoor also performed additional discovery activities as well as downloaded other malware payloads. In addition, the attackers sent special emails that the DLL backdoor interpreted as commands.

Figure 1. Sample web shell attack chain

The case is one of increasingly more common incidents of web shell attacks affecting multiple organizations in various sectors. A web shell is a piece of malicious code, often written in typical web development programming languages (e.g., ASP, PHP, JSP), that attackers implant on web servers to provide remote access and code execution to server functions. Web shells allow adversaries to execute commands and to steal data from a web server or use the server as launch pad for further attacks against the affected organization.

With the use of web shells in cyberattacks on the rise, Microsoft’s DART, the Microsoft Defender ATP Research Team, and the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) have been working together to investigate and closely monitor this threat.

Web shell attacks in the current threat landscape

Multiple threat actors, including ZINC, KRYPTON, and GALLIUM, have been observed utilizing web shells in their campaigns. To implant web shells, adversaries take advantage of security gaps in internet-facing web servers, typically vulnerabilities in web applications, for example CVE-2019-0604 or CVE-2019-16759.

In our investigations into these types of attacks, we have seen web shells within files that attempt to hide or blend in by using names commonly used for legitimate files in web servers, for example:

  • index.aspx
  • fonts.aspx
  • css.aspx
  • global.aspx
  • default.php
  • function.php
  • Fileuploader.php
  • help.js
  • write.jsp
  • 31.jsp

Among web shells used by threat actors, the China Chopper web shell is one of the most widely used. One example is written in JSP:

We have seen this malicious JSP code within a specially crafted file uploaded to web servers:

Figure 2. Specially crafted image file with malicious JSP code

Another China Chopper variant is written in PHP:

Meanwhile, the KRYPTON group uses a bespoke web shell written in C# within an ASP.NET page:

Figure 3. Web shell written in C# within an ASP.NET page

Once a web shell is successfully inserted into a web server, it can allow remote attackers to perform various tasks on the web server. Web shells can steal data, perpetrate watering hole attacks, and run other malicious commands for further compromise.

Web shell attacks have affected a wide range of industries. The organization in the public sector mentioned above represents one of the most common targeted sectors.

Aside from exploiting vulnerabilities in web applications or web servers, attackers take advantage of other weaknesses in internet-facing servers. These include the lack of the latest security updates, antivirus tools, network protection, proper security configuration, and informed security monitoring. Interestingly, we observed that attacks usually occur on weekends or during off-hours, when attacks are likely not immediately spotted and responded to.

Unfortunately, these gaps appear to be widespread, given that every month, Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) detects an average of 77,000 web shell and related artifacts on an average of 46,000 distinct machines.

Figure 3: Web shell encounters 

Detecting and mitigating web shell attacks

Because web shells are a multi-faceted threat, enterprises should build comprehensive defenses for multiple attack surfaces. Microsoft Threat Protection provides unified protection for identities, endpoints, email and data, apps, and infrastructure. Through signal-sharing across Microsoft services, customers can leverage Microsoft’s industry-leading optics and security technologies to combat web shells and other threats.

Gaining visibility into internet-facing servers is key to detecting and addressing the threat of web shells. The installation of web shells can be detected by monitoring web application directories for web script file writes. Applications such as Outlook Web Access (OWA) rarely change after they have been installed and script writes to these application directories should be treated as suspicious.

After installation, web shell activity can be detected by analyzing processes created by the Internet Information Services (IIS) process w3wp.exe. Sequences of processes that are associated with reconnaissance activity such as those identified in the alert screenshot (net.exe, ping.exe, systeminfo.exe, and hostname.exe) should be treated with suspicion. Web applications such as OWA run from well-defined Application Pools. Any cmd.exe process execution by w3wp.exe running from an application pool that doesn’t typically execute processes such as ‘MSExchangeOWAAppPool’ should be treated as unusual and regarded as potentially malicious.

Microsoft Defender ATP exposes these behaviors that indicate web shell installation and post-compromise activity by analyzing script file writes and process executions. When alerted of these activities, security operations teams can then use the rich capabilities in Microsoft Defender ATP to investigate and resolve web shell attacks.

Figure 4. Sample Microsoft Defender ATP alerts related to web shell attacks

Figure 5. Microsoft Defender ATP alert process tree

As in most security issues, prevention is critical. Organizations can harden systems against web shell attacks by taking these preventive steps:

  • Identify and remediate vulnerabilities or misconfigurations in web applications and web servers. Deploy latest security updates as soon as they become available.
  • Audit and review logs from web servers frequently. Be aware of all systems you expose directly to the internet.
  • Utilize the Windows Defender Firewall, intrusion prevention devices, and your network firewall to prevent command-and-control server communication among endpoints whenever possible. This limits lateral movement as well as other attack activities.
  • Check your perimeter firewall and proxy to restrict unnecessary access to services, including access to services through non-standard ports.
  • Enable cloud-delivered protection to get the latest defenses against new and emerging threats.
  • Educate end users about preventing malware infections. Encourage end users to practice good credential hygiene—limit the use of accounts with local or domain admin privileges.

 

 

Detection and Response Team (DART)

Microsoft Defender ATP Research Team

Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC)

 

The post Ghost in the shell: Investigating web shell attacks appeared first on Microsoft Security.

sLoad launches version 2.0, Starslord

January 21st, 2020 No comments

sLoad, the PowerShell-based Trojan downloader notable for its almost exclusive use of the Windows BITS service for malicious activities, has launched version 2.0. The new version comes on the heels of a comprehensive blog we published detailing the malware’s multi-stage nature and use of BITS as alternative protocol for data exfiltration and other behaviors.

With the new version, sLoad has added the ability to track the stage of infection on every affected machine. Version 2.0 also packs an anti-analysis trick that could identify and isolate analyst machines vis-à-vis actual infected machines.

We’re calling the new version “Starslord” based on strings in the malware code, which has clues indicating that the name “sLoad” may have been derived from a popular comic book superhero.

We discovered the new sLoad version over the holidays, in our continuous monitoring of the malware. New sLoad campaigns that use version 2.0 follow an attack chain similar to the previous version, with some updates, including dropping the dynamic list of command-and-control (C2) servers and upload of screenshots.

Tracking the stage of infection

With the ability to track the stage of infection, malware operators with access to the Starslord backend could build a detailed view of infections across affected machines and segregate these machines into different groups.

The tracking mechanism exists in the final-stage, which, as with the old version, loops infinitely (with sleep interval of 2400 seconds, higher than the 1200 seconds in version 1.0). In line with the previous version, at every iteration of the final stage, the malware uses a download BITS job to exfiltrate stolen system information and receive additional payloads from the active C2 server.

As we noted in our previous blog, creating a BITS job with an extremely large RemoteURL parameter that includes non-encrypted system information, as the old sLoad version did, stands out and is relatively easy to detect. However, with Starslord, the system information is encoded into Base64 data before being exfiltrated.

The file received by Starslord in response to the exfiltration BITS job contains a tuple of three values separated by an asterisk (*):

  • Value #1 is a URL to download additional payload using a download BITS job
  • Value #2 specifies the action, which can be any of the following, to be taken on the payload downloaded from the URL in value#1:
    • “eval” – Run (possibly very large) PowerShell scripts
    • “iex” – Load and invoke (possibly small) PowerShell code
    • “run” – Download encoded PE file, decode using exe, and run the decoded executable
  • Value #3 is an integer that can signify the stage of infection for the machine

Supplying the payload URL as part of value #1 allows the malware infrastructure to house additional payloads on different servers from the active C2 servers responding to the exfiltration BITS jobs.

Value#3 is the most noteworthy component in this setup. If the final stage succeeds in downloading additional payload using the URL provided in value #1 and executing it as specified by the command in value #2, then a variable is used to form the string “td”:”<value#3>”,”tds”:”3”. However, if the final stage fails to download and execute the payload, then the string formed is “td”:”<value #3>”,”tds”:”4”.

The infinite loop ensures that the exfiltration BITS jobs are created at a fixed interval. The backend infrastructure can then pick up the pulse from each infected machine. However, unlike the previous version, Starslord includes the said string in succeeding iterations of data exfiltration. This means that the malware infrastructure is always aware of the exact stage of the infection for a specific affected machine. In addition, since the numeric value for value #3 in the tuple is always governed by the malware infrastructure, malware operators can compartmentalize infected hosts and could potentially set off individual groups on unique infection paths. For example, when responding to exfiltration BITS jobs, malware operators can specify a different URL (value #1) and action (value #2) for each numeric value for value #3 of the tuple, essentially deploying a different malware payload for different groups.

Anti-analysis trap

Starslord comes built-in with a function named checkUniverse, which is in-fact an anti-analysis trap.

As mentioned in our previous blog post, the final stage of sLoad is a piece of PowerShell code obtained by decoding one of the dropped .ini files. The PowerShell code appears in the memory as a value assigned to a variable that is then executed using the Invoke-Expression cmdlet. Because this is a huge piece of decrypted PowerShell code that never hits the disk, security researchers would typically dump it into a file on the disk for further analysis.

The sLoad dropper PowerShell script drops four files:

  • a randomly named .tmp file
  • a randomly named .ps1 file
  • a ini file
  • a ini file

It then creates a scheduled task to run the .tmp file every 3 minutes, similar to the previous version. The .tmp file is a proxy that does nothing but run the .ps1 file, which decrypts the contents of main.ini into the final stage. The final stage then decrypts contents of domain.ini to obtain active C2 and perform other activities as documented.

As a unique anti-analysis trap, Starslord ensures that the .tmp and.ps1 files have the same random name. When an analyst dumps the decrypted code of the final stage into a file in the same folder as the .tmp and .ps1 files, the analyst could end up naming it something other than the original random name. When this dumped code is run from such differently named file on the disk, a function named checkUniverse returns the value 1, and the analyst gets trapped:

What comes next is not very desirable for a security researcher: being profiled by the malware operator.

If the host belongs to a trapped analyst, the file downloaded from the backend in response to the exfiltration BITS job, if any, is discarded and overwritten by the following new tuple:

hxxps://<active C2>/doc/updx2401.jpg*eval*-1

In this case, the value #1 of the tuple is a URL that’s known to the backend for being associated with trapped hosts. BITS jobs from trapped hosts don’t always get a response. If they do, it’s a copy of the dropper PowerShell script. This could be to create an illusion that the framework is being updated as the URL in value #1 of the tuple suggests (hxxps://<active C2>/doc/updx2401.jpg).

