December, 2020


29
Dec 20

Happy 11th Birthday, KrebsOnSecurity!

Today marks the 11th anniversary of KrebsOnSecurity! Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued encouragement and support!

With the ongoing disruption to life and livelihood wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a fairly horrid year by most accounts. And it’s perhaps fitting that this was also a leap year, piling on an extra day to a solar rotation that most of us probably can’t wait to see in the rearview mirror.

But it was hardly a dull one for computer security news junkies. In almost every category — from epic breaches and ransomware to cybercrime justice and increasingly aggressive phishing and social engineering scams — 2020 was a year that truly went to eleven.

Almost 150 stories here this past year generated nearly 9,000 responses from readers (although about 6 percent of those were on just one story). Thank you all for your thoughtful engagement, wisdom, news tips and support.

I’d like to reprise a note from last year’s anniversary post concerning ads. A good chunk of the loyal readers here are understandably security- and privacy-conscious, and many block advertisements by default — including the ads displayed here.

KrebsOnSecurity does not run third-party ads and has no plans to change that; all of the creatives you see on this site are hosted in-house, are purely image-based, and are vetted first by Yours Truly. Love them or hate ’em, these ads help keep the content at KrebsOnSecurity free to any and all readers. If you’re currently blocking ads here, please consider making an exception for this site.

In case you missed them, some of the most popular feature/enterprise stories on the site this year (in no particular order) included:

The Joys of Owning an ‘OG’ Email Account
Confessions of an ID Theft Kingpin (Part II)
Why and Where You Should Plant Your Flag
Thinking of a Career in Cybersecurity? Read This
Turn on MFA Before Crooks Do it for You
Romanian Skimmer Gang in Mexico Outed by KrebsOnSecurity Stole $1.2 Billion
Who’s Behind the ‘Web Listings’ Mail Scam?
When in Doubt: Hang Up, Look Up, & Call Back
Riding the State Unemployment Fraud Wave
Would You Have Fallen for this Phone Scam?


18
Dec 20

VMware Flaw a Vector in SolarWinds Breach?

U.S. government cybersecurity agencies warned this week that the attackers behind the widespread hacking spree stemming from the compromise at network software firm SolarWinds used weaknesses in other, non-SolarWinds products to attack high-value targets. According to sources, among those was a flaw in software virtualization platform VMware, which the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) warned on Dec. 7 was being used by Russian hackers to impersonate authorized users on victim networks.

On Dec. 7, 2020, the NSA said “Russian state-sponsored malicious cyber actors are exploiting a vulnerability in VMware Access and VMware Identity Manager products, allowing the actors access to protected data and abusing federated authentication.”

VMware released a software update to plug the security hole (CVE-2020-4006) on Dec. 3, and said it learned about the flaw from the NSA.

The NSA advisory (PDF) came less than 24 hours before cyber incident response firm FireEye said it discovered attackers had broken into its networks and stolen more than 300 proprietary software tools the company developed to help customers secure their networks.

On Dec. 13, FireEye disclosed that the incident was the result of the SolarWinds compromise, which involved malicious code being surreptitiously inserted into updates shipped by SolarWinds for users of its Orion network management software as far back as March 2020.

In its advisory on the VMware vulnerability, the NSA urged patching it “as soon as possible,” specifically encouraging the National Security System, Department of Defense, and defense contractors to make doing so a high priority.

The NSA said that in order to exploit this particular flaw, hackers would already need to have access to a vulnerable VMware device’s management interface — i.e., they would need to be on the target’s internal network (provided the vulnerable VMware interface was not accessible from the Internet). However, the SolarWinds compromise would have provided that internal access nicely.

In response to questions from KrebsOnSecurity, VMware said it has “received no notification or indication that the CVE 2020-4006 was used in conjunction with the SolarWinds supply chain compromise.”

VMware added that while some of its own networks used the vulnerable SolarWinds Orion software, an investigation has so far revealed no evidence of exploitation.

“While we have identified limited instances of the vulnerable SolarWinds Orion software in our environment, our own internal investigation has not revealed any indication of exploitation,” the company said in a statement. “This has also been confirmed by SolarWinds own investigations to date.”

