Attackers behind a recent surge in phishing and payment-interception attacks on industrial companies are also stealing victims’ project and operational plans, as well as diagrams of electrical and information networks, according to a report by Kaspersky Lab.
Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks, often linked to Nigeria, seek to hijack genuine business accounts which the attackers can monitor for financial transactions to intercept or redirect. In October 2016, Kaspersky Lab researchers noticed a significant spike in the number of malware infection attempts targeting industrial customers. They identified over 500 attacked companies in 50 countries, mainly industrial enterprises and large transportation and logistics corporations. The attacks are ongoing.
The attack sequence
The attack sequence begins with a carefully crafted phishing email, appearing to come from suppliers, customers, commercial organisations and delivery services. The attackers use malware belonging to at least eight different Trojan-spy and backdoor families, all available cheaply on the black market, and designed primarily to steal confidential data and install remote administration tools on infected systems.
On infected corporate computers, the attackers take screenshots of correspondence or redirect messages to their own mail box so they can look out for interesting or lucrative transactions. The payment is then intercepted through a classic man-in-the-middle attack, by replacing the account details in a legitimate seller’s invoice with the attackers’ own. It can be difficult for a victim to spot the substitution until it is too late and the money has gone.
The unknown threat
While analysing the command-and-control servers used in the most recent, 2017, attacks, the researchers noted that screenshots of operations and project plans, as well as technical drawings and network diagrams were among the data stolen. Further, these images had not been taken from the computers of project managers or procurement managers, the attackers’ usual targets, but from those belonging to operators, engineers, designers and architects.
“There is no need for the attackers to collect this kind of data in order to perpetrate their phishing scams. So what do they do with this information? Is the collection accidental, or intentional – perhaps commissioned by a third party? So far, we have not seen any of the information stolen by Nigerian cybercriminals on the black market. However, it is clear that, for the companies being attacked, in addition to the direct financial loss, a Nigerian phishing attack poses other, possibly more serious, threats,” said Maria Garnaeva, Senior Security Researchers, Critical Infrastructure Threat Analysis, Kaspersky Lab.
The next step could be for attackers to gain access to the computers that form part of an industrial control system, where any interception or adjustment of settings could have a devastating impact.
When the researchers extracted the command and control (C&C) addresses from the malicious files, it turned out that in some cases the same servers were used for malware from different families. This suggests there is either just one cybercriminal group behind all the attacks, making use of different malware, or a number of groups cooperating and sharing resources.
The researchers also found that most domains were registered to residents of Nigeria.
How to mitigate the threat
Kaspersky Lab advises companies to implement the following basic security best practice:
- Educate employees in essential email security: not clicking on suspicious links and attachments and carefully checking the origin of an email – and keep them informed of the latest tools and tricks used by cybercriminals.
- Always double-check requests to change bank account details, payment methods etc. during transactions.
- Install a security solution on all workstations and servers where possible – and implement all updates without delay.
- In the event of a system being compromised, change the passwords for all accounts used on that system.
- If your organisation has an industrial control system, install specialist security that will monitor and analyse all network activity and more.
Crouching Yeti strikes
Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.
According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.
Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.
Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.
In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.
Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.
“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.
“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.
Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.
More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.
R5m in software fines
South African companies paid almost R5.2 million in damages for using unlicensed software in 2017 up from R3.6 million in 2016.
This is according to data from BSA | The Software Alliance, a non-profit, global trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners.
The significant increase in unlicensed software payments – which includes settlements as well as the cost of acquiring new software to become compliant – is the result of more accurate leads from informers, says Darren Olivier, Partner at Adams & Adams, legal counsel for BSA. In 2017 BSA received 281 reports in South Africa alleging the use of unlicensed software products of BSA member companies – this up considerably up from 230 leads in 2016.
“BSA’s recent social media campaign also helped to create awareness among local companies about the need to comply with existing legislation in order to avoid legal action,” Olivier says.
The result has been a 13% increase in settlements paid in 2017, with the settlements total reaching almost R2.5 million.
While the average settlement paid by companies in 2017 was around R36 094, in some cases the amount owed was far greater, as is evidenced by Shereno Printers, a print and design company based in Gauteng, which ended up paying a hefty settlement amount of R260 000 last year in an out of court settlement.
The company’s case was in line with a broader trend, which saw the print and design industry as a whole rank among the top sectors plagued by unlicensed software.
Aside from settlements, companies also paid more than R2.6 million in licenses purchased to legalise their unlicensed software.
And the ramifications of software piracy extend beyond financial implications. “It also results in potential job losses and loss in tax revenue. This is not to mention the financial and reputational damage brought about by security breaches and lost data,” comments Olivier.
As unlicensed software has not been updated with the latest security features, it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattack, he explains.
This is a particular problem for companies operating in South Africa where economic crime has recently reached record levels, according to the Global Economic Crime Survey. Indeed, 77% of South African organisations have experienced some form of economic crime. What’s more, instances of cybercrime totalled 29% of economic crimes reported.
This in turn, raises questions around government policy and the adequacy of existing copyright legislation, which only enables the registration of copyright in films, but not in computer programs.
Olivier notes that it is likely the percentage of unlicensed software on South African computers has increased over the past year. “We received many more leads this year, which is an indicator that the amount of pirated software is greater than in previous years,” he comments.
Often unlicensed software is not so much a case of deliberate piracy as it is a result of poor software asset management (SAM).
“For this reason, the BSA encourages all businesses to ensure they have effective SAM practices in place. Companies should be able to confirm what software they are using and are licensed to use – this will help them to identify unlicensed software and can also bring about cost savings. Even the most basic SAM practices such as regular inventories and software use policies can help,” says Chair of the BSA SA Committee, Billa Coetsee.
With this in mind the BSA offers a range of SAM solutions, not only to help organisations reduce legal and security risks, but also to create business value.