There’s no day without a new high-profile cyber attack. The last victim in order of time is The White House which has confirmed to have been targeted by an unsuccessful spear phishing campaign.
According to officials, hackers linked to China’s government have tried to break into the computer network used by the White House Military Office (WHMO), the president’s military office in charge of some of the U.S. government’s most sensitive communications, including strategic nuclear commands. This is considered one of the U.S. government’s most sensitive computer networks, since it is used by the White House Military Office for nuclear commands. The secrets behind the WHMO include data on the so-called “nuclear football,” the nuclear command and control suitcase used by the president to be in constant communication with strategic nuclear forces commanders for launching nuclear missiles or bombers.
The cyber attack took place earlier this month, and the hackers are believed to have used servers located in China. According to officials, this kind of attack is “not infrequent” and hence there are unspecified “mitigation measures in place” which allowed to identify the attack and isolate the system. As a consequence there is no indication that any exfiltration of data took place.
This is not the first time in which alleged state-sponsored Chinese hackers have breached (or at least have tried to breach) high-profile U.S. targets. On July, 14, 2011, The Pentagon revealed to have lost 24,000 files during a cyber attack happening in March of the same year (suspects were directed to China). On May of the same year several U.S. Defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and L-3 Communications were hit by targeted attacks carried on with compromised SecurID tokens as a consequence of the infamous RSA breach.
At this link a non-exhaustive collection of the main cyber attacks carried on by Chinese hackers, maybe it is a little old (and should be updated), in any case it is enough to understand how active the Red Dragon is inside the cyber space.
Advanced Persistent Threats are probably the most remarkable events for Information Security in 2011 since they are redefining the infosec landscape from both technology and market perspective.
I consider the recent shopping in the SIEM arena made by IBM and McAfee a sign of the times and a demonstration of this trend. This is not a coincidence: as a matter of fact the only way to stop an APT before it reaches its goal (the Organization data), is an accurate analysis and correlation of data collected by security devices. An APT attack deploys different stages with different tactics, different techniques and different timeframes, which moreover affect different portion of the infrastructure. As a consequence an holistic view and an holistic information management are needed in order to correlate pieces of information spread in different pieces of the networks and collected by different, somewhat heterogeneous and apparently unrelated, security devices.
Consider for instance the typical cycle of an attack carried on by an APT:
Of course the picture does not take into consideration the user, which is the greatest vulnerability (but unfortunately an user does not generate logs except in a verbal format not so easy to analyze for a SIEM). Moreover the model should be multiplied for the numbers of victims since it is “unlikely” that such a similar attack could be performed on a single user at a time.
At the end, however, it is clear that an APT affects different components of the information security infrastructure at different times with different threat vectors:
- Usually stage 1 of an APT attack involves a spear phishing E-mail containing appealing subject and argument, and a malicious payload in form of an attachment or a link. In both cases the Email AV or Antispam are impacted in the ingress stream (and should be supposed to detect the attack, am I naive if I suggest that a DNS lookup could have avoided attacks like this?). The impacted security device produce some logs (even if they are not straightforward to detect if the malicious E-mail has not been detected as a possible threat or also has been detected with a low confidence threshold). In this stage of the attack the time interval between the receipt of the e-mail and its reading can take from few minutes up to several hours.
- The following stage involves user interaction. Unfortunately there is no human firewall so far (it is something we are working on) but user education (a very rare gift). As a consequence the victim is lured to follow the malicious link or click on the malicious attachment. In the first scenario the user is directed to a compromised (or crafted) web site where he downloads and installs a malware (or also insert some credentials which are used to steal his identity for instance for a remote access login). In the second scenario the user clicks on the attached file that exploits a 0-day vulnerability to install a Remote Administration Tool. The interval between reading the malicious email and installing the RAT takes likely several seconds. In any case Endpoint Security Tools may help to avoid surfing to malicious site or, if leveraging behavioral analysis, to detect anomalous pattern from an application (a 0-day is always a 0-day and often they are released after making reasonably sure not to be detected by traditional AV). Hopefully In both cases some suspicious logs are generated by the endpoint.
- RAT Control is the following stage: after installation the malware uses the HTTP protocol to fetch commands from a remote C&C Server. Of course the malicious traffic is forged so that it may be hidden inside legitimate traffic. In any case the traffic pass through Firewalls and NIDS at the perimeter (matching allowed rules on the traffic). In this case both kind of devices should be supposed to produce related logs;
- Once in full control of the Attacker, the compromised machine is used as a hop for the attacker to reach other hosts (now he is inside) or also to sweep the internal network looking for the target data. In this case a NIDS/anomaly detector should be able to detect the attack, monitoring, for instance, the number of attempted authentications or wrong logins: that is the way in which Lockheed Martin prevented an attack perpetrated by mean of compromised RSA seeds, and also, during the infamous breach, RSA detected the attack using a technology of anomaly detection Netwitness, acquired by EMC, its parent company immediately after the event.