On Dec. 17, DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a sobering alert on the SolarWinds attack, noting that CISA had evidence of additional access vectors other than the SolarWinds Orion platform.

CISA’s advisory specifically noted that “one of the principal ways the adversary is accomplishing this objective is by compromising the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) signing certificate using their escalated Active Directory privileges. Once this is accomplished, the adversary creates unauthorized but valid tokens and presents them to services that trust SAML tokens from the environment. These tokens can then be used to access resources in hosted environments, such as email, for data exfiltration via authorized application programming interfaces (APIs).”

Indeed, the NSA’s Dec. 7 advisory said the hacking activity it saw involving the VMware vulnerability “led to the installation of a web shell and follow-on malicious activity where credentials in the form of SAML authentication assertions were generated and sent to Microsoft Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), which in turn granted the actors access to protected data.”

Also on Dec. 17, the NSA released a far more detailed advisory explaining how it has seen the VMware vulnerability being used to forge SAML tokens, this time specifically referencing the SolarWinds compromise.

Asked about the potential connection, the NSA said only that “if malicious cyber actors gain initial access to networks through the SolarWinds compromise, the TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures] noted in our December 17 advisory may be used to forge credentials and maintain persistent access.”

“Our guidance in this advisory helps detect and mitigate against this, no matter the initial access method,” the NSA said.

Continue reading →


16
Dec 20

Malicious Domain in SolarWinds Hack Turned into ‘Killswitch’

A key malicious domain name used to control potentially thousands of computer systems compromised via the months-long breach at network monitoring software vendor SolarWinds was commandeered by security experts and used as a “killswitch” designed to turn the sprawling cybercrime operation against itself, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds disclosed this week that a compromise of its software update servers earlier this year may have resulted in malicious code being pushed to nearly 18,000 customers of its Orion platform. Many U.S. federal agencies and Fortune 500 firms use(d) Orion to monitor the health of their IT networks.

On Dec. 13, cyber incident response firm FireEye published a detailed writeup on the malware infrastructure used in the SolarWinds compromise, presenting evidence that the Orion software was first compromised back in March 2020. FireEye said hacked networks were seen communicating with a malicious domain name — avsvmcloud[.]com — one of several domains the attackers had set up to control affected systems.

As first reported here on Tuesday, there were signs over the past few days that control over the domain had been transferred to Microsoft. Asked about the changeover, Microsoft referred questions to FireEye and to GoDaddy, the current domain name registrar for the malicious site.

Today, FireEye responded that the domain seizure was part of a collaborative effort to prevent networks that may have been affected by the compromised SolarWinds software update from communicating with the attackers. What’s more, the company said the domain was reconfigured to act as a “killswitch” that would prevent the malware from continuing to operate in some circumstances.

“SUNBURST is the malware that was distributed through SolarWinds software,” FireEye said in a statement shared with KrebsOnSecurity. “As part of FireEye’s analysis of SUNBURST, we identified a killswitch that would prevent SUNBURST from continuing to operate.”

The statement continues:

“Depending on the IP address returned when the malware resolves avsvmcloud[.]com, under certain conditions, the malware would terminate itself and prevent further execution. FireEye collaborated with GoDaddy and Microsoft to deactivate SUNBURST infections.”

“This killswitch will affect new and previous SUNBURST infections by disabling SUNBURST deployments that are still beaconing to avsvmcloud[.]com. However, in the intrusions FireEye has seen, this actor moved quickly to establish additional persistent mechanisms to access to victim networks beyond the SUNBURST backdoor.

This killswitch will not remove the actor from victim networks where they have established other backdoors. However, it will make it more difficult to for the actor to leverage the previously distributed versions of SUNBURST.”

It is likely that given their visibility into and control over the malicious domain, Microsoft, FireEye, GoDaddy and others now have a decent idea which companies may still be struggling with SUNBURST infections.

The killswitch revelations came as security researchers said they’d made progress in decoding SUNBURST’s obfuscated communications methods. Chinese cybersecurity firm RedDrip Team published their findings on Github, saying its decoder tool had identified nearly a hundred suspected victims of the SolarWinds/Orion breach, including universities, governments and high tech companies.

