Posts Tagged: DNSpionage


24
Jan 20

Does Your Domain Have a Registry Lock?

If you’re running a business online, few things can be as disruptive or destructive to your brand as someone stealing your company’s domain name and doing whatever they wish with it. Even so, most major Web site owners aren’t taking full advantage of the security tools available to protect their domains from being hijacked. Here’s the story of one recent victim who was doing almost everything possible to avoid such a situation and still had a key domain stolen by scammers.

On December 23, 2019, unknown attackers began contacting customer support people at OpenProvider, a popular domain name registrar based in The Netherlands. The scammers told the customer representatives they had just purchased from the original owner the domain e-hawk.net — which is part of a service that helps Web sites detect and block fraud — and that they were having trouble transferring the domain from OpenProvider to a different registrar.

The real owner of e-hawk.net is Raymond Dijkxhoorn, a security expert and entrepreneur who has spent much of his career making life harder for cybercrooks and spammers. Dijkxhoorn and E-HAWK’s CEO Peter Cholnoky had already protected their domain with a “registrar lock,” a service that requires the registrar to confirm any requested changes with the domain owner via whatever communications method is specified by the registrant.

In the case of e-hawk.net, however, the scammers managed to trick an OpenProvider customer service rep into transferring the domain to another registrar with a fairly lame social engineering ruse — and without triggering any verification to the real owners of the domain.

Specifically, the thieves contacted OpenProvider via WhatsApp, said they were now the rightful owners of the domain, and shared a short screen grab video showing the registrar’s automated system blocking the domain transfer (see video below).

“The support agent helpfully tried to verify if what the [scammers] were saying was true, and said, ‘Let’s see if we can move e-hawk.net from here to check if that works’,” Dijkxhoorn said. “But a registrar should not act on instructions coming from a random email address or other account that is not even connected to the domain in question.”

Dijkxhoorn shared records obtained from OpenProvider showing that on Dec. 23, 2019, the e-hawk.net domain was transferred to a reseller account within OpenProvider. Just three days later, that reseller account moved e-hawk.net to another registrar — Public Domain Registry (PDR).

“Due to the previously silent move to another reseller account within OpenProvider, we were not notified by the registrar about any changes,” Dijkxhoorn said. “This fraudulent move was possible due to successful social engineering towards the OpenProvider support team. We have now learned that after the move to the other OpenProvider account, the fraudsters could silently remove the registrar lock and move the domain to PDR.”

REGISTRY LOCK

Dijkxhoorn said one security precaution his company had not taken with their domain prior to the fraudulent transfer was a “registry lock,” a more stringent, manual (and sometimes offline) process that effectively neutralizes any attempts by fraudsters to social engineer your domain registrar.

With a registry lock in place, your registrar cannot move your domain to another registrar on its own. Doing so requires manual contact verification by the appropriate domain registry, such as Verisign — which is the authoritative registry for all domains ending in .com, .net, .name, .cc, .tv, .edu, .gov and .jobs. Other registries handle locks for specific top-level or country-code domains, including Nominet (for .co.uk or .uk domains), EURID (for .eu domains), CNNIC for (for .cn) domains, and so on.

According to data provided by digital brand protection firm CSC, while domains created in the top three most registered top-level domains (.com, .jp and .cn) are eligible for registry locks, just 22 percent of domain names tracked in Forbes’ list of the World’s Largest Public Companies have secured registry locks.

Unfortunately, not all registrars support registry locks (a list of top-level domains that do allow registry locks is here, courtesy of CSC). But as we’ll see in a moment, there are other security precautions that can and do help if your domain somehow ends up getting hijacked.

Dijkxhoorn said his company first learned of the domain theft on Jan. 13, 2020, which was the date the fraudsters got around to changing the domain name system (DNS) settings for e-hawk.net. That alert was triggered by systems E-HAWK had previously built in-house that continually monitor their stable of domains for any DNS changes.

By the way, this continuous monitoring of one’s DNS settings is a powerful approach to help blunt attacks on your domains and DNS infrastructure. Anyone curious about why this might be a good approach should have a look at this deep-dive from 2019 on “DNSpionage,” the name given to the exploits of an Iranian group that has successfully stolen countless passwords and VPN credentials from major companies via DNS-based attacks. Continue reading →


18
Feb 19

A Deep Dive on the Recent Widespread DNS Hijacking Attacks

The U.S. government — along with a number of leading security companies — recently warned about a series of highly complex and widespread attacks that allowed suspected Iranian hackers to siphon huge volumes of email passwords and other sensitive data from multiple governments and private companies. But to date, the specifics of exactly how that attack went down and who was hit have remained shrouded in secrecy.

This post seeks to document the extent of those attacks, and traces the origins of this overwhelmingly successful cyber espionage campaign back to a cascading series of breaches at key Internet infrastructure providers.

Before we delve into the extensive research that culminated in this post, it’s helpful to review the facts disclosed publicly so far. On Nov. 27, 2018, Cisco’s Talos research division published a write-up outlining the contours of a sophisticated cyber espionage campaign it dubbed “DNSpionage.”

The DNS part of that moniker refers to the global “Domain Name System,” which serves as a kind of phone book for the Internet by translating human-friendly Web site names (example.com) into numeric Internet address that are easier for computers to manage.

Talos said the perpetrators of DNSpionage were able to steal email and other login credentials from a number of government and private sector entities in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates by hijacking the DNS servers for these targets, so that all email and virtual private networking (VPN) traffic was redirected to an Internet address controlled by the attackers.

