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Researcher finds simple way of backdooring Windows PCs and nobody notices for ten months

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A security researcher from Colombia has found a way of gaining admin rights and boot persistence on Windows PCs that’s simple to execute and hard to stop –all the features that hackers and malware authors are looking for from an exploitation technique.

What’s more surprising, is that the technique was first detailed way back in December 2017, but despite its numerous benefits and ease of exploitation, it has not received either media coverage nor has it been seen employed in malware campaigns.

Discovered by Sebastián Castro, a security researcher for CSL, the technique targets one of the parameters of Windows user accounts known as the Relative Identifier (RID).

The RID is a code added at the end of account security identifiers (SIDs) that describes that user’s permissions group. There are several RIDs available, but the most common ones are 501 for the standard guest account, and 500 for admin accounts.


Image: Sebastian Castro

Castro, with help from CSL CEO Pedro García, discovered that by tinkering with registry keys that store information about each Windows account, he could modify the RID associated with a specific account and grant it a different RID, for another account group.

The technique does not allow a hacker to remotely infect a computer unless that computer has been foolishly left exposed on the Internet without a password.

But in cases where a hacker has a foothold on a system –via either malware or by brute-forcing an account with a weak password– the hacker can give admin permissions to a compromised low-level account, and gain a permanent backdoor with full SYSTEM access on a Windows PC.

Since registry keys are also boot persistent, any modifications made to an account’s RID remain permanent, or until fixed.

The attack is also very reliable, being tested and found to be working on Windows versions going from XP to 10 and from Server 2003 to Server 2016, although even older versions should be vulnerable, at least in theory.

“It is not so easy to detect when exploited, because this attack could be deployed by using OS resources without triggering any alert to the victim,” Castro told ZDNet in an interview last week.

“On the other hand, I think is easy to spot when doing forensics operations, but you need to know where to look at.

“It is possible to find out if a computer has been a victim of RID hijacking by looking inside the [Windows] registry and checking for inconsistencies on the SAM [Security Account Manager],” Castro added.

A dead giveaway is if a guest account’s SID ends with a “500” RID, a clear hint the guest account has admin rights and that someone has tampered with the registry keys.

rid-hijacking-demo.pngrid-hijacking-demo.png

Image: Sebastian Castro

The CSL researcher has created and released a module for the Metasploit Framework that automates the attack, for pen-testing purposes.

“We reached out Microsoft as soon as the module was developed, but we did not receive any kind of response from them,” Castro told us. “And no, it is not already patched.”

It is unclear why Microsoft hasn’t responded, but the researcher has been on a tour this summer, presenting his findings at various cyber-security conferences, such as Sec-T, RomHack, and DerbyCon. A video of his most recent presentation is embedded below.

“As far as I know, there was no internet documentation about this particular attack when I published the blog describing it,” Castro told ZDNet. “Since this is a simple technique, I do not think that only my company and I knew about this.”

But while some clever hacks like the one Castro has documented have been known to slip through and get no media coverage, they often don’t go unnoticed by malware authors.

RID hijacking is simple, stealthy, and persistent –just what hackers like most about Windows flaws. But in this case, RID hijacking appears to have slipped by malware authors as well.

“I am not aware of any malware using this persistence technique,” Castro told us. “I asked some malware analysts about it, but they told me they have not seen this implemented on malware.”

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Work from Home Security

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Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company that invents toys and games, produces dozens of television and studio series that are distributed in 160 countries, and creates a variety of digital games played by more than 30 million children. What was once a small private company founded by childhood friends is now a public global supply chain with over 1,500 employees and 28 offices around the world.

Like most organizations in 2020, Spin Master had to adapt quickly to the new normal of remote work, shifting most of its production from cubicles in regional and head offices to hundreds of employees working from home and other remote locations.

This dramatic shift created potential security risks, as most employees were no longer behind the firewall on the corporate network. Without the implementation of hardened endpoint security, the door would be open for bad actors to infiltrate the organization, acquire intellectual property, and ransom customer information. Additionally, the potential downtime caused by a security breach could harm the global supply chain. With that in mind, Spin Master created a self-imposed 30-day deadline to extend its network protection capabilities to the edge.

Key Findings:

  • Think Long Term: The initial goal of establishing a stop-gap work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategy has since morphed into a permanent strategy, requiring long-term solutions.
  • Gather Skills: The real urgency posed by the global pandemic made forging partnerships with providers that could fill all the required skill sets a top priority.
  • Build Momentum: The compressed timeline left no room for delay or error. The Board of Directors threw its support behind the implementation team and gave it broad budget authority to ensure rapid action, while providing active guidance to align strategy with action.
  • Deliver Value: The team established two key requirements that the selected partner must deliver: implementation support and establishing an ongoing managed security operations center (SOC).
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Key Criteria for Evaluating Privileged Access Management

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Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables administrative access to critical IT systems while minimizing the chances of security compromises through monitoring, policy enforcement, and credential management.

A key operating principle of all PAM systems is the separation of user credentials for individual staff members from the system administration credentials they are permitted to use. PAM solutions store and manage all of the privileged credentials, providing system access without requiring users to remember, or even know, the privileged password. Of course, all staff have their own unique user ID and password that they use to complete everyday tasks such as accessing email and writing documents. Users who are permitted to handle system administration tasks that require privileged credentials log into the PAM solution, which provides and controls such access according to predefined security policies. These policies control who is allowed to use which privileged credentials when, where, and for what tasks. An organization’s policy may also require logging and recording of the actions undertaken with the privileged credentials.

Once implemented, PAM will improve your security posture in several ways. The first is by segregating day-to-day duties from duties that require elevated access, reducing the risk of accidental privileged actions. Secondly, automated password management reduces the possibility that credentials will be shared while also lowering the risk if credentials are accidentally exposed. Finally, extensive logging and activity recording in PAM solutions aids audits of critical system access for both preventative and forensic security.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure

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Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:

  • Ease of deployment
  • Outstanding ROI
  • Overall TCO improvement

Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.

Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:

    • Improving overall performance for backups
    • Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
    • Replacing components difficult to manage and support

In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.

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