Meanwhile, the potential legal fallout for SolarWinds in the wake of this breach continues to worsen. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that top investors in SolarWinds sold millions of dollars in stock in the days before the intrusion was revealed. SolarWinds’s stock price has fallen more than 20 percent in the past few days. The Post cited former enforcement officials at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) saying the sales were likely to prompt an insider trading investigation.


15
Dec 20

SolarWinds Hack Could Affect 18K Customers

The still-unfolding breach at network management software firm SolarWinds may have resulted in malicious code being pushed to nearly 18,000 customers, the company said in a legal filing on Monday. Meanwhile, Microsoft should soon have some idea which and how many SolarWinds customers were affected, as it recently took possession of a key domain name used by the intruders to control infected systems.

On Dec. 13, SolarWinds acknowledged that hackers had inserted malware into a service that provided software updates for its Orion platform, a suite of products broadly used across the U.S. federal government and Fortune 500 firms to monitor the health of their IT networks.

In a Dec. 14 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), SolarWinds said roughly 33,000 of its more than 300,000 customers were Orion customers, and that fewer than 18,000 customers may have had an installation of the Orion product that contained the malicious code. SolarWinds said the intrusion also compromised its Microsoft Office 365 accounts.

The initial breach disclosure from SolarWinds came five days after cybersecurity incident response firm FireEye announced it had suffered an intrusion that resulted in the theft of some 300 proprietary software tools the company provides to clients to help secure their IT operations.

On Dec. 13, FireEye published a detailed writeup on the malware infrastructure used in the SolarWinds compromise, presenting evidence that the Orion software was first compromised back in March 2020. FireEye didn’t explicitly say its own intrusion was the result of the SolarWinds hack, but the company confirmed as much to KrebsOnSecurity earlier today.

Also on Dec. 13, news broke that the SolarWinds hack resulted in attackers reading the email communications at the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments.

On Dec. 14, Reuters reported the SolarWinds intrusion also had been used to infiltrate computer networks at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). That disclosure came less than 24 hours after DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) took the unusual step of issuing an emergency directive ordering all federal agencies to immediately disconnect the affected Orion products from their networks.

ANALYSIS

Security experts have been speculating as to the extent of the damage from the SolarWinds hack, combing through details in the FireEye analysis and elsewhere for clues about how many other organizations may have been hit.

And it seems that Microsoft may now be in perhaps the best position to take stock of the carnage. That’s because sometime on Dec. 14, the software giant took control over a key domain name — avsvmcloud[.]com — that was used by the SolarWinds hackers to communicate with systems compromised by the backdoored Orion product updates.

Armed with that access, Microsoft should be able to tell which organizations have IT systems that are still trying to ping the malicious domain. However, because many Internet service providers and affected companies are already blocking systems from accessing that malicious control domain or have disconnected the vulnerable Orion services, Microsoft’s visibility may be somewhat limited.

Microsoft has a long history of working with federal investigators and the U.S. courts to seize control over domains involved in global malware menaces, particularly when those sites are being used primarily to attack Microsoft Windows customers.

Microsoft dodged direct questions about its visibility into the malware control domain, suggesting those queries would be better put to FireEye or GoDaddy (the current domain registrar for the malware control server). But in a response on Twitter, Microsoft spokesperson Jeff Jones seemed to confirm that control of the malicious domain had changed hands. Continue reading →


14
Dec 20

U.S. Treasury, Commerce Depts. Hacked Through SolarWinds Compromise

Communications at the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments were reportedly compromised by a supply chain attack on SolarWinds, a security vendor that helps the federal government and a range of Fortune 500 companies monitor the health of their IT networks. Given the breadth of the company’s customer base, experts say the incident may be just the first of many such disclosures.

Some of SolarWinds’ customers. Source: solarwinds.com

According to a Reuters story, hackers believed to be working for Russia have been monitoring internal email traffic at the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments. Reuters reports the attackers were able to surreptitiously tamper with updates released by SolarWinds for its Orion platform, a suite of network management tools.

