Category Archives: Advice for SMEs

The Eternal Battle over Active Directory between OT and IT

29 October 2020

On October 13th I moderated the anapur Virtual Dialog “Network Monitoring and Anomaly Detection”. During the breaks, some participants from industry talked about a really concerning issue: IT, IT-Security and GRC groups in their companies urge them to integrate their so far isolated production active directories in the corporate directory.

I have been involved in these discussion for 10 years and I never changed my answer:

Don’t do it!

This integration is dangerous. Active Directory simplifies lateral movement once an attacker created a foothold in your network. And it simplifies the distribution of malware through login scripts. Remind the Norsk Hydro attack from March 2019: Divisions with high vertical integration were more affected from LockerGoga than the Alumina production.

In their paper “Seven Strategies to Defend ICSs” from December 2016, DHS ICS-CERT, FBI and NSA provide a very clear active directory strategy:

Never share Active Directory, RSA ACE servers, or other trust stores between corporate and control networks.

For details see chapter 5, “Manage Authentication”.

Hope this helps in discussions with IT, IT-Security and GRC.


In his poem Ulysses, Alfred Tennyson brings it to the point:

Tho‘ much is taken, much abides;
and though we are not now that strength
which in old days moved earth and heaven;
that which we are, we are;
one equal temper of heroic hearts,
made weak by time and fate,
but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find.
And not to yield.

The most important questions to ask in a firewall rule assessment

25 June 2020

Regular firewall rule assessments are basic IT/OT security housekeeping procedures. Security staff challenges every rule after well-known industry best practice like ANY Computer or ANY Port rules, bi-directional rules, use of unsecure protocols like ftp, telnet, smb, not used rules, etc.

Nervennahrung for firewall assessment. Own work.

Picture 1: Nervennahrung for firewall rule assessments

Compliance to industry best practice can be achieved with a plain checklist. Thus the check can be automated to a far extent. The nerve-racking work starts afterwards, when each finding is discussed with the users.

But, in general, the security staff does not challenge the rule itself. Or it’s direction. Or the ports used.

These questions are asked after the rule has passed the best practice checks. No automation possible. They require in-depth knowledge of the services accessed through the firewall, and, they belong to the nerve-racking category. But it’s worth to ask these questions because

The best firewall rule is the one that not exists.

You must not care of such rules in the case of a security incident, no regular review required, no discussion with users. Entrepreneurs should be interested in cleaning up the rule base because it saves costs, and increases security.

More about this in the next post.


Picture credits

Picture 1: Vienna 2020. Own work

Australia Fights Sophisticated State-Backed Copy-Paste Attack with The Essential Eight!

20 June 2020

Reports on a wave of sophisticated nation state sponsored cyber-attacks against Australian government agencies and critical infrastructure operators spread like wild-fire through international media the day before yesterday.

From an IT security point of view, the access vector is really interesting. In Advisory 2020-008 (1) , the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) states that the actor leverages mainly a remote code execution vulnerability in unpatched versions of Telerik UI, a deserialization vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS), a 2019 SharePoint vulnerability, and the 2019 Citrix vulnerability.

The name Copy-Paste for the attacks comes from the actor’s “capability to quickly leverage public exploit proof-of-concepts to target networks of interest and regularly conducts reconnaissance of target networks looking for vulnerable services, potentially maintaining a list of public-facing services to quickly target following future vulnerability releases. The actor has also shown an aptitude for identifying development, test and orphaned services that are not well known or maintained by victim organizations.” (1)

The Essential Eight

The Essential Eight (Click to enlarge)

In the advisory the ACSC recommends some really basic preventive measures like patching or multi-factor authentication. These are two controls of “The Essential Eight”(2). I like the name “The Essential Eight”. It reminds me on the 1960 Western-film “The Magnificent Seven”, reinforced by Chuck Norris 😉

The Essential Eight focus on very basic strategies to reduce the likelihood and the impact of an attack. Without them, UEBA, SIEM, Threat Intelligence, Deep Packet Inspection, PAM, etc. make few sense.

