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Microsoft Shares PonyFinal Threat Data, Warns of Delivery Tactics

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PonyFinal is deployed in human-operated ransomware attacks, in which adversaries tailor their techniques based on knowledge of a target system.

Microsoft today shared threat data collected on PonyFinal, a Java-based ransomware deployed in human-operated ransomware campaigns. In these types of attacks, adversaries do their homework and choose a strategy and payload based on the target organization’s environment.

Human-operated ransomware is not new, but it has been growing popular as attackers try to maximize ransom from individual victims. Other known human-operated ransomware campaigns include Bitpaymer, Ryuk, REvil, and Samas. Microsoft started to see PonyFinal at the beginning of April, says Phillip Misner, research director with Microsoft Threat Protection. 

“These are all variations of the same sort of serious threat that customers are facing right now,” he explains. Attackers employ credential theft and lateral movement to learn more about the business. “Ultimately, after they’ve gone through and understood the environment, they’ll deploy ransomware of the attackers’ choice that matches up most closely with the environment that they have observed over time.”

PonyFinal attacks usually start in one of two ways. Attackers have been seen gaining access through brute-force attacks against a target’s systems management server, Microsoft Security Intelligence wrote in a series of tweets. They deploy a VBScript to run a PowerShell reverse shell to perform data dumps, and also a remote manipulator system to bypass event logging. Attackers have also exploited unpatched flaws or targeted vulnerable Internet-facing services.

In some cases, attackers deploy Java Runtime Environment (JRE), which the Java-based ransomware needs to run. However, experts say, evidence indicates the attackers use data stolen from the systems management server to target endpoints that have JRE installed. These types of attackers are careful in their operations, Misner says, and they try to avoid detection where possible. If JRE is already on a machine, they can operate without raising any alerts.

“Often the folks that are seeing the PonyFinal ransomware, they already had Java in their environments, and so attackers are using that to remain as stealth as possible,” he explains. 

The ransomware is delivered via an MSI file that contains two batch files and the ransomware payload. Microsoft’s investigations show PonyFinal encrypts files at a specific date and time. Encrypted files have an .enc file extension and the ransom note is a simple text file, they say.

PonyFinal is deployed at the tail end of protracted human-operated campaigns, in which the attackers typically lay dormant and wait for the most opportune time to strike. In the April PonyFinal campaigns, the period between initial compromise and ransom ranged from multiple months to the span of a week, Misner notes.   

The operators behind PonyFinal are not new, he continues. This just happens to be the newest payload that researchers have seen in these kinds of ransomware campaigns. Human-operated ransomware is often tied to multiple criminal groups and is rarely exclusive to a single group of attackers. There may be several attack groups using this same form of ransomware, Misner adds. 

That said, this is likely the work of an advanced group. “Like all of these human-operated ransomware campaigns, this is a cut above your normal criminal organization,” Misner says. These are attackers with the ability to choose multiple payloads and who spend their time doing researcher to see how they can extract the most money from the compromises they do.

These ransomware operators don’t discriminate when deciding who to hit. “These attackers are looking for targets of opportunity,” he explains. While there is no COVID-19 lure in these campaigns, researchers have noticed PonyFinal operators going where they might be most effective in extracting ransom amid the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A Threat to Watch
Human-operated ransomware isn’t like your typical automated malware, in which the attacker tries to get someone to click an executable. These campaigns use active means to find their initial entry vector, whether that’s around remote desktop connections or insecure Internet-facing services. This human component demands potential victims take immediate action. 

“There is a human on the other side of that … going through and directing what ransomware actually gets deployed onto the network,” Misner explains. “The immediacy of having an adversary that is basically one-on-one attacking a customer is what should drive the concern and the risk here.” He believes we’re going to see an uptick in these types of attacks.

To defend against human-operated ransomware, Microsoft advises hardening Internet-facing assets and ensuring they have the latest security updates. Threat and vulnerability management should be used to audit assets for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. Experts recommend adopting the principle of least privilege and avoiding the use of domainwide, admin-level service accounts.