At this point should be clear that this lethal blend of threats is pushing the security firms to redefine their product strategies, since they face the double crucial challenge to dramatically improve not only their 0-day detection ability, but also to dramatically improve the capability to manage and correlate the data collected from their security solutions.
As far as 0-day detection ability is concerned, next-gen technologies will include processor assisted endpoint security or also a new class of network devices such as DNS Firewalls (thanks to @nientenomi for reporting the article).
As far data management and correlation are concerned, yes of course a SIEM is beautiful concept… until one needs to face the issue of correlation, which definitively mean that often SIEM projects become useless because of correlation patterns, which are too complex and not straightforward. This is the reason why the leading vendors are rushing to include an integrated SIEM technology in their product portfolio in order to provide an out-of-the-box correlation engine optimized for their products. The price to pay will probably be a segmentation and verticalization of SIEM Market in which lead vendors will have their own solution (not so optimized for competitor technologies) at the expense of generalist SIEM vendors.
On the other hand APT are alive and kicking, keep on targeting US Defense contractors (Raytheon is the latest) and are also learning to fly though the clouds. Moreover they are also well hidden considered that, according to the Security Intelligence Report Volume 11 issued by Microsoft, less than one per cent of exploits in the first half of 2011 were against zero-day vulnerabilities. The 1% makes the difference! And it is a big difference!
- Information, The Next Battlefield (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
Sony states than a total of 93,000 accounts corrsesponding to one tenth of one percent (i.e. 0.1%) of their PSN, SEN and SOE consumers may have been affected (PSN/SEN: approximately 60,000 accounts; SOE: approximately 33,000). In these cases the attempts succeeded in verifying valid sign-in IDs and passwords, so the accounts were temporalily locked. As a preventative measure, Sony will be sending email notifications to these account holders and will be requiring secure password resets or informing consumers of password reset procedures.
At least this time the defense were active and the Company states it was able to stop these attempts taking steps to mitigate the activity, moreover Sony also stated that credit card numbers associated with these accounts are not at risk as a result of the unauthorized attempts.
The attempts appear to include a large amount of data obtained from one or more compromised lists from other companies, sites or sources. These were unauthorized attempts to verify valid user accounts on our services using very large sets of sign-in IDs and passwords. Between October 7 – 10 US Pacific Daylight Time, we confirmed that these were unauthorized attempts, and took steps to thwart this activity.
A couple of hot considerations:
- The Japanese giant learned the lesson. After the infamous breaches of March (with more than 100 million users affected and estimated cost of $21 billion), Sony hired Philip Reitinger (who annouced the attack on Playstation Blog), the former deputy under secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as senior vice president and chief information security officer at Sony. The nomination was made on September but is possible that the strategy of establishing a security strategy has already been successful: it looks like the company was able to immediately detect the attack (and also is also immediately sending email notifications to the owners of the compromised accounts);
- I cannot help but notice the strategy of the attack consisting in a “very large sets of sign-In IDs and passwords obtained from on ore more compromised lists of company”. Probably read “spearphishing”: once again old techniques with new motivations. The organizations seems to have learned how to deal with these trhreats. The users are still far from that.
Hope to have more news very soon, most of all which were the compromised lists of companies (Epsilon?).
Update: F-Secure posted in their blog the complete description on how the patient 0 was found: And here it is the infamous “2011 recruitment plan message”.
Have a look to the fake sender: a message from beyond…
Original Post follows:
I am working hard for the August 2011 Cyber Attacks Timeline (stay tuned it is almost ready! Meanwhile you may check the previous ones) while I stumbled upon this very interesting article. Yes, I may say that finally I saw one of the Emails used for spear phishing attacks against RSA customers, using compromised seeds.
As you will probably know everything started on March 17, 2011, when RSA admitted to have been targeted by a sophisticated attack which led to certain information specifically related to RSA’s SecurID two-factor authentication products being subtracted from RSA’s systems.
Of course the sole seed and serial number of the token (the alleged information subtracted) is not enough to carry on a successful attack, so the attacker (whose possible target were presumably RSA customers) had to find a way to get the missing pieces of the puzzle, that is the username and the PIN. And which is the best way? Of course Spear Phishing!
And here the example of a fake spear phishing E-mail targeting one of the One of America’s Most Secret (and Important) Agencies and in the same Time RSA customers:
Likely the same attack vector was utilized against three Contractors (RSA Customers) which were targeted by attacks based on compromised SecurID seeds between April and May (Lockheed Martin, L-3, and Northrop Grumman). What a terrible year for Contractors and DHS related agencies!
By chance today F-Secure revealed to have discovered the patient zero, that is the mail (“2011 Recruitment Plan”) used to convey the APT inside RSA. Someone (who decided to follow the best practices for anomalous e-mails) submitted it to Virus Total, a cloud based service for scanning files, and it looks like that F-Secure antimalware analyst Timo Hirvonen discovered the e-mail message buried in the millions of submissions stored in this crowd-sourced database of malicious or potentially malicious files.