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TajMahal cyber-espionage campaign uses previously unseen malicious tools

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Malware and ransomware rise puts your data at risk
For the third year running, the volume of malware attacks has increased. But there are big variations in terms of who is getting targeted, and how.

A newly discovered form of malware deployed as part of a highly stealthy cyber-espionage campaign comes with several new malicious functionalities. It appears to be the work of a completely new operation, with no known links to any known threat actors or hacking groups.

Dubbed TajMahal, after the file it uses to exfiltrate stolen data, the malware has a number of capabilities not previously seen in a backdoor.

These include stealing documents sent to the printer queue, the ability to steal files previously seen on removable drives as soon as they’re available again, the ability to steal data burnt onto a CD by the victim, as well as the ability to take screenshots when recording audio from VoiceIP applications.

In addition to its unique capabilities, TajMahal provides attackers with what’s described as a ‘full-blown spying framework’, with a backdoor into infected systems.

It can issue commands, take screenshots of the desktop and webcam, and use keylogging to steal usernames, passwords and other information. It can also open and exfiltrate documents with the help of its own file indexer for the victim’s machine.

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)   

In addition, it can steal cryptography keys, grab browser cookies, gather the backup list for Apple mobile devices and more, with around 80 malicious modules each designed for espionage activity.

The malware has been uncovered by researchers at Kaspersky Lab, who have detailed their finding’s at the company’s Security Analyst Summit 2019 in Singapore.

Described as “a technically sophisticated APT framework designed for extensive cyber espionage,” TajMahal was first uncovered in late 2018, but has been active for over five years, with the earliest sample dated to April 2013.

TajMahal was able to hide under the radar for so long because it has a completely new code base, with no similarities to known APTs or malware, and by employing an automatic update mechanism that’s regularly used to deploy new samples to avoid detection.

However, researchers were alerted to the malware after Kaspersky security software flagged a file as suspicious.

“The file turned out to be a malicious plugin of a level of sophistication that suggested an APT – and the lack of code similarity to any known attack suggested it was a previously unknown APT,” Alexey Shulmin, lead malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab told ZDNet.

“Using our knowledge of this file, we were able to identify more of them. That led us to the conclusion that the malware was part of a previously unknown, extremely rare, cyber-espionage platform,” he added.

Tokyo and Yokohama  

Researchers believe the framework is based around two packages, dubbed Tokyo and Yokohama. Tokyo is the smaller of the two, containing just three modules, one of which is the main backdoor and a connection to a command-and-control server.

Yokohama, meanwhile, contains every other capability of TajMahal, indicating that Tokyo is likely to be the initial dropper that then delivers the full-blown malware as a second-stage download – with the dropper left installed in case it’s needed for backup purposes later down the line.

The distribution method of TajMahal is still unknown and the infection has only been observed in the wild once – on the system of what’s described as ‘a diplomatic entity from a country in Central Asia’, with the infection occurring in 2014.

Researchers note that this victim has previously been unsuccessfully targeted by Zebroacy (trojan malware associated with a Russian state-backed hacking group), although it’s not thought the two campaigns are related.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Nonetheless, due to the sophistication of the malware and its unique capabilities, it’s unlikely that the diplomatic target is the only victim compromised by TajMahal in more than five years.

“The TajMahal framework is a very interesting and intriguing finding. The technical sophistication is beyond doubt and it seems unlikely that such a huge investment would be undertaken for only one victim. A likely hypothesis would be that there are other additional victims we haven’t found yet,” said Shulmin.

To help protect against attacks by new and unknown threat actors, researchers recommend that all software used throughout an organisation is up to date and that security patches designed to fix known vulnerabilities should be installed as a priority.

All Kaspersky Lab products have been updated to protect against TajMahal and researchers have provided a full analysis of the campaign on the Kaspersky blog.

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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
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    • 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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