Businesses should monitor for brute-force attempts and check for excessive failed authentication attempts. They should also watch for the clearing of Event Logs, especially the Security Event Log and PowerShell Operational logs.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial … View Full Bio

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Source: https://www.darkreading.com/attacks-breaches/microsoft-shares-ponyfinal-threat-data-warns-of-delivery-tactics/d/d-id/1337919?_mc=rss_x_drr_edt_aud_dr_x_x-rss-simple

Cyber Security

Newly Launched Cybersecurity Company Stairwell

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Chronicle

A $4.5 million seed funding round was closed by the recently launched cybersecurity firm Stairwell, which seeks to provide defence teams with more tools to detect adversaries.

Mike Wiacek, who previously formed Google’s Threat Research Division and co-founded Chronicle, Alphabet ‘s corporate security company, founded and led the new agency. As COO and general counsel, Jan Kang, former Chief Legal Officer at Chronicle, enters Stairwell.

Stairwell shared very little information about its devices, but identified them as user-centered tools designed to help security teams “understand the core relationships between their external and internal data sources,” thus helping them battle cyber attacks proactively.

Security teams today are exposed to siloed resources that are unable to detect environmental ties between their external and internal data sources to offer defence against generic risks at the baseline level only. “We began Stairwell so that security teams have a coherent view of what is good, what is evil, and why, so that they can actively protect themselves against the most advanced threats,” said Wiacek.

Accel led the funding round, but Sequoia Funds, Gradient Ventures, and Allen & Company LLC, as well as other angel investors, also participated.

Source: https://cybersguards.com/newly-launched-cybersecurity-company-stairwell/

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Cyber Security

StackRox Announced the Release of KubeLinter to Identify Misconfigurations in Kubernetes

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Kubernetes Misconfigurations

On Wednesday, Container and Kubernetes security firm StackRox announced the introduction of KubeLinter, an open source platform designed to help users find misconfigurations in implementations of Kubernetes.

KubeLinter is a tool for static inspection that tests YAML files that store configuration data for Kubernetes apps to ensure that best practises are followed for protection.

A research recently performed by StackRox found that most events linked to Kubernetes are caused by human error, with two-thirds of cases claiming misconfigurations.

Usually, checking settings is performed manually, but the company claims it’s not an easy task and it sometimes results in mistakes. The aim of KubeLinter, which is a command-line tool, is to automate the process of testing YAML files and Helm charts (used for configuration management) before they are deployed in a Kubernetes cluster.

The tool has built-in tests for typical misconfigurations, such as ensuring that the maxim of least rights is enforced, following proper hygiene of the mark, ensuring that it does not run as core, the availability of preparation probes, and the use of criteria for resources. Users will also build custom tests.

On developer computers, KubeLinter can be run, but it can also be built into the continuous integration (CI) frameworks of an enterprise.

We built KubeLinter to provide a safer, more automated way for the Kubernetes group to detect misconfigurations and deviations from best practises that restrict organisations from understanding the full potential of cloud-native applications, “said Ali Golshan, co-founder and CTO of StackRox.” Ultimately, the release of KubeLinter as an open source tool would help users of Kubernetes build hardened environments that are increasingly immune to the inherent risks created by regular changes in configuration typical in development practices.’

On GitHub, the source code for KubeLinter is available and the Kubernetes community has been encouraged to contribute to the tool, which is currently defined as being in a very early development stage.

A short video has also been published by StackRox describing why it built KubeLinter and how users can contribute to the project.

StackRox recently received financing of $26.5 million, taking the company’s overall funding secured to $61 million.

Source: https://cybersguards.com/stackrox-announced-kubelinter-misconfigurations-in-kubernetes/

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Cyber Security

How Was 2020 Cyber Security Awareness Month?

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Global corporate enterprise and indeed global society is aware of the concept of cyber security. Personally Identifyable Information (PII) data leaks, continued personal phishing expeditions and state-based adversary hacking have all brought cyber security into focus for the average person.

