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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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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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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.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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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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High Performance Application Security Testing

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research. It is hosted by an expert in Application and API testing, and GigaOm analyst, Jake Dolezal. His presentation will focus on the results of high performance testing we completed against two security mechanisms: ModSecurity on NGINX and NGINX App Protect. Additionally, we tested the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) as a fully managed security offering.

While performance is important, it is only one criterion for a Web Application Firewall selection. The results of the report are revealing about these platforms. The methodology will be shown with clarity and transparency on how you might replicate these tests to mimic your own workloads and requirements.

Register now to join GigaOm and sponsor NGINX for this free expert webinar.

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