Except of multi-factor authentication, The Essential Eight are part of the feature-rich Windows and Linux OS or already (backup solution) in place. So, only some internal effort and leadership is required to dramatically increase the resilience against cyber-attacks.

The Essential Eight are a prefect weekend reading. Have fun.


References

  1. Advisory 2020-008: Copy-paste compromises – tactics, techniques and procedures used to target multiple Australian networks | Cyber.gov.au [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jun 19]. Available from: https://www.cyber.gov.au/threats/advisory-2020-008-copy-paste-compromises-tactics-techniques-and-procedures-used-target-multiple-australian-networks
  2. Australian Cyber Security Center. Essential Eight Explained | Cyber.gov.au [Internet]. Australian Signals Directorate. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 19]. Available from: https://www.cyber.gov.au/publications/essential-eight-explained

An endless stream of SMB vulnerabilities …

11 June 2020

SMBleed, SMBLost, and SMBGhost/CoronaBlue are the vulnerabilities detected in the Microsoft SMB V3 protocol this year.

Critical SMB Vulnerabilities

Critical SMB Protocol Vulnerabilities

SMBleed/SMBGhost can be used to compromise a company network by attacking a system in the DMZ with port 445 open to the internet. Fortunately, SMBleed and SMBGhost impact only the latest Windows 10 versions. The number of Windows 10 systems directly accessible from the internet is still small.

Vulnerable Windows 10 1909 Pro Systems

Vulnerable Windows 10 1909 Pro Systems

Like EternalBlue, SMBLost impacts all Windows versions but is less critical because authentication (PR:L) is required.

The good news is that patches were available at the time the vulnerabilities were published. But it takes some weeks to implement them. During this time companies remain vulnerable against cyber-attacks.

Vulnerability management / priority patching is the standard approach to this kind of vulnerabilities. IT staff is kept busy, IT security solution and service providers make a good bargain, but the company’s resilience against cyber-attacks stays low. Companies can only hope that also the next SMB vulnerability is disclosed after a patch is available.

From an entrepreneurial point of view the obvious solution is to remove such systems from the internet. A risk assessment is imperative to evaluate the potential loss of sales and the costs of recovering from a cyber-attack. If the recovery costs exceed the potential loss of sales the system should be removed. This will slightly reduce IT costs but increase the resilience against such kind of cyber-attacks.

It is high time to evaluate IT[-security solutions] from an entrepreneurial point of view, in terms of Loss of Sales and Loss of EBIT.

Have a great weekend.

New study shows: Vulnerabilities in popular open source projects doubled in 2019. No need to panic!

9 June 2020

Catalin Cimpanu’s (1) post on the RiskSense study “The Dark Reality of Open Source” is well worth reading. Open source software is used everywhere. A critical vulnerability in an application that is based on open source software can lead to a data breach. But this holds also for commercial software. We can also expect that the number of flaws in open source and commercial software is roughly the same.

The main difference is that the number of open source software reviews is much higher than the number of commercial software reviews. So the results of the study are not really surprising.

In the case of TomCat, 7 of the 72 published vulnerabilities were weaponized. A quick check against the latest Coverity scan results for Apache TomCat (2) shows that the software has 987 defects, thereof 290 not yet fixed.

High impact defects are very valuable for attackers because their exploitation results in a full loss of integrity. The number of high impact defects in TomCat yet not fixed is 171. So we can expect that the number of vulnerabilities that can be weaponized is high.

In the case of Puppet, none of the 72 published vulnerabilities were weaponized. The latest Coverity scan for Puppet (3) shows no high impact vulnerabilities. So the result is not surprising.

What is the difference between Puppet and TomCat? Puppet is written in PHP/Python/Ruby with a defect density of 0.20. The defect density is the number of defects in 1000 LoC. TomCat is written in Java with a defect density of 1.19. Thus, software reviews will definitely detect more vulnerabilities in TomCat than in Puppet.