In a security advisory, Austin, Texas based SolarWinds acknowledged its systems “experienced a highly sophisticated, manual supply chain attack on SolarWinds Orion Platform software builds for versions 2019.4 HF 5 through 2020.2.1, released between March 2020 and June 2020.”

In response to the intrusions at Treasury and Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) took the unusual step of issuing an emergency directive ordering all federal agencies to immediately disconnect the affected Orion products from their networks.

“Treat all hosts monitored by the SolarWinds Orion monitoring software as compromised by threat actors and assume that further persistence mechanisms have been deployed,” CISA advised.

A blog post by Microsoft says the attackers were able to add malicious code to software updates provided by SolarWinds for Orion users. “This results in the attacker gaining a foothold in the network, which the attacker can use to gain elevated credentials,” Microsoft wrote.

From there, the attackers would be able to forge single sign-on tokens that impersonate any of the organization’s existing users and accounts, including highly privileged accounts on the network.

“Using highly privileged accounts acquired through the technique above or other means, attackers may add their own credentials to existing application service principals, enabling them to call APIs with the permission assigned to that application,” Microsoft explained.

Malicious code added to an Orion software update may have gone undetected by antivirus software and other security tools on host systems thanks in part to guidance from SolarWinds itself. In this support advisory, SolarWinds says its products may not work properly unless their file directories are exempted from antivirus scans and group policy object restrictions. Continue reading →


10
Dec 20

Payment Processing Giant TSYS: Ransomware Incident “Immaterial” to Company

Payment card processing giant TSYS suffered a ransomware attack earlier this month. Since then reams of data stolen from the company have been posted online, with the attackers promising to publish more in the coming days. But the company says the malware did not jeopardize card data, and that the incident was limited to administrative areas of its business.

Headquartered in Columbus, Ga., Total System Services Inc. (TSYS) is the third-largest third-party payment processor for financial institutions in North America, and a major processor in Europe.

TSYS provides payment processing services, merchant services and other payment solutions, including prepaid debit cards and payroll cards. In 2019, TSYS was acquired by financial services firm Global Payments Inc. [NYSE:GPN].

On December 8, the cybercriminal gang responsible for deploying the Conti ransomware strain (also known as “Ryuk“) published more than 10 gigabytes of data that it claimed to have removed from TSYS’s networks.

Conti is one of several cybercriminal groups that maintains a blog which publishes data stolen from victims in a bid to force the negotiation of ransom payments. The gang claims the data published so far represents just 15 percent of the information it offloaded from TSYS before detonating its ransomware inside the company.

In a written response to requests for comment, TSYS said the attack did not affect systems that handle payment card processing.

“We experienced a ransomware attack involving systems that support certain corporate back office functions of a legacy TSYS merchant business,” TSYS said. “We immediately contained the suspicious activity and the business is operating normally.” Continue reading →


8
Dec 20

Patch Tuesday, Good Riddance 2020 Edition

Microsoft today issued its final batch of security updates for Windows PCs in 2020, ending the year with a relatively light patch load. Nine of the 58 security vulnerabilities addressed this month earned Microsoft’s most-dire “critical” label, meaning they can be abused by malware or miscreants to seize remote control over PCs without any help from users.

Mercifully, it does not appear that any of the flaws fixed this month are being actively exploited, nor have any them been detailed publicly prior to today.

The critical bits reside in updates for Microsoft Exchange Server, Sharepoint Server, and Windows 10 and Server 2016 systems. Additionally, Microsoft released an advisory on how to minimize the risk from a DNS spoofing weakness in Windows Server 2008 through 2019.

Some of the sub-critical “important” flaws addressed this month also probably deserve prompt patching in enterprise environments, including a trio of updates tackling security issues with Microsoft Office.

“Given the speed with which attackers often weaponize Microsoft Office vulnerabilities, these should be prioritized in patching,” said Allan Liska, senior security architect at Recorded Future. “The vulnerabilities, if exploited, would allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code on a victim’s machine. These vulnerabilities affect Microsoft Excel 2013 through 2019, Microsoft 365 32 and 64 bit versions, Microsoft Office 2019 32 and 64 bit versions, and Microsoft Excel for Mac 2019.”