Talos reported that these DNS hijacks also paved the way for the attackers to obtain SSL encryption certificates for the targeted domains (e.g. webmail.finance.gov.lb), which allowed them to decrypt the intercepted email and VPN credentials and view them in plain text.

On January 9, 2019, security vendor FireEye released its report, “Global DNS Hijacking Campaign: DNS Record Manipulation at Scale,” which went into far greater technical detail about the “how” of the espionage campaign, but contained few additional details about its victims.

About the same time as the FireEye report, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a rare emergency directive ordering all U.S. federal civilian agencies to secure the login credentials for their Internet domain records. As part of that mandate, DHS published a short list of domain names and Internet addresses that were used in the DNSpionage campaign, although those details did not go beyond what was previously released by either Cisco Talos or FireEye.

That changed on Jan. 25, 2019, when security firm CrowdStrike published a blog post listing virtually every Internet address known to be (ab)used by the espionage campaign to date. The remainder of this story is based on open-source research and interviews conducted by KrebsOnSecurity in an effort to shed more light on the true extent of this extraordinary — and ongoing — attack.

The “indicators of compromise” related to the DNSpionage campaign, as published by CrowdStrike.

PASSIVE DNS

I began my research by taking each of the Internet addresses laid out in the CrowdStrike report and running them through both Farsight Security and SecurityTrails, services that passively collect data about changes to DNS records tied to tens of millions of Web site domains around the world.

Working backwards from each Internet address, I was able to see that in the last few months of 2018 the hackers behind DNSpionage succeeded in compromising key components of DNS infrastructure for more than 50 Middle Eastern companies and government agencies, including targets in Albania, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

For example, the passive DNS data shows the attackers were able to hijack the DNS records for mail.gov.ae, which handles email for government offices of the United Arab Emirates. Here are just a few other interesting assets successfully compromised in this cyber espionage campaign:

-nsa.gov.iq: the National Security Advisory of Iraq
-webmail.mofa.gov.ae: email for the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs
-shish.gov.al: the State Intelligence Service of Albania
-mail.mfa.gov.eg: mail server for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
-mod.gov.eg: Egyptian Ministry of Defense
-embassy.ly: Embassy of Libya
-owa.e-albania.al: the Outlook Web Access portal for the e-government portal of Albania
-mail.dgca.gov.kw: email server for Kuwait’s Civil Aviation Bureau
-gid.gov.jo: Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate
-adpvpn.adpolice.gov.ae: VPN service for the Abu Dhabi Police
-mail.asp.gov.al: email for Albanian State Police
-owa.gov.cy: Microsoft Outlook Web Access for Government of Cyprus
-webmail.finance.gov.lb: email for Lebanon Ministry of Finance
-mail.petroleum.gov.eg: Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum
-mail.cyta.com.cy: Cyta telecommunications and Internet provider, Cyprus
-mail.mea.com.lb: email access for Middle East Airlines

The passive DNS data provided by Farsight and SecurityTrails also offered clues about when each of these domains was hijacked. In most cases, the attackers appear to have changed the DNS records for these domains (we’ll get to the “how” in a moment) so that the domains pointed to servers in Europe that they controlled.

Shortly after the DNS records for these TLDs were hijacked — sometimes weeks, sometimes just days or hours — the attackers were able to obtain SSL certificates for those domains from SSL providers Comodo and/or Let’s Encrypt. The preparation for several of these attacks can be seen at crt.sh, which provides a searchable database of all new SSL certificate creations.

Let’s take a closer look at one example. The CrowdStrike report references the Internet address 139.59.134[.]216 (see above), which according to Farsight was home to just seven different domains over the years. Two of those domains only appeared at that Internet address in December 2018, including domains in Lebanon and — curiously — Sweden.

The first domain was “ns0.idm.net.lb,” which is a server for the Lebanese Internet service provider IDM. From early 2014 until December 2018, ns0.idm.net.lb pointed to 194.126.10[.]18, which appropriately enough is an Internet address based in Lebanon. But as we can see in the screenshot from Farsight’s data below, on Dec. 18, 2018, the DNS records for this ISP were changed to point Internet traffic destined for IDM to a hosting provider in Germany (the 139.59.134[.]216 address).

Source: Farsight Security

Notice what else is listed along with IDM’s domain at 139.59.134[.]216, according to Farsight:

The DNS records for the domains sa1.dnsnode.net and fork.sth.dnsnode.net also were changed from their rightful home in Sweden to the German hosting provider controlled by the attackers in December. These domains are owned by Netnod Internet Exchange, a major global DNS provider based in Sweden. Netnod also operates one of the 13 “root” name servers, a critical resource that forms the very foundation of the global DNS system.

We’ll come back to Netnod in a moment. But first let’s look at another Internet address referenced in the CrowdStrike report as part of the infrastructure abused by the DNSpionage hackers: 82.196.11[.]127. This address in The Netherlands also is home to the domain mmfasi[.]com, which Crowdstrike says was one of the attacker’s domains that was used as a DNS server for some of the hijacked infrastructure.

As we can see in the screenshot above, 82.196.11[.]127 was temporarily home to another pair of Netnod DNS servers, as well as the server “ns.anycast.woodynet.net.” That domain is derived from the nickname of Bill Woodcock, who serves as executive director of Packet Clearing House (PCH).

PCH is a nonprofit entity based in northern California that also manages significant amounts of the world’s DNS infrastructure, particularly the DNS for more than 500 top-level domains and a number of the Middle East top-level domains targeted by DNSpionage. Continue reading →