However, the string that is included in all successive exfiltration BITS jobs from such host is “td”:”-1”,”tds”:”3”, eventually leading to all such hosts getting grouped under value “td”:”-1”. This forms the group of all trapped machines that are never delivered a payload. For the rest, so far, evidence suggests that it has been delivering the file infector Ramnit intermittently.

Durable protection against evolving malware

sLoad’s multi-stage attack chain, use of mutated intermediate scripts and BITS as an alternative protocol, and its polymorphic nature in general make it a piece malware that can be quite tricky to detect. Now, it has evolved into a new and polished version Starlord, which retains sLoads most basic capabilities but does away with spyware capabilities in favor of new and more powerful features, posing even higher risk.

Starslord can track and group affected machines based on the stage of infection, which can allow for unique infection paths. Interestingly, given the distinct reference to a fictional superhero, these groups can be thought of as universes in a multiverse. In fact, the malware uses a function called checkUniverse to determine if a host is an analyst machine.

Microsoft Threat Protection defends customers from sophisticated and continuously evolving threats like sLoad using multiple industry-leading security technologies that protect various attack surfaces. Through signal-sharing across multiple Microsoft services, Microsoft Threat Protection delivers comprehensive protection for identities, endpoints, data, apps, and infrastructure.

On endpoints, behavioral blocking and containment capabilities in Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (Microsoft Defender ATP) ensure durable protection against evolving threats. Through cloud-based machine learning and data science informed by threat research, Microsoft Defender ATP can spot and stop malicious behaviors from threats, both old and new, in real-time.

 

 

Sujit Magar

Microsoft Defender ATP Research Team

The post sLoad launches version 2.0, Starslord appeared first on Microsoft Security.

CISO series: Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC—Part 3b: A day in the life

December 23rd, 2019 No comments

The Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC blog series is designed to share our approach and experience with security operations center (SOC) operations. We share strategies and learnings from our SOC, which protects Microsoft, and our Detection and Response Team (DART), who helps our customers address security incidents. For a visual depiction of our SOC philosophy, download our Minutes Matter poster.

For the next two installments in the series, we’ll take you on a virtual shadow session of a SOC analyst, so you can see how we use security technology. You’ll get to virtually experience a day in the life of these professionals and see how Microsoft security tools support the processes and metrics we discussed earlier. We’ll primarily focus on the experience of the Investigation team (Tier 2) as the Triage team (Tier 1) is a streamlined subset of this process. Threat hunting will be covered separately.

Image of security workers in an office.

General impressions

Newcomers to the facility often remark on how calm and quiet our SOC physical space is. It looks and sounds like a “normal” office with people going about their job in a calm professional manner. This is in sharp contrast to the dramatic moments in TV shows that use operations centers to build tension/drama in a noisy space.

Nature doesn’t have edges

We have learned that the real world is often “messy” and unpredictable, and the SOC tends to reflect that reality. What comes into the SOC doesn’t always fit into the nice neat boxes, but a lot of it follows predictable patterns that have been forged into standard processes, automation, and (in many cases) features of Microsoft tooling.

Routine front door incidents

The most common attack patterns we see are phishing and stolen credentials attacks (or minor variations on them):

  • Phishing email → Host infection → Identity pivot:

Infographic indicating: Phishing email, Host infection, and Identity pivot

  • Stolen credentials → Identity pivot → Host infection:

Infographic indicating: Stolen credentials, Identity pivot, and Host infection

While these aren’t the only ways attackers gain access to organizations, they’re the most prevalent methods mastered by most attackers. Just as martial artists start by mastering basic common blocks, punches, and kicks, SOC analysts and teams must build a strong foundation by learning to respond rapidly to these common attack methods.

As we mentioned earlier in the series, it’s been over two years since network-based detection has been the primary method for detecting an attack. We attribute this primarily to investments that improved our ability to rapidly remediate attacks early with host/email/identity detections. There are also fundamental challenges with network-based detections (they are noisy and have limited native context for filtering true vs. false positives).

Analyst investigation process

Once an analyst settles into the analyst pod on the watch floor for their shift, they start checking the queue of our case management system for incidents (not entirely unlike phone support or help desk analysts would).

While anything might show up in the queue, the process for investigating common front door incidents includes:

  1. Alert appears in the queue—After a threat detection tool detects a likely attack, an incident is automatically created in our case management system. The Mean Time to Acknowledge (MTTA) measurement of SOC responsiveness begins with this timestamp. See Part 1: Organization for more information on key SOC metrics.

Basic threat hunting helps keep a queue clean and tidy

Require a 90 percent true positive rate for alert sources (e.g., detection tools and types) before allowing them to generate incidents in the analyst queue. This quality requirement reduces the volume of false positive alerts, which can lead to frustration and wasted time. To implement, you’ll need to measure and refine the quality of alert sources and create a basic threat hunting process. A basic threat hunting process leverages experienced analysts to comb through alert sources that don’t meet this quality bar to identify interesting alerts that are worth investigating. This review (without requiring full investigation of each one) helps ensure that real incident detections are not lost in the high volume of noisy alerts. It can be a simple part time process, but it does require skilled analysts that can apply their experience to the task.

  1. Own and orient—The analyst on shift begins by taking ownership of the case and reading through the information available in the case management tool. The timestamp for this is the end of the MTTA responsiveness measurement and begins the Mean Time to Remediate (MTTR) measurement.

Experience matters

A SOC is dependent on the knowledge, skills, and expertise of the analysts on the team. The attack operators and malware authors you defend against are often adaptable and skilled humans, so no prescriptive textbook or playbook on response will stay current for very long. We work hard to take good care of our people—giving them time to decompress and learn, recruiting them from diverse backgrounds that can bring fresh perspectives, and creating a career path and shadowing programs that encourage them to learn and grow.

  1. Check out the host—Typically, the first priority is to identify affected endpoints so analysts can rapidly get deep insight. Our SOC relies on the Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) functionality in Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) for this.

Why endpoint is important

Our analysts have a strong preference to start with the endpoint because:

  • Endpoints are involved in most attacks—Malware on an endpoint represents the sole delivery vehicle of most commodity attacks, and most attack operators still rely on malware on at least one endpoint to achieve their objective. We’ve also found the EDR capabilities detect advanced attackers that are “living off the land” (using tools deployed by the enterprise to navigate). The EDR functionality in Microsoft Defender ATP provides visibility into normal behavior that helps detect unusual command lines and process creation events.
  • Endpoint offers powerful insights—Malware and its behavior (whether automated or manual actions) on the endpoint often provides rich detailed insight into the attacker’s identity, skills, capabilities, and intentions, so it’s a key element that our analysts always check for.

Identifying the endpoints affected by this incident is easy for alerts raised by the Microsoft Defender ATP EDR, but may take a few pivots on an email or identity sourced alert, which makes integration between these tools crucial.

  1. Scope out and fill in the timeline—The analyst then builds a full picture and timeline of the related chain of events that led to the alert (which may be an adversary’s attack operation or false alarm positive) by following leads from the first host alert. The analyst travels along the timeline:
  • Backward in time—Track backward to identify the entry point in the environment.
  • Forward in time—Follow leads to any devices/assets an attacker may have accessed (or attempted to access).

Our analysts typically build this picture using the MITRE ATT&CK™ model (though some also adhere to the classic Lockheed Martin Cyber Kill Chain®).

True or false? Art or science?

The process of investigation is partly a science and partly an art. The analyst is ultimately building a storyline of what happened to determine whether this chain of events is the result of a malicious actor (often attempting to mask their actions/nature), a normal business/technical process, an innocent mistake, or something else.

This investigation is a repetitive process. Analysts identify potential leads based on the information in the original report, follow those leads, and evaluate if the results contribute to the investigation.

Analysts often contact users to identify whether they performed an anomalous action intentionally, accidentally, or was not done by them at all.

Running down the leads with automation

Much like analyzing physical evidence in a criminal investigation, cybersecurity investigations involve iteratively digging through potential evidence, which can be tedious work. Another parallel between cybersecurity and traditional forensic investigations is that popular TV and movie depictions are often much more exciting and faster than the real world.

One significant advantage of investigating cyberattacks is that the relevant data is already electronic, making it easier to automate investigation. For many incidents, our SOC takes advantage of security orchestration, automation, and remediation (SOAR) technology to automate investigation (and remediation) of routine incidents. Our SOC relies heavily on the AutoIR functionality in Microsoft Threat Protection tools like Microsoft Defender ATP and Office 365 ATP to reduce analyst workload. In our current configuration, some remediations are fully automatic and some are semi-automatic (where analysts review the automated investigations and propose remediation before approving execution of it).

Document, document, document

As the analyst builds this understanding, they must capture a complete record with their conclusions and reasoning/evidence for future use (case reviews, analyst self-education, re-opening cases that are later linked to active attacks, etc.).

As our analyst develops information on an incident, they capture the common, most relevant details quickly into the case such as:

  • Alert info: Alert links and Alert timeline
  • Machine info: Name and ID
  • User info
  • Event info
  • Detection source
  • Download source
  • File creation info
  • Process creation
  • Installation/Persistence method(s)
  • Network communication
  • Dropped files

Fusion and integration avoid wasting analyst time

Each minute an analyst wastes on manual effort is another minute the attacker has to spread, infect, and do damage during an attack operation. Repetitive manual activity also creates analyst toil, increases frustration, and can drive interest in finding a new job or career.

We learned that several technologies are key to reducing toil (in addition to automation):

  • Fusion—Adversary attack operations frequently trip multiple alerts in multiple tools, and these must be correlated and linked to avoid duplication of effort. Our SOC has found significant value from technologies that automatically find and fuse these alerts together into a single incident. Azure Security Center and Microsoft Threat Protection include these natively.
  • Integration—Few things are more frustrating and time consuming than having to switch consoles and tools to follow a lead (a.k.a., swivel chair analytics). Switching consoles interrupts their thought process and often requires manual tasks to copy/paste information between tools to continue their work. Our analysts are extremely appreciative of the work our engineering teams have done to bring threat intelligence natively into Microsoft’s threat detection tools and link together the consoles for Microsoft Defender ATP, Office 365 ATP, and Azure ATP. They’re also looking forward to (and starting to test) the Microsoft Threat Protection Console and Azure Sentinel updates that will continue to reduce the swivel chair analytics.