We also learned this week that Redmond quietly addressed a scary “zero-click” vulnerability in its Microsoft Teams platform that would have let anyone execute code of their choosing just by sending the target a specially-crafted chat message to a Teams users. The bug was cross-platform, meaning it could also have been used to deliver malicious code to people using Teams on non-Windows devices. Continue reading →


4
Dec 20

IRS to Make ID Protection PIN Open to All

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said this week that beginning in 2021 it will allow all taxpayers to apply for an identity protection personal identification number (IP PIN), a single-use code designed to block identity thieves from falsely claiming a tax refund in your name. Currently, IP PINs are issued only to those who fill out an ID theft affidavit, or to taxpayers who’ve experienced tax refund fraud in previous years.

Tax refund fraud is a perennial problem involving the use of identity information and often stolen or misdirected W-2 forms to electronically file an unauthorized tax return for the purposes of claiming a refund in the name of a taxpayer.

Victims usually first learn of the crime after having their returns rejected because scammers beat them to it. Even those who are not required to file a return can be victims of refund fraud, as can those who are not actually due a refund from the IRS.  

Many of the reasons why refund fraud remains a problem have to do with timing, and some of them are described in more detail here. But the short answer is the IRS is under tremendous pressure to issue refunds quickly and to minimize “false positives” (flagging legitimate claims as fraud) — even when it may not yet have all of the information needed to accurately distinguish phony filings from legitimate ones. Continue reading →


2
Dec 20

Account Hijacking Site OGUsers Hacked, Again

For at least the third time in its existence, OGUsers — a forum overrun with people looking to buy, sell and trade access to compromised social media accounts — has been hacked.

An offer by the apparent hackers of OGUsers, offering to remove account information from the eventual database leak in exchange for payment.

Roughly a week ago, the OGUsers homepage was defaced with a message stating the forum’s user database had been compromised. The hack was acknowledged by the forum’s current administrator, who assured members that their passwords were protected with a password obfuscation technology that was extremely difficult to crack.

But unlike in previous breaches at OGUsers, the perpetrators of this latest incident have not yet released the forum database. In the meantime, someone has been taunting forum members, saying they can have their profiles and private messages removed from an impending database leak by paying between $50 and $100.

OGUsers was hacked at least twice previously, in May 2019 and again in March 2020. In the wake of both incidents, the compromised OGUsers databases were made available for public download. Continue reading →


1
Dec 20

Bomb Threat, DDoS Purveyor Gets Eight Years

A 22-year-old North Carolina man has been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for conducting bomb threats against thousands of schools in the U.S. and United Kingdom, running a service that launched distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and for possessing sexually explicit images of minors.

Timothy Dalton Vaughn from Winston-Salem, N.C. was a key member of the Apophis Squad, a gang of young ne’er-do-wells who made bomb threats to more than 2,400 schools and launched DDoS attacks against countless Web sites — including KrebsOnSecurity on multiple occasions.

The Justice Department says Vaughn and his gang ran a DDoS-for-hire service that they used to shake down victims.

“In early 2018, Vaughn demanded 1.5 bitcoin (then worth approximately $20,000) from a Long Beach company, to prevent denial-of-service attacks on its website,” reads a statement from Nicola Hanna, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. “When the company refused to pay, he launched a DDoS attack that disabled the company’s website.”

One of many tweets from the attention-starved Apophis Squad, which launched multiple DDoS attacks against KrebsOnSecurity over the past few months.

Dalton, whose online aliases included “WantedbyFeds” and “Hacker_R_US,” pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to convey threats to injure, convey false information concerning use of explosive device, and intentionally damage a computer; one count of computer hacking; and one count of possession of child pornography.

Federal judge Otis D. Wright II sentenced Vaughn to 95 months for possessing 200 sexually explicit images and videos depicting children, including at least one toddler, the Justice Department said. Vaughn was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for the remaining charge. The sentences will be served concurrently. Continue reading →