The average Board member is certainly more aware of the value of cyber security than in years past due in part to ransomware payments. And front-lines employees are certainly more aware of the value of cyber security due to an increased understanding of what not to do.

The state of cyber security is indeed strong. As the Cyber Security Hub Year End Report will elucidate, nearly 80% of the community feels that the overall state of cyber security, meaning operations, resiliency, compliance, awareness, etc., is improving.

But that is of course through the end of the day today. As cyber security professionals know, it’s all about tomorrow. And tomorrow is going to be a bear.

Awareness

A few years of the Mid-Year and Year End reports has shown a sustained focus and expense on Security Awareness. Cyber security executives seem comfortable with the returns to date. But we are now in a whole new world and the pre-pandemic security awareness quotient does not cut it.

Key Questions:

  • How often are you in front of the organization regarding security awareness?
  • Are you expediting security awareness the same way that you’ve always done it?
  • Is each person in the organization aware of all of the new threat vectors?

Automation

The Cyber Security Hub Automation Report is fresh out with some key takeaways. More needs to be done than there is dollars to do. Automated attacks are on the rise and the global pandemic has not been kind to budgets. That means that organizations must make choices on if they can handle any amount of cyber security automation investment.

The luckier ones are making choices on what to automate with a better understanding of the fact that while automation might eventually reduce overhead, the human resources needed to make automation work have to be found and added first.

Key Questions:

  • Do you have budget for automation?
  • If yes, do you have the talent you need for automation?
  • If no, what technical debt do you have that you could lose?

Cloud-First

We just started the Zero Trust conversation and we have to also start the SASE conversation. Our friends at Okta have a handy chart that shows four levels of a Zero Trust organization. The first level is level zero (no-relation). Common wisdom has most of global corporate enterprise at either level zero or level one. Most folks think that less than 10% are at level 3 (that’s the highest level).

The Cyber Security Hub Year End Report will showcase the fact that 75% of the community is telling us how they stopped worrying and learned to love the VPN. (That’s a reference to the title of Dr. Strangelove if you’re keeping score at home). The point being- a significant portion of the community is on the just at the front end of figuring out IAM & PAM for their organizations.

So we’ve got a long way to go on establishing a Zero Trust Network Architecture (ZTNA). And a ZTNA is only one piece of a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). SASE is not brand new. Gartner released their first analysis of the concept at the end of last year. Solution providers do have offerings and the top of the market is buying.

Key Questions:

  • Where are you on the IAM/PAM continuum?
  • Where are you on the Zero Trust continuum?
  • Where are you on the SASE continuum?

Business Enablement

As you might know, we’ve consistently shared that cyber security has gone from the Department of No to the Department of Know ensuring that cyber security isn’t in the way of business enablement.

We’ve also covered the fact that the cyber security budget conversation with the board must no longer be based on fear but on risk. The budget conversation as we understand it is best presented by choices.

“If we implement X, spending Y, we’ll reduce risk by Z. If we don’t implement X, risk will increase by Alpha by Year End 2021.”

A significant portion of budgets for 2020 and maybe even some of 2021 were spent in March and April of 2020. The cyber crime rate is going up. To thwart the threats, cyber security executives must be tough. You’ve got threat vectors on all sides. And your budget has been shattered. (That’s a reference to Shattered by the Rolling Stones if you’re keeping score at home).

Key Questions:

  • How are you going into the budget conversation for 2021?
  • Are you able to educate the board and CEO using a risk paradigm?

Happy Cyber Security Month from Cyber Security Hub. You’ve got to be a CISO to know how much mental and intestinal fortitude is needed to get the job done. We have awareness and appreciation of how hard the job is- and the fact that it just keeps getting tougher. So take a breath, focus as you do, get back out there and keep us safe. Thank you for doing the job.

Source: https://www.cshub.com/executive-decisions/articles/how-was-2020-cyber-security-awareness-month

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