This has direct impact on your security strategy. If you use TomCat as middle-ware in the DMZ you should design your application to allow frequent patching, means, more robust against changes in the middle-ware. In addition, automated testing is required to ensure operability in the case a patch must be implemented. Finally, your operations team must be prepared to install patches within few hours upon release by the vendor.

Have you ever seen such details for commercial software? Like IIS?

Have a great week.


References

1. Cimpanu C. Vulnerabilities in popular open source projects doubled in 2019 [Internet]. ZDNet. 2020 [zitiert 8. Juni 2020]. Available at: https://www.zdnet.com/article/vulnerabilities-in-popular-open-source-projects-doubled-in-2019/

2. Synopsys. Coverity Scan – Static Analysis for Apache TomCat [Internet]. 2020 [zitiert 9. Juni 2020]. Available at: https://scan.coverity.com/projects/apache-tomcat

3. Synopsys. Coverity Scan – Static Analysis for Puppet [Internet]. [zitiert 9. Juni 2020]. Available at: https://scan.coverity.com/projects/puppetlabs-puppet

ComRAT V4 got an upgrade: On the value of Threat Intelligence

30 May 2020

Popular IT security media and threat intelligence services reported this week that the ComRAT V4 malware used by Turla APT got an upgrade. (1)(2)(3)

The big question for all businesses is: Do we have an increased risk resulting from this upgrade? Are the existing security controls still mitigating the risk stemmed from the ComRAT upgrade? Or do we have to upgrade our security controls as well.

The businesses in focus of the Turla APT should answer this question as soon as possible. Detailed information about the feature upgrade as well as the existing security controls are required to answer this question. This is nothing new. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” says Tzu Sun in the “Art of War” about 500 BC.

Are you prepared to answer this question? Your invest in threat intelligence is uneconomic if you cannot evaluate the threat details in the context of your environment.

What about ComRAT? The way command and control is performed changed. But the primary installation method has not changed: “ComRAT is typically installed via PowerStallion, a lightweight PowerShell backdoor used by Turla to install other backdoors.”(1)

PowerShell 5.0 Icon (5)

PowerShell 5.0 Icon. Picture Credits (5)

So, if you already implemented security controls, that deal with malware which uses PowerShell, your risk will not change. Otherwise, the publication “Securing PowerShell in the Enterprise” (4) of the Australian Cyber Security Center is a good starting point for a systematic approach to PowerShell security.

My advice: Disable PowerShell on all standard user computers. For administrative purposes, use hardened systems without email and internet access and implement PowerShell Endpoints.

Have a great Weekend.


References

  1. Lakshmanan R. New ComRAT Malware Uses Gmail to Receive Commands and Exfiltrate Data [Internet]. The Hacker News. 2020 [zitiert 28. Mai 2020]. Verfügbar unter: https://thehackernews.com/2020/05/gmail-malware-hacker.html

  2. Robinson T. Turla’s ComRAT v4 uses Gmail web UI to receive commands, steal data [Internet]. SC Media. 2020 [zitiert 30. Mai 2020]. Verfügbar unter: https://www.scmagazine.com/home/security-news/malware/turlas-comrat-v4-uses-gmail-web-ui-to-receive-commands-steal-data/

  3. Gatlan S. Russian cyberspies use Gmail to control updated ComRAT malware [Internet]. BleepingComputer. 2020 [zitiert 30. Mai 2020]. Verfügbar unter: https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/russian-cyberspies-use-gmail-to-control-updated-comrat-malware/

  4. Australian Cyber Security Center. Securing PowerShell in the Enterprise | Cyber.gov.au [Internet]. Australian Signals Directorate. 2019 [zitiert 6. März 2020]. Verfügbar unter: https://www.cyber.gov.au/publications/securing-powershell-in-the-enterprise

Picture credits

  1. PowerShell 5.0 Icon. Microsoft / Public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PowerShell_5.0_icon.png

Windows malware Sarwent got an upgrade. Thou shalt not work with permanent administrative privileges!

