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Hackers breach 62 US colleges by exploiting ERP vulnerability

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Hackers have breached the systems of 62 colleges and universities by exploiting a vulnerability in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) web app, the US Department of Education said in a security alert sent out this week.

The vulnerability is in Ellucian Banner Web Tailor, a module of the Ellucian Banner ERP that lets universities customize their front-facing web applications. The vulnerability also impacts Ellucian Banner Enterprise Identity Services, a module for managing user accounts.

Earlier this year, a security researcher named Joshua Mulliken discovered a vulnerability in the authentication mechanism used by the two modules that can allow remote attackers to hijack victims’ web sessions and gain access to their accounts.

Ellucian fixed the vulnerability in May, and a public disclosure was published, by both the researcher and NIST (see CVE-2019-8978).

Vulnerability exploited in the wild

But in a security alert published on Wednesday, the Department of Education says hackers have started exploiting this vulnerability.

“The Department has identified 62 colleges or universities that have been affected by exploitation of this vulnerability,” officials said.

“We have also recently received information that indicates criminal elements have been actively scanning the internet looking for institutions to victimize through this vulnerability and developing lists of institutions for targeting with this exploitation.”

The Department of Education said victims of the attacks reported that after breaking into their systems, attackers “leverage scripts in the admissions or enrollment section of the affected Banner system to create multiple student accounts.”

One victim reported that the attackers created thousands of fake accounts over days, with around 600 accounts created during a 24-hour period.

Fake accounts used for “criminal activity”

Officials said the accounts were used “almost immediately for criminal activity,” but did not provide any details about the nature of the activity.

Since the Ellucian Banner Web Tailor system is connected to the rest of the ERP, department officials said they were concerned that hackers might gain access to students’ financial aid data.

Officials are now urging colleges and universities which use versions of the ERP modules that are vulnerable to apply patches.

Ellucian is also advising the same thing, in a security alert the company sent out. However, the company is denying that the creation of the fake accounts is related to the flaw in its ERP and the recent attacks altogether.

“Although it was reported that attackers can leverage the vulnerability discussed above to create accounts, Ellucian believes this is not correct,” it said. “The issue described in the alert is not believed to be related to the previously patched Ellucian Banner System vulnerability and is not exclusive to institutions using Ellucian products.

“Attackers are utilizing bots to submit fraudulent admissions applications and obtain institution email addresses through admission application portals,” Ellucian added. “Ellucian recommends adding reCAPTCHA capabilities to the admission process to reduce the likelihood of experiencing fraudulent applications for admissions, even if institutions are not currently experiencing this issue.”

In other words, Ellucian believes the Department of Education is collating attempts to exploit the flaw in its ERP with another set of different attacks.

According to its website, the Ellucian Banner ERP is used by over 1,400 colleges, universities, and other institutions.

Article updated at 4am ET with comments from Ellucian.

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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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