Stay tuned for the next segment in the series, where we’ll conclude our investigation, remediate the incident, and take part in some continuous improvement activities.

Learn more

In the meantime, bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters and follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

To learn more about SOCs, read previous posts in the Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC series, including:

Watch the CISO Spotlight Series: Passwordless: What’s It Worth.

Also, see our full CISO series and download our Minutes Matter poster for a visual depiction of our SOC philosophy.

The post CISO series: Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC—Part 3b: A day in the life appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Mobile threat defense and intelligence are a core part of cyber defense

December 19th, 2019 No comments

The modern workplace is a mobile workplace. Today’s organizations rely on mobility to increase productivity and improve the customer experience. But the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices has also expanded the attack surface of roughly 5 billion mobile devices in the world, many used to handle sensitive corporate data. To safeguard company assets, organizations need to augment their global cyber defense strategy with mobile threat intelligence.

When handled and analyzed properly, actionable data holds the key to enabling solid, 360-degree cybersecurity strategies and responses. However, many corporations lack effective tools to collect, analyze, and act on the massive volume of security events that arise daily across their mobile fleet. An international bank recently faced this challenge. By deploying Pradeo Security alongside Microsoft Endpoint Manager and Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), the bank was able to harness its mobile data and better protect the company.

Pradeo Security strengthens Microsoft Endpoint Manager Conditional Access policies

In 2017, the Chief Information Security Office (CISO) of an international bank recognized that the company needed to address the risk of data exposure on mobile. Cybercriminals exploit smart phones at the application, network, and OS levels, and infiltrate them through mobile applications 78 percent of the time.1 The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was also scheduled to go into effect the following year. The company needed to better secure its mobile data to safeguard the company and comply with the new privacy regulations.

The company deployed Microsoft Endpoint Manager to gain visibility into the mobile devices accessing corporate resources. Microsoft Endpoint Manager is the recently announced convergence of Microsoft Intune and Configuration Manager functionality and data, plus new intelligent actions, offering seamless, unified endpoint management. Then, to ensure the protection of these corporate resources, the company deployed Pradeo Security Mobile Threat Defense, which is integrated with Microsoft.

Pradeo Security and Microsoft Endpoint Manager work together to apply conditional access policies to each mobile session. Conditional access policies allow the security team to automate access based on the circumstances. For example, if a user tries to gain access using a device that is not managed by Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the user may be forced to enroll the device. Pradeo Security enhances Microsoft Endpoint Manager’s capabilities by providing a clear security status of any mobile devices accessing corporate data, which Microsoft can evaluate for risk. If a smartphone is identified as non-compliant based on the data that Pradeo provides, conditional access policies can be applied.

For example, if the risk is high, the bank could set policies that block access. The highly granular and customizable security policies offered by Pradeo Security gave the CISO more confidence that the mobile fleet was better protected against threats specifically targeting his industry.

Get more details about Pradeo Security for Microsoft Endpoint Manager in this datasheet.

Detect and respond to advanced cyberthreats with Pradeo Security and Microsoft Defender ATP

The bank also connected Pradeo Security to Microsoft Defender ATP in order to automatically feed it with always current mobile security inputs. Microsoft Defender ATP helps enterprises prevent, detect, investigate, and respond to advanced cyberthreats. Pradeo Security enriches Microsoft Defender ATP with mobile security intelligence. Immediately, the bank was able to see information on the latest threats targeting their mobile fleet. Only a few weeks later, there was enough data in the Microsoft platform to draw trends and get a clear understanding of the company’s mobile threat environment.

Pradeo relies on a network of millions of devices (iOS and Android) across the globe to collect security events related to the most current mobile threats. Pradeo leverages machine learning mechanisms to distill and classify billions of raw and anonymous security facts into actionable mobile threat intelligence.

Today, this bank’s mobile ecosystem entirely relies on Pradeo and Microsoft, as its security team finds it to be the most cost-effective combination when it comes to mobile device management, protection, and intelligence.

About Pradeo

Pradeo is a global leader of mobile security and a member of the Microsoft Intelligent Security Association (MISA). It offers services to protect the data handled on mobile devices and applications, and tools to collect, process, and get value out of mobile security events.

Pradeo’s cutting-edge technology has been recognized as one of the most advanced mobile security technologies by Gartner, IDC, and Frost & Sullivan. It provides a reliable detection of mobile threats to prevent breaches and reinforce compliance with data privacy regulations.

For more details, contact Pradeo.

Note: Users must be entitled separately to Pradeo and Microsoft licenses as appropriate.

Learn more

To learn more about MISA, visit the MISA webpage. Also, bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters and follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

Microsoft Endpoint Manager

Transformative management and security that meets you where you are and helps you move to the cloud.

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12019 Mobile Security Report, Pradeo Lab

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Data science for cybersecurity: A probabilistic time series model for detecting RDP inbound brute force attacks

December 18th, 2019 No comments

Computers with Windows Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) exposed to the internet are an attractive target for adversaries because they present a simple and effective way to gain access to a network. Brute forcing RDP, a secure network communications protocol that provides remote access over port 3389, does not require a high level of expertise or the use of exploits; attackers can utilize many off-the-shelf tools to scan the internet for potential victims and leverage similar such tools for conducting the brute force attack.

Attackers target RDP servers that use weak passwords and are without multi-factor authentication, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other security protections. Through RDP brute force, threat actor groups can gain access to target machines and conduct many follow-on activities like ransomware and coin mining operations.

In a brute force attack, adversaries attempt to sign in to an account by effectively using one or more trial-and-error methods. Many failed sign-ins occurring over very short time frequencies, typically minutes or even seconds, are usually associated with these attacks. A brute force attack might also involve adversaries attempting to access one or more accounts using valid usernames that were obtained from credential theft or using common usernames like “administrator”. The same holds for password combinations. In detecting RDP brute force attacks, we focus on the source IP address and username, as password data is not available.

In the Windows operating system, whenever an attempted sign-in fails for a local machine, Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) registers Event ID 4625 with the associated username. Meanwhile, source IP addresses connected to RDP can be accessed; this information is very useful in assessing if a machine is under brute force attack. Using this information in combination with Event ID 4624 for non-server Windows machines can shed light on which sign-in sessions were successfully created and can further help in detecting if a local machine has been compromised.

In this blog we’ll present a study and a detection logic that uses these signals. This data science-driven approach to detecting RDP brute force attacks has proven valuable in detecting human adversary activity through Microsoft Threat Experts, the managed threat hunting service in Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection. This work is an example of how the close collaboration between data scientists and threat hunters results in protection for customers against real-world threats.

Insights into brute force attacks

Observing a sudden, relatively large count of Event ID 4625 associated with RDP network connections might be rare, but it does not necessarily imply that a machine is under attack. For example, a script that performs the following actions would look suspicious looking at a time series of counts of failed sign-in but is most likely not malicious:

  • uses an expired password
  • retries sign-in attempts every N-minutes with different usernames
  • over a public IP address within a range owned by the enterprise

In contrast, behavior that includes the following is indicative of an attack:

  • extreme counts of failed sign-ins from many unknown usernames
  • never previously successfully authenticated
  • from multiple RDP connections
  • from new source IP addresses

Understanding the context of failed sign-ins and inbound connections is key to discriminating between true positive (TP) and false positive (FP) brute force attacks, especially if the goal is to automatically raise only high-precision alerts to the appropriate recipients, as we do in Microsoft Defender ATP.

We analyzed several months’ worth of data to mine insights into the types of RDP brute force attacks occurring across Microsoft Defender ATP customers. Out of about 45,000 machines that had both RDP public IP connections and at least 1 network failed sign-in, we discovered that, on average, several hundred machines per day had high probability of undergoing one or more RDP brute force attack attempts. Of the subpopulation of machines with detected brute force attacks, the attacks lasted 2-3 days on average, with about 90% of cases lasting for 1 week or less, and less than 5% lasting for 2 weeks or more.

Figure 1: Empirical distribution in number of days per machine where we observed 1 or more brute force attacks

As discussed in numerous other studies [1], large counts of failed sign-ins are often associated with brute force attacks. Looking at the count of daily failed sign-ins, 90% of cases exceeded 10 attempts, with a median larger than 60. In addition, these unusual daily counts had high positive correlation with extreme counts in shorter time windows (see Figure 2). In fact, the number of extreme failed sign-ins per day typically occurred under 2 hours, with about 40% failing in under 30 minutes.

Figure 2: Count of daily and maximum hourly network failed sign-ins for a local machine under brute force attack

While a detection logic based on thresholding the count of failed sign-ins during daily or finer grain time window can detect many brute force attacks, this will likely produce too many false positives. Worse, relying on just this will yield false negatives, missing successful enterprise compromises: our analysis revealed several instances where brute force attacks generated less than 5-10 failed attempts at a daily granularity but often persisted for many days, thereby avoiding extreme counts at any point in time. For such a brute force attack, thresholding the cumulative number of failed sign-ins across time could be more useful, as depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Daily and cumulative failed network sign-in

Looking at counts of network failed sign-ins provides a useful but incomplete picture of RDP brute force attacks. This can be further augmented with additional information on the failed sign-in, such as the failure reason, time of day, and day of week, as well as the username itself. An especially strong signal is the source IP of the inbound RDP connection. Knowing if the external IP has a high reputation of abuse, as can be looked up on sites like https://www.abuseipdb.com/, can directly confirm if an IP is a part of an active brute force.

Unfortunately, not all IP addresses have a history of abuse; in addition, it can be expensive to retrieve information about many external IP addresses on demand. Maintaining a list of suspicious IPs is an option, but relying on this can result in false negatives as, inevitably, new IPs continually occur, particularly with the adoption of cloud computing and ease of spinning up virtual machines. A generic signal that can augment failed sign-in and user information is counting distinct RDP connections from external IP addresses. Again, extreme values occurring at a given time or cumulated over time can be an indicator of attack.

Figure 4 shows histograms (i.e., counts put into discrete bins) of daily counts of RDP public connections per machine that occurred for an example enterprise with known brute force attacks. It’s evident that normal machines have a lower probability of larger counts compared to machines attacked.