23 May 2020

Catalin Cimpanu (1) reports in his post „Windows malware opens RDP ports on PCs for future remote access“ published on ZDNET that the Windows malware Sarwent got an upgrade: It is now capable of using the windows command line and PowerShell, adding users, and opening ports in the Windows firewall for RDP access from remote. Since the latter features require administrative privileges on the victims machine, it is very likely that the victims worked with permanent administrative privileges.

To mitigate the risk, the best approach is to revoke any administrative privileges from standard users. This will not reduce the likelihood of occurrence, but it will reduce the severity of impact of an infection with Sarwent. Furthermore, since the attacker is forced to download tools to fully compromise the victims computer, the likelihood of detectability is increased.

Revoking administrative privileges from standard users is a low-cost, high-impact means to enhance resiliency against cyber-attacks, thus should be part of each security strategy.

But it is hard to implement. Managers will face lots of discussions if users must give up beloved habits. It is very important to keep the number of exceptions as small as possible because every exception lowers the overall security level of the company.

Have a great weekend.


  1. Cimpanu C. Windows malware opens RDP ports on PCs for future remote access [Internet]. ZDNet. 2020 [zitiert 22. Mai 2020]. Verfügbar unter: https://www.zdnet.com/article/windows-malware-opens-rdp-ports-on-pcs-for-future-remote-access/

Two unpatched remote code execution flaws in Adobe Type Manager Library affect all Windows Versions. Keep the mitigations forever!

29 March 2020

Mohit Kumar‘s post (1) that was published past Monday on The Hacker News should instill fright to all users who haven’t migrated to Windows 10 yet.

The good news is that this vulnerability requires user interaction. Microsoft states in security advisory ADV200006 (2) that “There are multiple ways an attacker could exploit the vulnerability, such as convincing a user to open a specially crafted document or viewing it in the Windows Preview pane.” As always, user training is as crucial!

In addition, the impact on Windows 10 users is limited because the malicious code runs in an AppContainer which is destroyed once the preview is closed.

The bad news is that Microsoft recognized attacks where this vulnerability is leveraged (the vulnerability is in the Wild). And, a patch is not available yet.

In the meantime, Microsoft provides important mitigations in ADV200006. These mitigations must be kept on all pre-Windows 10 systems where no Extended Security Update (ESU) support is available.

The most interesting mitigation is to “Disable the Preview Pane and Details Pane in Windows Explorer”. I always disable preview features in Explorer and Outlook. Simply put, preview requires that documents are “executed”, so preview may also execute embedded malicious code.

My advice for all critical infrastructure operators is:

  • Deactivate all preview features in the Windows OS and in all applications.
  • Deactivate any kind of macros and scripting without notification.
  • Deactivate all trusted locations in all applications.
  • And, of course, the user should not be able to reverse this settings.

With this, the security baseline is raised at moderate effort.

Have a great week.


1. Kumar M. Warning — Two Unpatched Critical 0-Day RCE Flaws Affect All Windows Versions [Internet]. The Hacker News. 2020 [cited 2020 Mar 29]. Available from: https://thehackernews.com/2020/03/windows-adobe-font-vulnerability.html

2. MSRC. ADV200006 | Type 1 Font Parsing Remote Code Execution Vulnerability [Internet]. Microsoft Security Response Center. 2020 [cited 2020 Mar 29]. Available from: https://portal.msrc.microsoft.com/en-US/security-guidance/advisory/ADV200006

Plundervolt. Don’t panic!

16 December 2019

Last Tuesday, Intel (1) published a patch for a new hardware vulnerability dubbed Plundervolt (CVE-2019-11157). As always with hardware vulnerabilities, Plundervolt got a lot of attention in the media.(2)(3)(4) A Google search for “plundervolt intel” shows about 167.000 hits as of today. The vulnerability was detected by a research team lead by Kit Murdock (5) some month ago.

