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DHS CISA warns of Iranian hackers’ habit of deploying data-wiping malware

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(Image: Homeland Security)

The Department of Homeland Security’s cyber-security agency is warning of increased cyber-activity from Iranian hackers, and urging US companies to take protective measures against these hacker groups’ most common practices — the use of data-wiping malware, credential stuffing attacks, password spraying, and spear-phishing.

The warning was published in a tweet by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs.

The CISA alert comes as Iranian hackers launched new waves of cyber-attacks against US targets following escalating tensions between the US and Iran, according to a CBS News report.

The US has responded to these Iranian cyber-attacks with a volley of its own, per a Yahoo News report.

The silent cyber-war between the two countries is expected to continue, and now, CISA leadership is warning US businesses to take protective measures against the most common hacking techniques employed by known Iranian threat actors, such as:

  • Spear-phishing – Iranian hacker’s go-to technique, and for which many have been charged by the US Department of Justice in the past.
  • Credential stuffing – the use of username and password combinations leaked at third-party services to access accounts on another service.
  • Password spraying – attack method that takes a large number of usernames and loops them with a single password (like 123456, or qwerty), allowing hackers to breach accounts with poorly secured passwords.
  • Data wipers – malware that deletes data on already compromised systems to prevent forensic analysis.

Iranian hackers have used data-wiping malware in the past. In 2012, they deployed the Shamoon (DisTrack) malware against the national oil companies of Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco and Qatar’s RasGas.

The malware wiped hard drives clean and caused the two companies to temporarily cease operations, leading to huge financial losses. It was reported that Shamoon wiped the hard drives of over 35,000 Saudi Aramco computers.

The malware was used again in 2016 and 2018, with the last incident targeting the network of an Italian oil and gas company active in the Middle East.

With the US putting itself in direct conflict with Iran, US authorities fear that such destructive attacks might soon be aimed at US companies.

Krebs’ full statement is available below:

WASHINGTON – In response to reports of an increase in cybersecurity threats, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher C. Krebs issued the following statement:

“CISA is aware of a recent rise in malicious cyber activity directed at United States industries and government agencies by Iranian regime actors and proxies. We will continue to work with our intelligence community and cybersecurity partners to monitor Iranian cyber activity, share information, and take steps to keep America and our allies safe.

“Iranian regime actors and proxies are increasingly using destructive ‘wiper’ attacks, looking to do much more than just steal data and money. These efforts are often enabled through common tactics like spear phishing, password spraying, and credential stuffing. What might start as an account compromise, where you think you might just lose data, can quickly become a situation where you’ve lost your whole network.

“In times like these it’s important to make sure you’ve shored up your basic defenses, like using multi-factor authentication, and if you suspect an incident – take it seriously and act quickly. You can find other tips and best practices for staying safe online here.

“Anyone who has relevant information or suspects a compromise should immediately contact us NCCICCUSTOMERSERVICE@hq.dhs.gov.”

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The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security

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This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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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

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