Figure 4: Histograms of daily count of RDP inbound across machines for an example enterprise

Given that some enterprises have machines under brute force attack daily, the priority may be to focus on machines that have been compromised, defined by a first successful sign-in following failed attempts from suspicious source IP addresses or unusual usernames. In Windows logs, Event ID 4624 can be leveraged to measure successful sign-in events for local machine in combination with failed sign-ins (Event ID 4625).

Out of the hundreds of machines with RDP brute force attacks detected in our analysis, we found that about .08% were compromised. Furthermore, across all enterprises analyzed over several months, on average about 1 machine was detected with high probability of being compromised resulting from an RDP brute force attack every 3-4 days. Figure 5 shows a bubble chart of the average abuse score of external IPs associated with RDP brute force attacks that successfully compromised machines. The size of the bubbles is determined by the count of distinct machines across the enterprises analyzed having a network connection from each IP. While there is diversity in the origin of the source IPs, Netherlands, Russia, and the United Kingdom have a larger concentration of inbound RDP connections from high-abuse IP.

Figure 5: Bubble chart of IP abuse score versus counts of machine with inbound RDP

A key takeaway from our analysis is that successful brute force attempts are not uncommon; therefore, it’s critical to monitor at least the suspicious connections and unusual failed sign-ins that result in authenticated sign-in events. In the following sections we describe a methodology to do this. This methodology was leveraged by Microsoft Threat Experts to augment threat hunting and resulted in new targeted attack notifications.

Combining many relevant signals

As discussed earlier (with the example of scripts connecting via RDP using outdated passwords yielding failed sign-ins), simply relying on thresholding failed attempts per machine for detecting brute force attacks can be noisy and may result in many false positives. A better strategy is to utilize many contextually relevant signals, such as:

  • the timing, type, and count of failed sign-in
  • username history
  • type and frequency of network connections
  • first-time username from a new source machine with a successful sign-in

This can be even further extended to include indicators of attack associated with brute force, such as port scanning.

Combining multiple signals along the attack chain has been proposed and shown promising results [2]. We considered the following signals in detecting RDP inbound brute force attacks per machine:

  • hour of day and day of week of failed sign-in and RDP connections
  • timing of successful sign-in following failed attempts
  • Event ID 4625 login type (filtered to network and remote interactive)
  • Event ID 4625 failure reason (filtered to %%2308, %%2312, %%2313)
  • cumulative count of distinct username that failed to sign in without success
  • count (and cumulative count) of failed sign-ins
  • count (and cumulative count) of RDP inbound external IP
  • count of other machines having RDP inbound connections from one or more of the same IP

Unsupervised probabilistic time series anomaly detection

For many cybersecurity problems, including detecting brute force attacks, previously labeled data is not usually available. Thus, training a supervised learning model is not feasible. This is where unsupervised learning is helpful, enabling one to discover and quantify unknown behaviors when examples are too sparse. Given that several of the signals we consider for modeling RDP brute force attacks are inherently dependent on values observed over time (for example, daily counts of failed sign-ins and counts of inbound connections), time series models are particularly beneficial. Specifically, time series anomaly detection naturally provides a logical framework to quantify uncertainty in modeling temporal changes in data and produce probabilities that then can be ranked and thresholded to control a desirable false positive rate.

Time series anomaly detection captures the temporal dynamics of signals and accurately quantifies the probability of observing values at any point in time under normal operating conditions. More formally, if we introduce the notation Y(t) to denote the signals taking on values at time t, then we build a model to compute reliable estimates of the probability of Y(t) exceeding observed values given all known and relevant information, represented by P[y(t)], sometimes called an anomaly score. Given a false positive tolerance rate r (e.g., .1% or 1 out of 10,000 per time), for each time t, values y*(t) satisfying P[y*(t)] < r would be detected as anomalous. Assuming the right signals reflecting the relevant behaviors of the type of attacks are chosen, then the idea is simple: the lowest anomaly scores occurring per time will be likely associated with the highest likelihood of real threats.

For example, looking back at Figure 2, the time series of daily count of failed sign-ins occurring on the brute force attack day 8/4/2019 had extreme values that would be associated with an empirical probability of about .03% out of all machine and days with at least 1 failed network sign-in for the enterprise.

As discussed earlier, applying anomaly detection to 1 or a few signals to detect real attacks can yield too many false positives. To mitigate this, we combined anomaly scores across eight signals we selected to model RDP brute force attack patterns. The details of our solution are included in the Appendix, but in summary, our methodology involves:

  • updating statistical discrete time series models sequentially for each signal, capturing time of day, day of week, and both point and cumulative effects
  • combining anomaly scores using an approach that yields accurate probability estimates, and
  • ranking the top N anomalies per day to control a desired number of false positives

Our approach to time series anomaly detection is computationally efficient, automatically learns how to update probabilities and adapt to changes in data.

As we describe in the next section, this approach has yielded successful attack detection at high precision.

Protecting customers from real-word RDP brute force attacks through Microsoft Threat Experts

The proposed time series anomaly detection model was deployed and utilized by Microsoft Threat Experts to detect RDP brute force attacks during threat hunting activities. A list that ranks machines across enterprises with the lowest anomaly scores (indicating the likelihood of observing a value at least as large under expected conditions in all signals considered) is updated and reviewed every day. See Table 1 for an example.

Table 1: Sample ranking of detected RDP inbound brute force attacks

For each machine with detection of a probable brute force attack, each instance is assigned TP, FP, or unknown. Each TP is then assigned priority based on the severity of the attack. For high-priority TP, a targeted attack notification is sent to the associated organization with details about the active brute force attack and recommendations for mitigating the threat; otherwise the machine is closely monitored until more information is available.

We also added an extra capability to our anomaly detection: automatically sending targeted attack notifications about RDP brute force attacks, in many cases before the attack succeeds or before the actor is able to conduct further malicious activities. Looking at the most recent sample of about two weeks of graded detections, the average precision per day (i.e., true positive rate) is approximately 93.7% at a conservative false positive rate of 1%.

In conclusion, based on our careful selection of signals found to be highly associated with RDP brute force attacks, we demonstrated that proper application of time series anomaly detection can be very accurate in identifying real threats. We have filed a patent application for this probabilistic time series model for detecting RDP inbound brute force attacks. In addition, we are working on integrating this capability into Microsoft Defender ATP’s endpoint and detection response capabilities so that the detection logic can raise alerts on RDP brute force attacks in real-time.

Monitoring suspicious activity in failed sign-in and network connections should be taken seriously—a real-time anomaly detection capable of self-updating with the changing dynamics in a network can indeed provide a sustainable solution. While Microsoft Defender ATP already has many anomaly detection capabilities integrated into its EDR capabilities, we will continue to enhance these detections to cover more security scenarios. Through data science, we will continue to combine robust statistical and machine learning approaches with threat expertise and intelligence to deliver industry-leading protection to our customers.

 

 

Cole Sodja, Justin Carroll, Joshua Neil
Microsoft Defender ATP Research Team

 

 

Appendix 1: Models formulation

We utilize hierarchical zero-adjusted negative binomial dynamic models to capture the characteristics of the highly discrete count time series. Specifically, as shown in Figure 2, it’s expected that most of the time there won’t be failed sign-ins for valid credentials on a local machine; hence, there are excess zeros that would not be explained by standard probability distributions such as the negative binomial. In addition, the variance of non-zero counts is often much larger than the mean, where for example, valid scripts connecting via RDP can generate counts in the 20s or more over several minutes because of an outdated password. Moreover, given a combination of multiple users or scripts connecting to shared machines at the same time, this can generate more extreme counts at higher quantiles resulting in heavier tails, as seen in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Daily count of network failed sign-in for a machine with no brute force attack

Parametric discrete location/scale distributions do not generate well-calibrated p-values for rare time series, as seen in Figure 6, and thus if used to detect anomalies can result in too many FPs when looking across many machines at high time frequencies. To overcome this challenge dealing with the sparse time series of counts of failed sign-in and RDP inbound public connections we specify a mixture model, where, based on our analysis, a zero-inflated two-component negative binomial distribution was adequate.

Our formulation is based on thresholding values that determine when to transition to a distribution with larger location and/or scale as given in Equation 1. Hierarchical priors are given from empirical estimates of the sample moments across machines using about 1 month of data.

Equation 1: Zero-adjusted negative binomial threshold model

Negative binomial distribution (NB):

To our knowledge, this formulation does not yield a conjugate prior, and so directly computing probabilities from the posterior predicted density is not feasible. Instead, anomaly scores are generated based on drawing samples from all distributions and then computing the empirical right-tail p-value.

Updating parameters is done based on applying exponential smoothing. To avoid outliers skewing estimates, such as machines under brute force or other attacks, trimming is applied to sample from the distribution at a specified false positive rate, which was set to .1% for our study. Algorithm 1 outlines the logic.

The smoothing parameters were learned based on maximum likelihood estimation and then fixed during each new sequential update. To induce further uncertainty, bootstrapping across machines is done to produce a histogram of smoothing weights, and samples are drawn in accordance to their frequency. We found that weights concentrated away from 0 vary between .06% and 8% for over 90% of machines, thus leading to slow changes in the parameters. An extension using adaptive forgetting factors will be considered in future work to automatically learn how to correct smoothing in real time.

Algorithm 1: Updating model parameters real-time

Appendix 2: Fisher Combination

For a given device, for each signal that exists a score is computed defined as a p-value, where lower values are associated with higher likelihood of being an anomaly. Then the p-values are combined to yield a joint score across all signals based on using the Fisher p-value combination method as follows:

The use of Fisher’s test applied to anomaly scores produces a scalable solution that yields interpretable probabilities that thus can be controlled to achieve a desired false positive rate. This has even been applied in a cybersecurity context. [3]

 

 

[1] Najafabadi et al, Machine Learning for Detecting Brute Force Attacks at the Network Level, 2014 IEEE 14th International Conference on Bioinformatics and Bioengineering
[2] Sexton et al, Attack chain detection, Statistical Analysis and Data Mining, 2015
[3] Heard, Combining Weak Statistical Evidence in Cyber Security, Intelligent Data Analysis XIV, 2015

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Multi-stage downloader Trojan sLoad abuses BITS almost exclusively for malicious activities

December 12th, 2019 No comments

Many of today’s threats evolve to incorporate as many living-off-the-land techniques as possible into the attack chain. The PowerShell-based downloader Trojan known as sLoad, however, puts all its bets on BITS.

Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) is a component of the Windows operating system that provides an ability to transfer files in an asynchronous and throttled fashion using idle bandwidth. Abusing BITS, which provides the ability to create self-contained jobs that can be prioritized and queued up and that can launch other programs, has become a prevalent attack technique. Recent sophisticated malware campaigns like Astaroth have found success in the use of BITS for downloading payloads or additional components, especially in systems where the firewall is not configured to block malicious traffic from BITS jobs.

sLoad, detected by Windows Defender Antivirus as TrojanDownloader:PowerShell/sLoad, is used by adversaries for exfiltrating system information and delivering additional payloads in targeted attacks. It has been around for a few years and has not stopped evolving. What hasn’t changed, though, is its use of BITS for all of its exfiltration activities, as well as command-and-control (C2) communications from handshake to downloading additional payloads.

Once sLoad has infiltrated a machine, it can allow attackers to do further, potentially more damaging actions. Using exfiltrated information, attackers can identify what security solutions are running and test payloads before they are sneaked into the compromised system or, worse, high-priced targets. sLoad uses scheduled tasks, which runs the malware every three minutes, opening the window of opportunity for further compromise—hence raising the risk for the affected machine—every time it runs. We have already seen the malware attempt to deliver several other, potentially more dangerous Trojans to compromised machines.

While several malware campaigns have leveraged BITS, sLoad’s almost exclusive use of the service is notable. sLoad uses BITS as an alternative protocol to perform data exfiltration and most of its other malicious activities, enabling the malware to evade defenders and protections that may not be inspecting this unconventional protocol. Cloud-based machine learning-driven behavioral blocking and containment capabilities in Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection detect and block sLoad’s activities as Behavior:Win32/sLoad.A.

In this blog we’ll share our analysis of the multiple ways in which sLoad is abusing BITS and share how Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection defeats these advanced malware techniques.

Stealthy installation via multiple cascaded scripts

sLoad is known to infect machines using spear-phishing emails and a common but effective detection evasion technique: the cascaded scripts. One script drops or downloads one or more scripts, passes control to one of these scripts, and repeats the process multiple times until the final component is installed.

Over time, we’ve seen some variations of this technique. One sLoad campaign used the link target field of a LNK file to run PowerShell commands that extracts and runs the first-stage PowerShell code, which is appended to the end of the LNK file or, in one instance, the end of the ZIP file that originally contained the LNK file. In another campaign, the first-stage PowerShell code itself uses a download BITS job to download either the sLoad script and the C2 URL file or the sLoad dropper PowerShell script that embeds the encrypted sLoad script and C2 URL file within itself.

In the most recent attacks, for the first stage, sLoad shifted from using PowerShell script to VBScript. The randomly named VBScript file is simply a proxy that builds and then drops and runs a PowerShell script, always named rr.ps1. This is none other than the same sLoad PowerShell dropper mentioned earlier that embeds the encrypted sLoad script and C2 URL file within itself.

In most variations of the installation, the sLoad dropper script is the last intermediate stage that performs the following actions, and eventually decrypts and runs the final sLoad script:

  1. Creates an installation folder in the %APPDATA% folder named after the first 6 characters of the Win32 Product UUID. 
  2. Drops an infection marker file named _in, and during the successive executions, uses the LastWriteTime on this file to check whether the malware is installed within last 30 mins, in which case, it terminates. 
  3. Drops the encrypted sLoad script and the C2 URL file as config.ini and web.ini, respectively. 
  4. Builds and drops two more randomly named scripts: one VBScript and one PowerShell script. 
  5. Uses schtasks.exe to create a scheduled task named AppRunLog to run the randomly named VBScript from the previous step with decryption key supplied as a command line parameter; deletes the previously created related tasks (if found) before creating this one. The scheduled task is configured to start at 7:00 AM and run every 3 mins. 

The dropped VBScript that runs under the scheduled task is yet another proxy that simply runs the dropped PowerShell script with the same command line parameter (the decryption key). The PowerShell script decrypts the contents of the previously dropped config.ini in the memory into another piece of PowerShell code, which it then runs. This is the final component, the script detected as TrojanDownloader:PowerShell/sLoad, that uses BITS to perform every important malicious activity.

BITS abuse

The sLoad PowerShell script (the final component) then abuses BITS to carry out all of the following activities:

Finding an active C2 server

The malware decrypts the contents of previously dropped web.ini into a set of 2 URLs and creates a BITS download jobs to test the connection to these URLs. It then saves the URL that responds in the form of a file that contains a message “sok”, being downloaded as part of created BITS job. This ensures that the handshake is complete.

If none responds, the script appends the number “1” to the domain names in both URLs, saves the encrypted data back to the web.ini file, and exits from the script. As a result, the next time the scheduled job runs, the script uses the modified web.ini to obtain the modified URLs to attempt connecting to an active C2. With each unsuccessful attempt of connecting with C2s, the number appended to the domain names is increased by increments of 1 until it reaches 50, at which time it resets to 1. This technique offers a bit of a cushion and ensures continued contact between a compromised machine and a C2, in case the primary C2 is blocked.

This prevents the malware infrastructure from losing a compromised host if the primary C2 is blocked. It’s also interesting to see how the URLs used to reach C2 are structured to appear related to CAPTCHA verification, an attempt to escape watchful eyes.

Fetching a new list of C2s

For continued exfiltration of information, it’s important to maintain contact with an active C2. As the malicious domains cannot stay up running for a long time, the malware packs a functionality to refresh the list of C2 every time the scheduled task runs. Using a BITS download job, the malware downloads a new copy of web.ini from the active C2 to provisions a new set of C2s for future use.

Exfiltrating system information

Once an active C2 is identified, the malware starts collecting system information by performing the following:

  • saves the output of “net view” command
  • enumerates network drives and saves the provider names and device ids
  • produces the list of all running processes
  • obtains the OS caption
  • looks for Outlook folder, as well as Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) files, which are used by Citrix application servers to store configuration information

It then creates a BITS download job with the RemoteURL built using the URL for active C2 and the system information collected up this point.

Crafting URLs infused with stolen info is not a novel attacker technique. In addition, creating a BITS job with an extremely large RemoteURL parameter that includes non-encrypted system information stands out and is relatively easy to detect. However, this malware’s use of a download job instead of an upload job is a clever move to achieve stealth.

Deploying additional payloads

Because the malware exfiltrates system information using a BITS download job, it gets an opportunity to receive a response in the form of a file downloaded to the machine. It uses this opportunity to obtain additional payloads from the C2.

It sleeps and waits for the file to be downloaded. If the downloaded file instructs to download and invoke additional PowerShell codes, the supplied URL is used for the task. If not, then the URL is assumed to be pointing to an encoded PE image payload. The malware creates another BITS download job to download this payload, creates a copy of this newly downloaded encoded file, and uses another Windows utility, certutil.exe, to decode it into a portable executable (PE) file with .exe extension. Finally, it uses PowerShell.exe to run the decoded PE payload. One more BITS download job is created to download additional files.

Spying

The malware comes built with one of the most notorious spyware features: uploading screenshots. At several stages during the installation as well as when running additional payloads, the malware takes several screenshots at short intervals. It then uses a BITS upload job to send the stolen screenshots to the active C2. This is the only time that it uses an upload job, and these are the only files it uploads to the C2. Once uploaded, the screenshots are deleted from the machine.

Conclusion: Multiple layers of protection against multi-stage living-off-the-land threats

sLoad is just one example of the increasingly more prevalent threats that can perform most of their malicious activities by simply living off the land. In this case, it’s a dangerous threat that’s equipped with notorious spyware capabilities, infiltrative payload delivery, and data exfiltration capabilities. sLoad’s behavior can be classified as a Type III fileless technique: while it drops some malware files during installation, its use of only BITS jobs to perform most of its harmful behaviors and scheduled tasks for persistence achieves an almost fileless presence on compromised machines.

To defeat multi-stage, stealthy, and persistent threats like sLoad, Microsoft Defender ATP’s antivirus component uses multiple next-generation protection engines on the client and in the cloud. While most threats are identified and stopped by many of these engines, behavioral blocking and containment capabilities detects malicious behaviors and blocks threats after they have started running:

These detections are also surfaced in Microsoft Defender Security Center. Security operations teams can then use Microsoft Defender ATP’s other capabilities like endpoint detection and response (EDR), automated investigation and response, Threat and Vulnerability Management, and Microsoft Threat Experts to investigate and respond to attacks. This reflects the defense-in-depth strategy that is central to the unified endpoint protection provided by Microsoft Defender ATP.

As part of Microsoft Threat Protection, Microsoft Defender ATP shares security signals about this threat to other security services, which likewise inform and enrich endpoint protection. For example, Office 365 ATP’s intelligence on the emails that carry sLoad is shared to and used by Microsoft Defender ATP to build even stronger defenses at the source of infection. Real-time signal-sharing across Microsoft’s security services gives Microsoft Threat Protection unparalleled visibility across attack vectors and the unique ability to provide comprehensive protection against identities, endpoints, data, cloud apps, and infrastructure.

 

Sujit Magar
Microsoft Defender ATP Research Team

 

 


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The post Multi-stage downloader Trojan sLoad abuses BITS almost exclusively for malicious activities appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Improve cyber supply chain risk management with Microsoft Azure

December 9th, 2019 No comments

For years, Microsoft has tracked threat actors exploiting federal cyber supply chain vulnerabilities. Supply chain attacks target software developers, systems integrators, and technology companies. Tactics often include obtaining source code, build processes, or update mechanisms to compromise legitimate applications. This is a key concern for government cybersecurity in the cloud, as the expanding digital estate requires movement towards a Zero Trust security model.

There are several techniques to attack cyber supply chains in Information Communications and Technology (ICT) products and services. Supply chain attacks are most concerning because they target vulnerabilities in your infrastructure before you even deploy your assets and software.