In parallel, Microsoft published a patch for the privilege escalation vulnerability CVE-2019-1458.(6) CVE-2019-1458 is actively used in attacks (7), so it also got some media attention (Google search “CVE-2019-1458”: 88.000 hits as of today).

Plundervolt logo.

Plundervolt logo.

From my point of view, hardware vulnerabilities are always somewhat overvalued, especially in terms of their benefit in cyber operations. The vulnerabilities named RyzenFall, FallOut, Chimera and MasterKey in AMD processors, which were discovered last year, are maybe the best examples.(8) So, lets take a closer look on PlunderVolt and CVE-2019-1458.

The table below shows the CVSS V3.1 Severity for the vulnerabilities.

Plundervolt CVE-2019-1458 comparison

Plundervolt / CVE-2019-1458 comparison

The main difference is in the Privileges Required (PR) to exploit the vulnerability. For Plundervolt, Murdock et al. “assume the standard Intel SGX adversary model where the attacker has full control over all software running outside the enclave (including privileged system software such as operating system and BIOS).”(5) That means that the system must already be fully compromised before Plundervolt can be exploited.

In contrast, CVE-2019-1458 allows the attacker to acquire high privileges on a system once he hijacked a standard user account. So, by exploiting CVE-2019-1458 the attacker sets up the environment to exploit Plundervolt.

From an attacker’s point of view, CVE-2019-1458 is more valuable than Plundervolt. Once one system is compromised, the attacker can use it as base of operations for the exploration of the victim’s network. In the worst case, the Active Directory is compromised within some minutes, so the attacker has access to all secrets, or he can push ransomware to all computers.

For organized crime and APTs, CVE-2019-1458 is a universally exploitable tool to achieve goals.

Plundervolt gets interesting if the attacker is interested in encryption key details which are used internally only, for example in Transparent Database Encryption (TDE) or in trusted execution environments. Murdock et al. “demonstrate the effectiveness of our attacks by injecting faults into Intel’s RSA-CRT and AES-NI implementations running in an SGX enclave, and we reconstruct full cryptographic keys with negligible computational efforts.”(5) In the worst case, this results in the loss of all data in a TDE secured database, since vendors use Intel’s AES-NI on-chip implementation to speed up cryptographic computations.

So, Plundervolt is interesting for organized crime and APTs when it comes to industrial espionage or in attacks against targets which are relevant for national security.

Fortunately, the time frame for exploitation is short. The patch for CVE-2019-1458 will be automatically rolled out through the WSUS infrastructure within the next weeks. Plundervolt should be patched, with high priority on critical systems, if a company is target of espionage or operates critical infrastructures.

Do you know your threat profile and critical systems? Without this knowledge efficient vulnerability management is not possible. Not sure? So, take it as a New Year’s resolution…


References

  1. Intel Security Center. INTEL-SA-00289 [Internet]. Intel Security Center. 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/security-center/advisory/intel-sa-00289.html
  2. Gatlan S. Intel Patches Plundervolt, High Severity Issues in Platform Update [Internet]. BleepingComputer. 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/intel-patches-plundervolt-high-severity-issues-in-platform-update/
  3. O’Donnell L. Modern Intel CPUs Plagued By Plundervolt Attack | Threatpost [Internet]. threatpost. 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 13]. Available from: https://threatpost.com/intel-cpus-plundervolt-attack/151006/
  4. Khandelwal S. New PlunderVolt Attack Targets Intel SGX Enclaves by Tweaking CPU Voltage [Internet]. The Hacker News. 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 13]. Available from: https://thehackernews.com/2019/12/intel-sgx-voltage-attack.html
  5. Murdock K, Oswald D, Garcia FD, Van Bulck J, Gruss D, Piessens F. Plundervolt: Software-based Fault Injection Attacks against Intel SGX}. In: Proceedings of the 41st IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (S&P’20) [Internet]. San Francisco, CA; 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 13]. Available from: https://plundervolt.com/
  6. MSRC. CVE-2019-1458 | Win32k Elevation of Privilege Vulnerability [Internet]. Microsoft Security. 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://portal.msrc.microsoft.com/en-US/security-guidance/advisory/CVE-2019-1458
  7. Kaspersky Global Research and Analysis Team. Windows 0-day exploit CVE-2019-1458 used in Operation WizardOpium | Securelist [Internet]. SECURELIST. 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://securelist.com/windows-0-day-exploit-cve-2019-1458-used-in-operation-wizardopium/95432/
  8. Cimpanu C. AMD Confirms RyzenFall, MasterKey, Fallout, and Chimera Vulnerabilities [Internet]. BleepingComputer. 2018 [cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/hardware/amd-confirms-ryzenfall-masterkey-fallout-and-chimera-vulnerabilities/

