Nine global service providers are known to have been compromised in attacks by China’s APT10 group, according to Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).
On Friday, the US formally attributed these attacks to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) in its indictment of two Chinese nationals who it alleges are members of the group.
APT10 is the name given to the group by FireEye. Other names assigned to it are Red Apollo (PwC), CVNX (BAE Systems), Stone Panda (CrowdStrike), POTASSIUM (Microsoft), and MenuPass (Trend Micro).
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and IBM are among the MSPs affected, Reuters reported on Friday. The companies were infiltrated “multiple times in breaches that lasted for weeks and months”, the report said, although neither company has commented officially.
“We’re not naming any managed service providers,” MacGibbon told ZDNet.
“One, we said we wouldn’t name them. And two, I can’t be sure, and none of our allies can be sure, that we know all of the compromised global providers,” he said.
“We know of, I think, nine global service providers that have been compromised… And they’re the ones we know about. Very Rumsfeldian, but it’s what you don’t know that is problematic. The unknown unknowns.”
The ACSC does not know how many of the MSPs’ customers have been affected either, MacGibbon said.
In part that is because of the “subtlety” and “sophistication” of the attacks, and in part because of the way the MSPs have built their systems to be “scaleable and global in nature”.
“[This] often means that they don’t segment, and do other things to their networks, that you would argue is sensible,” he said.
Australian customers of compromised MSPs have not been named, but MacGibbon says that globally the targets have been organisations like mining companies, tech companies, and those involved in advanced manufacturing.
“It’s commercial secrets. It’s not about the traditional strategic intelligence. It’s not about, frankly, defence systems, or secrets from governments… [It’s] all of those things where a country may want to win in that competition, stealing the lifeblood from their competitors in the West,” MacGibbon said.
“The reason why I said on RN [the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National] that I don’t believe but can’t prove that government entities are being victims is because generally the way government uses outsourced IT providers is different to how some corporates will. We put in place some different architectures.”
But why name China now?
A key question is why China is being called out now.
In April 2017, Premier Li Keqiang and then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signed an agreement to refrain from the cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or confidential business information.
The activities of APT10 had been revealed just two weeks beforehand in PwC’s Operation Cloud Hopper report, produced in conjunction with BAE Systems and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
“As a result of our analysis of APT10’s activities, we believe that it almost certainly benefits from significant staffing and logistical resources, which have increased over the last three years, with a significant step-change in 2016,” PwC wrote at the time.
In April this year, the NCSC warned that third-party suppliers were now an organisation’s weakest link, citing the success of Cloud Hopper as an example.
And as recently as last month, joint Fairfax Media/Nine News reporting confirmed that China’s Ministry of State Security is behind Cloud Hopper.
MacGibbon uses what he called his “tortured” doctor analogy. If you’re in pain, a doctor might at first advise a couple of days off work, and to come back if pain persists. Next might come manipulation of the limb, and so on.
“We’re now into what I call radical surgery phase. We’ve tried other things. Clearly, to dislodge the threat actor themselves, and to send a message to them, in this case APT10 working on behalf of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) in China.
“That’s an important lever we need to pull to get them to change.”
This is presumably part of the coordinated diplomatic campaign against nation-states breaching the so-called “cyber norms” that named Russia as the nation-state actor behind the NotPetya attack, and blamed North Korea for the WannaCry incident.
But the ACSC’s announcement is also intended to drive action inside Australia’s economy.
The ACSC’s website has posted advice for Australian businesses in the wake of the MSP breaches.
“[MSPs] need to change the way they do their business, because if they are compromised it could potentially compromise all of their customers. Then those that consume those services, what can you do to architect this arrangement to still get the benefits of outsourced IT and reduce the risks,” MacGibbon said.
“So it’s a wake-up call, and we’re using, frankly, naming the MSS as a fulcrum to create leverage to change the way we behave domestically.”
MacGibbon acknowledges that it’s “not the best time of year” to launch an awareness campaign, however. He cites the US indictments as a trigger for it happening now.
“Once everyone’s eaten enough turkey and had enough ham, we’ll be back out again to drive change, where we hope that members of boards, CEOs, and customers start asking questions on how to change the way they construct their IT systems.”
US charges two Chinese nationals for hacking cloud providers, NASA, the US Navy
The two Chinese nationals were members of the infamous APT10 cyber-espionage group, DOJ said.
DHS aware of ongoing APT attacks on cloud service providers
Attacks most likely linked to APT10, a Chinese cyber-espionage group, also known as Red Apollo, Stone Panda, POTASSIUM, or MenuPass.
Advanced Chinese hacking campaign infiltrates IT service providers across the globe
‘Cloud Hopper’ campaign by sophisticated APT10 hacking group uses advanced phishing and customised malware to conduct espionage.
Elite Chinese hackers target board directors at some of the world’s largest firms
The APT 10 hacking group has struck again, this time using a watering hole attack to compromise the National Foreign Trade Council website and gather sensitive data about its directors.
Top 4 security threats businesses should expect in 2019 (TechRepublic)
Cybercriminals are developing more sophisticated attacks, while individuals and enterprises need to be more proactive in security practices.
CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions
Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.
Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.
“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”
As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.
Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.
“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.
So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:
“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”
Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.
“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”
Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast
Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications
Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.
In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.
Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection
“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”
In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.
A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.
Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.
When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?
DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.
But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.
The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.
From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”
This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.
Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”
A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:
- Create: Help to set and implement policy
- Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
- Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
- Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application
The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.
Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”
In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.
Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.
DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise
While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.
The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.
At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”
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