Attackers can:

  • Compromise software building tools to ensure that their malware is imprinted into all software generated from the building tools.
  • Replace software update repositories with malicious replicas that distribute malware across entire software ecosystems.
  • Steal code-signing certificates to make malicious software appear as legitimate code.
  • Intercept hardware shipments to inject malicious code into hardware, firmware, and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).
  • Pre-install malware onto IoT devices before they arrive to target organizations.

Managing Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) to defend against supply chain attacks

Defending against supply chain attacks requires a comprehensive approach to managing Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM). Federal risk managers must deploy strong code integrity policies and technical screening controls to ensure their software complies with organizational directives such as applying NIST SP 800-53A security controls for Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliance. Code integrity requires full non-repudiation of software to validate information producer associations, identity, and chain of custody for systems and components (NIST SP 800-161, 2015). One critical opportunity for addressing code integrity in your supply chain is to implement and adhere to a secure software development lifecycle for applications that you develop in-house and that you acquire from third-party supply chain partners.

Microsoft continues to use the Security Development Lifecycle, a fundamental process of continuous learning and improvement in the security, integrity, and resiliency of our enterprise applications. We require supply chain providers to adhere to these practices as well.

Organizations should employ asset monitoring and tracking systems such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) and digital signatures to track hardware and software from producers to consumers to ensure system and component integrity. FIPS 200 specifies that federal organizations “must identify, report, and correct information and information system flaws in a timely manner while providing protection from malicious code at appropriate locations within organizational information systems” (FIPS 200, 2006).

How Microsoft fights against malware

Microsoft understands how to fight malware and have worked hard for many years to offer our customers leading endpoint protection to defend against increasingly sophisticated attacks across a variety of devices. These efforts have been recognized, for example, in this year’s 2019 Gartner Endpoint Protection Platforms Magic Quadrant. In addition, Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) integrates directly with Microsoft Azure Security Center to alert your security teams of threat actors exploiting your vulnerabilities.

Magic Quadrant for Endpoint Protection Platforms.*

Endpoint Protection Platforms can support software development and fight malware, but government organizations must follow recommendations for software vendors and developers by applying patches for operating systems and software, implementing mandatory integrity controls, and requiring Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for administrators.

Azure Security Center Recommendations help government organizations eliminate security vulnerabilities before an attack occurs by facilitating actions to secure resources, including OS vulnerability detection, mandatory controls, and enforcing authentication with MFA and secure access with just-in-time (JIT) virtual machine access.

When you remediate recommendations, your Secure Score and your workloads’ security postures improve. Azure Security Center automatically discovers new resources you deploy, assesses them against your security policy, and provides new recommendations for securing them.

Azure Security Center also facilitates cyber learning through gamification. Secure Score allows your SecOps and Security Governance Risk & Compliance (SGRC) teams to remediate vulnerabilities through a points-based system. This capability can enhance system configurations and reinforce supply chain risk management in a single pane of glass for your infrastructure security posture, and even includes a regulatory and compliance dashboard to facilitate federal compliance requirements and can be tailored to your organization.

Security of federal information systems requires compliance with stringent standards such as NIST SP 800-53, FISMA, CIS Benchmarks, and FedRAMP Moderate. Azure Blueprints facilitates compliance with these standards ensuring a secure-by-design approach to federal information security. Azure Blueprints enable cloud architects and information technology groups to define a repeatable set of Azure resources that implements and adheres to an organization’s standards, patterns, and requirements.

Azure Blueprints are a declarative way to orchestrate the deployment of various resource templates and other artifacts such as role assignments, policy assignments, and Azure Resource Manager templates. Azure Blueprints also provide recommendations and a framework to directly apply compliance requirements to your environment while monitoring configurations through Continuous Monitoring (CM).

Employing a comprehensive monitoring program

Protecting your supply chain also requires a comprehensive monitoring program with cyber incident response and security operations capabilities. Azure Sentinel is a cloud-native security information and event manager (SIEM) platform that uses built-in artificial intelligence (AI) to help analyze large volumes of data across an enterprise—fast. Azure Sentinel aggregates data from all sources, including users, applications, servers, and devices running on-premises or in any cloud, letting you reason over millions of records in a few seconds.

Azure Sentinel leverages the Microsoft Graph, which detects threats, reduces false positives, and puts your responders on target. Azure Sentinel Workbooks optimize productivity with dozens of built in dashboards to enhance security monitoring.

Azure Sentinel Analytics allow your cyber defenders to employ proactive alerting to detect threats impacting your supply chain security. Azure Sentinel Playbooks includes over 200 connectors to leverage full automation through Azure Logic Apps. This powerful capability allows federal agencies to compensate for the cyber talent gap with Security Automation & Orchestration Response (SOAR) capabilities while leveraging machine learning and AI capabilities. Azure Sentinel deep investigation allows your incident response teams to dig into incidents and identify the root cause of attacks.

Azure Sentinel’s powerful hunting search-and-query tools are based in the MITRE ATT&K Framework, allowing your responders to proactively hunt threats across the network before alerts are triggered. The Azure Sentinel community is growing on GitHub and allows your team to collaborate with the information security community for best practices, efficiencies, and security innovation.

Azure Sentinel

Intelligent security analytics for your entire enterprise.

Learn more

Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) is a growing concern within the federal sector. Microsoft is committed to bolstering government cybersecurity in the cloud. Microsoft Azure goes the distance to protect your network against supply chain attacks through Microsoft Defender ATP’s industry leading Endpoint Protection Platform, Azure Security Center’s comprehensive continuous monitoring platform, Azure Blueprints approach to rapidly deploying a compliant cloud, and Azure Sentinel’s cloud-native SIEM that harnesses the limitless power of the cloud through threat intelligence, machine learning, AI, and automation.

Learn more about government cybersecurity in the cloud with Microsoft

Here are some of the best resource to learn more about government cybersecurity in the cloud with Microsoft:

Also, join us for the Microsoft Ignite Government Tour in Washington, D.C., February 6, 2020.

Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters and follow us at @MSFTSecurity or visit our website for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

Are you a federal government agency that needs help with cybersecurity? Reach out to TJ Banasik or Mark McIntyre for additional details on the content above, or if you have any other questions about Microsoft’s cybersecurity investments for the federal government.

 

*This graphic was published by Gartner, Inc. as part of larger research documents and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner documents are available upon request from Microsoft. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product, or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, express or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

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Microsoft Security—a Leader in 5 Gartner Magic Quadrants

December 3rd, 2019 No comments

Gartner has named Microsoft Security a Leader in five Magic Quadrants. This is exciting news that we believe speaks to the breadth and depth of our security offerings. Gartner places vendors as Leaders who demonstrate balanced progress and effort in all execution and vision categories. This means that Leaders not only have the people and capabilities to deliver strong solutions today, they also understand the market and have a strategy for meeting customer needs in the future. Microsoft was identified as a Leader in the following five security areas:

  • Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) solutions1
  • Access Management2
  • Enterprise Information Archiving3
  • Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) tools4
  • Endpoint Protection Platforms5

Given this, Microsoft Security doesn’t just deliver strong security products in five crucial security areas only. We provide a comprehensive set of security solutions that are built to work together, from identity and access management to threat protection to information protection and cloud security.

Our products integrate easily and share intelligence from the trillions of signals generated daily on the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph. And they work with non-Microsoft solutions too. You can monitor and safeguard your assets across clouds—whether you use Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Slack, Salesforce, or all the above.

By unifying security tools, you get visibility into your entire environment across on-premises and the cloud, to better protect all your users, data, devices, and applications. Today, we’ll review the five areas where Microsoft is recognized as a Leader in security.

A Leader in CASB

Our cloud security solutions provide cross-cloud protection, whether you use Amazon Web Services, Azure, Google Cloud Platform—or all three. We also help you safeguard your data in third-party apps like Salesforce and Slack.

Gartner named Microsoft a Leader in CASB based on the ability to execute and completeness of vision. Cloud App Security provides rich visibility into your shadow IT, enables you to identify and remediate cloud native attacks, and allows you to control how your data travels across all your cloud apps—whether they’re from Microsoft or third-party applications.

As Gartner says in the CASB Magic Quadrant, “platforms from leading CASB vendors were born in the cloud and designed for the cloud. They have a deeper understanding of users, devices, applications, transactions, and sensitive data than CASB functions designed to be extensions of traditional network security and SWG security technologies.”

We work closely with customer to improve our products, which is one of the reasons our customer base for Cloud App Security continues to grow.

Gartner graph showing Microsoft as a Leader in Cloud App Security.

A Leader in Access Management

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is a universal identity and access management platform that provides the right people the right access to the right resources. It safeguards identities and simplifies access for users. Users sign in once with a single identity to access all the apps they need—whether they’re on-premises apps, Microsoft apps, or third-party cloud apps. Microsoft was recognized for high scores in market understanding and customer experience.

Gartner says, “Vendors that have developed Access Management as a service have risen in popularity. Gartner estimates that 90 percent or more of clients based in North America and approximately 65 percent in Europe and the Asia/Pacific region countries are also seeking SaaS-delivered models for new Access Management purchases. This demonstrates a preference for agility, quicker time to new features, elimination of continual software upgrades, reduction of supported infrastructure and other SaaS versus software benefits demonstrated in the market.”

Gartner graph showing Microsoft as a Leader in Access Management.

A Leader in Enterprise Information Archiving

Enterprise information archiving solutions help organizations archive emails, instant messages, SMS, and social media content. Gartner recognized us as a Leader in this Magic Quadrant based on ability to execute and completeness of vision.

Gartner estimates, “By 2023, 45 percent of enterprise customers will adopt an enterprise information archiving (EIA) solution to meet new requirements driven by data privacy regulations; this is a major increase from five percent in 2019.”

Gartner graph showing Microsoft as a Leader in Enterprise Information Archiving.

A Leader in Unified Endpoint Management (UEM)

Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) solutions provide a comprehensive solution to manage mobile devices and traditional endpoints, like PCs and Macs. Microsoft’s solution, Microsoft Intune, lets you securely support company-provided devices and bring your own device policies. You can even protect company apps and data on unmanaged devices. We have seen rapid growth in Intune deployments and expect that growth to continue.

Gartner noted that, “Leaders are identified as those vendors with strong execution and vision scores with products that exemplify the suite of functions that assist organizations in managing a diverse field of mobile and traditional endpoints. Leaders provide tools that catalyze the migration of PCs from legacy CMT management tools to modern, UEM-based management.”