World Cafe@IMI 2019: No Backup, No Mercy!

24 November 2019

IMI 2019: Presentation DOW Cyber Security Framework

IMI 2019: Presentation DOW Cyber Security Framework

The motto of the IT meets Industry 2019 (IMI) conference in Mannheim was What happens if shit happened. During the World Cafe session, the participants dealt with the following scenario:

  1. The cyber-criminal overcame all hurdles you put in place to protect your production systems from attacks.
  2. The anomaly detection capabilities in place recognized the attack late.
  3. The engineering station (ES) is compromised.
  4. You isolated the engineering station from the network for further analysis.
  5. The good news is that the process control system (PCS) is still operable.
  6. The bad news is that it’s not clear whether the control program in the PCS is also compromised.

You decide to download the control program from the backup into the PCS. This is no uncommon scenario. The Rogue7 (1) attack described at the Black Hat 2019 and Triton (2) work this way. One of the participants put it this way: No Backup, No Mercy! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Where is the current backup stored?

Under normal conditions, the current control program is stored on the engineering station. But this version is not usable because the engineering station is compromised.  If the backup is well organized, a copy of the control program is available from a NAS or a dedicated backup system

Is it really the current version?

This is very important if you want to recover the PCS to the state before the attack happened. Unfortunately, the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) in production is zero. That means, that the latest version of the control program is required for recovery. Older versions require, in the best case, manual reworking, thus a longer downtime and higher financial loss.

Is the PCS restorable from this version and fully operable afterwards?

Have you ever tried a restore test during scheduled maintenance to make sure that the PCS is fully operable after the restore of the control program? Is it clear what is meant by fully operable? Do you have a procedure and check list in place to verify this?

But the worst is yet to come. If you do daily backups there is a small chance that all backup versions are compromised.  In the above scenario, the anomaly detection system detected the attack late. If you keep for instance the latest 10 versions online and the attacker was active for 14 days, then all backups are potentially compromised. So, you must retrieve a backup from a tape library, if any.

Summary

Backup in the age of cyber attacks and ransomware is a hard job, especially in production. Without a strategy and preparation for the worst case a cyber attack may become a financial disaster. The 7 Ps Rule shows the direction in incident response:

Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!

Want to participate in real peer to peer knowledge exchange and a World Cafe on hot topics? Join the IMI 2020 in Mannheim.

Have a great week.


References

  1. Biham E, Bitan S, Carmel A, Dankner A, Malin U, Wool A. PPT: Rogue7: Rogue Engineering-Station attacks on S7 Simatic PLCs [Internet]. Powerpoint Presentation presented at: Black Hat USA 2019; 2019 Aug 8 [cited 2019 Aug 16]; Mandalay Bay / Las Vegas. Available from: https://i.blackhat.com/USA-19/Thursday/us-19-Bitan-Rogue7-Rogue-Engineering-Station-Attacks-On-S7-Simatic-PLCs.pdf
  2. Sobczak B. SECURITY: The inside story of the world’s most dangerous malware [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 May 11]. Available from: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060123327