Intune is built to work with other Microsoft 365 security solutions, such as Cloud App Security and Azure AD to unify your security approach across all your clouds and devices. As Gartner writes, “Achieving a truly simplified, single-console approach to endpoint management promises many operational benefits.”

Gartner graph showing Microsoft as a Leader in Unified Endpoint Management.

A Leader in Endpoint Protection Platforms

Our threat protection solutions provide tools to identify, investigate, and respond to threats across all your endpoints. Gartner named Microsoft a Leader for Endpoint Protection Platforms, recognizing our products and our strengths and ability to execute and completeness of vision. Azure Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) detects and investigates advanced attacks on-premises and in the cloud. Windows Defender Antivirus protects PCs against software threats like viruses, malware, and spyware across email, apps, the cloud, and the web.

Gartner says, “A Leader in this category will have broad capabilities in advanced malware protection, and proven management capabilities for large-enterprise accounts.”

Gartner graph showing Microsoft as a Leader in Endpoint Protection Platforms.

Learn more

Microsoft is committed to helping our customers digitally transform while providing the security solutions that enable them to focus on what they do best. Learn more about our comprehensive security solutions across identity and access management, cloud security, information protection, threat protection, and universal endpoint management by visiting our website.

1Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Cloud Access Security Brokers,” by Steve Riley, Craig Lawson, October 2019

2Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Access Management,” by Michael Kelley, Abhyuday Data, Henrique, Teixeira, August 2019

3Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Information Archiving,” by Julian Tirsu, Michael Hoech, November 2019

4Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Unified Endpoint Management Tools,” by Chris Silva, Manjunath Bhat, Rich Doheny, Rob Smith, August 2019

5Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Endpoint Protection Platforms,” by Peter Firstbrook, Dionisio Zumerle, Prateek Bhajanka, Lawrence Pingree, Paul Webber, August 2019

These graphics were published by Gartner, Inc. as part of larger research documents and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner documents are available upon request from Microsoft. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product, or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, express or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally, and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

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Further enhancing security from Microsoft, not just for Microsoft

November 4th, 2019 No comments

Legacy infrastructure. Bolted-on security solutions. Application sprawl. Multi-cloud environments. Company data stored across devices and apps. IT and security resource constraints. Uncertainty of where and when the next attack or leak will come, including from the inside. These are just a few of the things that keep our customers up at night.

When security is only as strong as your weakest link and your environments continue to expand, there’s little room for error. The challenge is real: in this incredibly complex world, you must prevent every attack, every time. Attackers must only land their exploit once. They have the upper hand. To get that control back, we must pair the power of your defenders and human intuition with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that help cut through the noise, prioritize the work, and help you protect, detect, and respond smarter and faster.

Microsoft Threat Protection brings this level of control and security to the modern workplace by analyzing signal intelligence across identities, endpoints, data, cloud applications, and infrastructure.

Today, at the Microsoft Ignite Conference in Orlando, Florida, I’m thrilled to share the significant progress we’re making on delivering endpoint security from Microsoft, not just for Microsoft. The Microsoft Intelligent Security Association (MISA), formed just last year, has already grown to more than 80 members and climbing! These partnerships along with the invaluable feedback we get from our customers have positioned us as leaders in recent analyst reports, including Gartner’s Endpoint Protection Platform Magic Quadrant, Gartner’s Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) Magic Quadrant and Forrester’s Endpoint Security Suites Wave and more.

As we continue to focus on delivering security innovation for our customers, we are:

  • Reducing the noise with Azure Sentinel—Generally available now, our cloud-native SIEM, Azure Sentinel, enables customers to proactively hunt for threats using the latest queries, see connections between threats with the investigation graph, and automate incident remediation with playbooks.
  • Discovering and controlling Shadow IT with Microsoft Cloud App Security and Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP)—With a single click, you can discover cloud apps, detect and block risky apps, and coach users.
  • Enhancing hardware security with our partners—We worked across our partner ecosystem to offer stronger protections built into hardware with Secured-core PCs, available now and this holiday season.
  • Offering Application Guard container protection, coming to Office 365—In limited preview now, we will extend the same protections available in Edge today to Office 365.
  • Building automation into Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection for more proactive protection and increased visibility into the email attacker kill chain—We’re giving SecOps teams increased visibility into the attacker kill chain to better stop the spread of attacks by amplifying your ability to detect breaches through new enhanced compromise detection and response in Office 365 ATP, in public preview now. And later this year, we’re adding campaign views to allow security teams to see the full phish campaign and derive key insights for further protection and hunting.
  • Getting a little help from your friends—Sometimes you need another set of eyes, sometimes you need more advanced investigators. Available now, with the new experts on demand service, you can extend the capabilities of your security operations center (SOC) with additional help through Microsoft Defender ATP.
  • Improving your Secure Score—Back up the strength of your team with numbers. New enhancements in Secure Score will make it easier for you to understand, benchmark, and track your progress. We also added new planning capabilities that help you set goals and predict score improvements, and new CISO Metrics & Trends reports that show the impact your work is having on the health of your organization in real-time.
  • Taking another step in cross-platform protection—This month, we’re expanding our promise to offer protections beyond Windows with Enterprise Detection and Response for Apple Macs and Threat and Vulnerability Management for servers.

Microsoft Ignite

Join us online November 4–8, 2019 to livestream keynotes, watch selected sessions on-demand, and more.


Learn more

Infographic showing the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph: unique insights, informed by trillions of signals from Outlook, OneDrive, Windows, Bing, Xbox Live, Azure, and Microsoft accounts.

There’s no way one person, or even one team, no matter how large could tackle this volume of alerts on a daily basis. The Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph, the foundation for our security solutions, processes 8.2 trillion signals every day. We ground our solutions in this intelligence and build in protections through automation that’s delivered through our cloud-powered solutions, evolving as the threat landscape does. Only this combination will enable us to take back control and deliver on a Zero Trust network with more intelligent proactive protection.

Here’s a bit more about some of the solutions shared above:

Discovering and controlling cloud apps natively on your endpoints

As the volume of cloud applications continues to grow, security and IT departments need more visibility and control to prevent Shadow IT. At last year’s Ignite, we announced the native integration of Microsoft Cloud App Security and Microsoft Defender ATP, which enables our Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) to leverage the traffic information collected by the endpoint, regardless of the network from which users are accessing their cloud apps. This seamless integration gives security admins a complete view of cloud application and services usage in their organization.

At this year’s Ignite, we’re extending this capability, now in preview, with native access controls based on Microsoft Defender ATP network protection that allows you to block access to risky and non-complaint cloud apps. We also added the ability to coach users who attempt to access restricted apps and provide guidance on how to use cloud apps securely.

Building stronger protections starting with hardware

As we continue to build in stronger protections at the operating system level, we’ve seen attackers shift their techniques to focus on firmware—a near 5x increase in the last three years. That’s why we worked across our vast silicon and first- and third-party PC manufacturing partner ecosystem to build in stronger protections at the hardware level in what we call Secured-core PCs to protect against these kind of targeted attacks. Secured-core PCs combine identity, virtualization, operating system, hardware, and firmware protection to add another layer of security underneath the operating system.

Application Guard container protections coming to Office 365

Secured-core PCs deliver on the Zero Trust model, and we want to further build on those concepts of isolation and minimizing trust. That’s why I’m thrilled to share that the same hardware-level containerization we brought to the browser with Application Guard integrated with Microsoft Edge will be available for Office 365.

This year at Ignite, we are providing an early view of Application Guard capabilities integrated with Office 365 ProPlus. You will be able to open an untrusted Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file in a virtualized container. View, print, edit, and save changes to untrusted Office documents—all while benefiting from that same hardware-level security. If the untrusted file is malicious, the attack is contained and the host machine untouched. A new container is created every time you log in, providing a clean start as well as peace of mind.

When you want to consider the document “trusted,” files are automatically checked against the Microsoft Defender ATP threat cloud before they’re released. This integration with Microsoft Defender ATP provides admins with advanced visibility and response capabilities—providing alerts, logs, confirmation the attack was contained, and visibility into similar threats across the enterprise. To learn more or participate, see the Limited Preview Sign Up.

Automation and impact analysis reinvent Threat and Vulnerability Management

More than two billion vulnerabilities are detected every day by Microsoft Defender ATP and the included Threat and Vulnerability Management capabilities, and we’re adding even more capabilities to this solution.

Going into public preview this month, we have several enhancements, including: vulnerability assessment support for Windows Server 2008R2 and above; integration with Service Now to further improve the communication across IT and security teams; role-based access controls; advanced hunting across vulnerability data; and automated user impact analysis to give you the ability to simulate and test how a configuration change will impact users.

Automation in Office 365 ATP blocked 13.5 billion malicious emails this year

In September, we announced the general availability of Automated Incident Response, a new capability in Office 365 ATP that enables security teams to efficiently detect, investigate, and respond to security alerts. We’re building on that announcement, using the breadth of signals from the Intelligent Security Graph to amplify your ability to detect breaches through new enhanced compromise user detection and response capabilities in Office 365 ATP.

Now in public preview, the solution leverages the insights from mail flow patterns and Office 365 activities to detect impacted users and alert security teams. Automated playbooks then investigate those alerts, look for possible sources of compromise, assess impact, and make recommendations for remediation.

Campaign detections coming to Office 365 ATP

Attackers think in terms of campaigns. They continuously morph their email exploits by changing attributes like sending domains and IP addresses, payloads (URLs and attachments), and email templates attempting to evade detection. With campaign views in Office 365 ATP, you’ll be able to see the entire scope of the campaign targeted at your organization. This includes deep insights into how the protection stack held up against the attack—including where portions of the campaign might have gotten through due to tenant overrides thereby exposing users. This view helps you quickly identify configuration flaws, targeted users, and potentially comprised users to take corrective action and identify training opportunities. Security researchers will be able to use the full list of indicators of compromise involved in the campaign to go hunt further. This capability will be in preview by the end of the year.

Protection across platforms: enterprise detection and response (EDR) for Mac

Work doesn’t happen in just one place. We know that people use a variety of devices and apps from various locations throughout the day, taking business data with them along the way. That means more complexity and a larger attack surface to protect. Microsoft’s Intelligent Security Graph detects five billion threats on devices every month. To strengthen enterprise detection and response (EDR) capabilities for endpoints, we’re adding EDR capabilities to Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac, entering public preview this week. Moving forward, we plan to offer Microsoft Defender ATP for Linux servers, providing additional protection for our customers’ heterogeneous networks.

We understand the pressure defenders are under to keep pace with these evolving threats. We are grateful for the trust you’re putting in Microsoft to help ease the burdens on your teams and help focus your priority work.

Related links

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Guarding against supply chain attacks—Part 1: The big picture

October 16th, 2019 No comments

Every day, somewhere in the world, governments, businesses, educational organizations, and individuals are hacked. Precious data is stolen or held for ransom, and the wheels of “business-as-usual” grind to a halt. These criminal acts are expected to cost more than $2 trillion in 2019, a four-fold increase in just four years. The seeds that bloom into these business disasters are often planted in both hardware and software systems created in various steps of your supply chain, propagated by bad actors and out-of-date business practices.

These compromises in the safety and integrity of your supply chain can threaten the success of your business, no matter the size of your operation. But typically, the longer your supply chain, the higher the risk for attack, because of all the supply sources in play.

In this blog series, “Guarding against supply chain attacks,” we examine various components of the supply chain, the vulnerabilities they present, and how to protect yourself from them.

Defining the problem

Supply chain attacks are not new. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been focused on driving awareness in this space since 2008. And this problem is not going away. In 2017 and 2018, according to Symantec, supply chain attacks rose 78 percent. Mitigating this type of third-party risk has become a major board issue as executives now understand that partner and supplier relationships pose fundamental challenges to businesses of all sizes and verticals.

Moreover, for compliance reasons, third-party risk also continues to be a focus. In New York State, Nebraska, and elsewhere in the U.S., third-party risk has emerged as a significant compliance issue.

Throughout the supply chain, hackers look for weaknesses that they can exploit. Hardware, software, people, processes, vendors—all of it is fair game. At its core, attackers are looking to break trust mechanisms, including the trust that businesses naturally have for their suppliers. Hackers hide their bad intentions behind the shield of trust a supplier has built with their customers over time and look for the weakest, most vulnerable place to gain entry, so they can do their worst.

According to NIST, cyber supply chain risks include:

  • Insertion of counterfeits.
  • Unauthorized production of components.
  • Tampering with production parts and processes.
  • Theft of components.
  • Insertion of malicious hardware and software.
  • Poor manufacturing and development practices that compromise quality.

Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management (C-SCRM) identifies what the risks are and where they come from, assesses past damage and ongoing and future risk, and mitigates these risks across the entire lifetime of every system.

This process examines:

  • Product design and development.
  • How parts of the supply chain are distributed and deployed.
  • Where and how they are acquired.
  • How they are maintained.
  • How, at end-of-life, they are destroyed.

The NIST approach to C-SCRM considers how foundational practices and risk are managed across the whole organization.

Examples of past supply chain attacks

The following are examples of sources of recent supply chain attacks:

Hardware component attacks—When you think about it, OEMs are among the most logical places in a supply chain which an adversary will likely try to insert vulnerabilities. Moreover, these vulnerabilities can be inserted into the end product via physical access as a physical component is being transported or delivered, during pre-production access in a factory or manufacturing facility, via a technical insertion point, or other means.

Software component attacks—Again in 2016, Chinese hackers purportedly attacked TeamViewer software, which was a potential virtual invitation to view and access information on the computers of millions of people all over the world who use this program.

People perpetrated attacks—People are a common connector between the various steps and entities in any supply chain and are subject to the influence of corrupting forces. Nation-states or other “cause-related” organizations prey on people susceptible to bribery and blackmail. In 2016, the Indian tech giant, Wipro, had three employees arrested in a suspected security breach of customer records for the U.K. company TalkTalk.

Business processes—Business practices (including services), both upstream and downstream, are also examples of vulnerable sources of infiltration. For example, Monster.com experienced an exposed database when one of its customers did not adequately protect a web server storing resumes, which contain emails and physical addresses, along with other personal information, including immigration records. This and other issues can be avoided if typical business practices such as risk profiling and assessment services are in place and are regularly reviewed to make sure they comply with changing security and privacy requirements. This includes policies for “bring your own” IoT devices, which are another fast-growing vulnerability.

Big picture practical advice

Here’s some practical advice to take into consideration:

Watch out for copycat attacks—If a data heist worked with one corporate victim, it’s likely to work with another. This means once a new weapon is introduced into the supply chain, it is likely to be re-used—in some cases, for years.

To prove the point, here are some of the many examples of cybercrimes that reuse code stolen from legal hackers and deployed by criminals.

  • The Conficker botnet MS10-067 is over a decade old and is still found on millions of PCs every month.
  • The criminal group known as the Shadow Brokers used the Eternal Blue code designed by the U.S. National Security Agency as part of their cybersecurity toolkit. When the code was leaked illegally and sold to North Korea, they used it to execute WannaCry in 2017, which spread to 150 countries and infected over 200,000 computers.
  • Turla, a purportedly Russian group, has been active since 2008, infecting computers in the U.S. and Europe with spyware that establishes a hidden foothold in infected networks that searches for and steals data.

Crafting a successful cyberattack from scratch is not a simple undertaking. It requires technical know-how, resources to create or acquire new working exploits, and the technique to then deliver the exploit, to ensure that it operates as intended, and then to successfully remove information or data from a target.

It’s much easier to take a successful exploit and simply recycle it—saving development and testing costs, as well as the costs that come from targeting known soft targets (e.g., avoiding known defenses that may detect it). We advise you to stay in the know about past attacks, as any one of them may come your way. Just ask yourself: Would your company survive a similar attack? If the answer is no—or even maybe—then fix your vulnerabilities or at the very least make sure you have mitigation in place.

Know your supply chain—Like many information and operational technology businesses, you probably depend on a global system of suppliers. But do you know where the various technology components of your business come from? Who makes the hardware you use—and where do the parts to make that hardware come from? Your software? Have you examined how your business practices and those of your suppliers keep you safe from bad actors with a financial interest in undermining the most basic components of your business? Take some time to look at these questions and see how you’d score yourself and your suppliers.

Looking ahead

Hopefully, the above information will encourage (if not convince) you to take a big picture look at who and what your supply chain consists of and make sure that you have defenses in place that will protect you from all the known attacks that play out in cyberspace each day.

In the remainder of the “Guarding against supply chain attacks” series, we’ll drill down into supply chain components to help make you aware of potential vulnerabilities and supply advice to help you protect your company from attack.

Stay tuned for these upcoming posts:

  • Part 2—Explores the risks of hardware attacks.
  • Part 3—Examines ways in which software can become compromised.
  • Part 4—Looks at how people and processes can expose companies to risk.
  • Part 5—Summarizes our advice with a look to the future.

In the meantime, bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

To learn more about how you can protect your time and empower your team, check out the cybersecurity awareness page this month.

The post Guarding against supply chain attacks—Part 1: The big picture appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Microsoft’s 4 principles for an effective security operations center

October 15th, 2019 No comments

The Microsoft Cyber Defense Operations Center (CDOC) fields trillions of security signals every day. How do we identify and respond to the right threats? One thing that won’t surprise you: we leverage artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation to narrow the focus. But technology is not enough. Our people, culture, and process are just as critical.

You may not have trillions of signals to manage, but I bet you will still get a lot of value from a behind-the-scenes look at the CDOC. Even the small companies that I’ve worked with have improved the effectiveness of their security operations centers (SOCs) based on learnings from Microsoft.

Watch the operations episode of the CISO Spotlight Series—The people behind the cloud to get my take and a sneak peek at our team in action. In the video, I walk you through four principles:

  1. It starts with assessment.
  2. Invest in the right technology.
  3. Hire a diverse group of people.
  4. Foster an innovative culture.

It starts with assessment

Before you make any changes, it helps to identify the gaps in your current security system. Take a look at your most recent attacks to see if you have the right detections in place. Offense should drive your defenses. For example:

  • Has your organization been victim to password spray attacks?
  • Have there been brute force attacks against endpoints exposed to the internet?
  • Have you uncovered advanced persistent threats?

Understanding where your organization is vulnerable will help you determine what technology you need. If you need further help, I would suggest using the MITRE ATT&CK Framework.

Invest in the right technology

As you evaluate technology solutions, think of your security operations as a funnel. At the very top are countless threat signals. There is no way your team can address all of them. This leads to employee burnout and puts the organization at risk. Aim for automation to handle 20-25 percent of incoming events. AI and machine learning can correlate signals, enrich them with other data, and resolve known incidents.

Invest in good endpoint detection, network telemetry, a flexible security incident and event management system (SIEM) like Azure Sentinel, and cloud workload protection solutions. The right technology will reduce the volume of signals that filter down to your people, empowering them to focus on the problems that machines can’t solve.

Hire a diverse group of people

The people you hire matter. I attribute much of our success to the fact that we hire people who love to solve problems. You can model this approach in your SOC. Look for computer scientists, security professionals, and data scientists—but also try to find people with nontraditional backgrounds like military intelligence, law enforcement, and liberal arts. People with a different perspective can introduce creative ways of looking at a problem. For example, Microsoft has had a lot of success with veterans from the military.

I also recommend organizing your SOC into specialized, tiered teams. It gives employees a growth path and allows them to focus on areas of expertise. Microsoft uses a three-tiered approach:

  • Tier 1 analysts—These analysts are the front line. They manage the alerts generated by our SIEM and focus on high-speed remediation over a large number of events.
  • Tier 2 analysts—This team tackles alerts that require a deeper level of analysis. Many of these events have been escalated up from Tier 1, but Tier 2 analysts also monitor alerts to identify and triage the complex cases.
  • Tier 3 analysts—These are the threat hunters. They use sophisticated tools to proactively uncover advanced threats and hidden adversaries.

For a more detailed look at how Microsoft has structured our team, read Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC—Part 2a: Organizing people

Foster an innovative culture

Culture influences SOC performance by guiding how people treat each other and approach their work. Well-defined career paths and roles are one way to influence your culture. People want to know how their work matters and contributes to the organization. As you build your processes and team, consider how you can encourage innovation, diversity, and teamwork.

Read how the CDOC creates culture in Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC—Part 1.

Learn more

To learn more about how to run an effective SOC:

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