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Turla turns PowerShell into a weapon in attacks against EU diplomats



Attacks have dropped dramatically since 2015: Is hacktivism dead?
Hacktivist scene collapses as Anonymous hacker collective dies a slow death.

A cyberespionage group believed to be from Russia is once again striking political targets, and this time, PowerShell scripts have been weaponized to increase the power of their attacks.

Turla, also known as Snake or Uroburos, has been active since at least 2008. The advanced persistent threat (APT) group was previously linked to a backdoor implanted in Germany’s Federal Foreign Office for the purposes of data exfiltration in 2017, alongside attacks against the US military, a defense contractor, and a variety of European government entities.

The Russian hacking group is rarely quiet for long, and now, the APT has returned with a fresh wave of attacks against diplomatic entities in Eastern Europe.


Previous attacks believed to be the work of Turla.

Kaspersky Labs

According to researchers from ESET, Turla has recently employed PowerShell scripts. The scripts allow “direct, in-memory loading and execution of malware executables and libraries,” the team says, which can also help them circumvent discovery on victim machines when a malicious executable is dropped on to a disk.

The use of PowerShell is not completely foreign to Turla. Last year, Kaspersky Labs said the APT was experimenting with PowerShell in-memory loads to bypass security protections, in the form of a customized open-source PoshSec-Mod system.

Turla’s loader was based on the legitimate PoshSec-Mod software, but in 2018, the custom code was considered flawed and would often crash due to bugs.

ESET says that now, a year later, it seems most of the cracks in the system have been smoothed over.

Turla has now improved its use of PowerShell and is using scripts to load an array of malware. However, the scripts in question are not considered simple droppers as they are able to “persist on the system as they regularly load into memory only the embedded executables,” according to ESET.

The PowerShell loader uses both a Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) event subscription and alters the PowerShell profile (profile.ps1 file) to maintain persistence on an infected system.

In total, two WMI event filters and two WMI event consumers are created, of which the consumers are simple command lines to load PowerShell into the Windows registry.

See also: Cybersecurity 101: Protect your privacy from hackers, spies, and the government

When it comes to decrypting payloads stored in the registry, the 3DES algorithm is used. Once decrypted, a PowerShell reflective loader then comes into play.

“The executable is hardcoded in the script and is loaded directly into the memory of a randomly chosen process that is already running on the system,” the researchers say.

However, the selection process is not completely random as some processes, including avp.exe, avpsus.exe, klnagent.exe and vapm.exe, are excluded. These processes specifically refer to legitimate Kaspersky anti-virus protection software, which may indicate exclusion to avoid detection.

In some samples, ESET also found that Turla’s PowerShell script had been modified to bypass the Antimalware Scan Interface (AMSI), a Windows feature which permits the OS to integrate with antivirus products. Ithe script is also able to patch the AmsiScanBuffer process, which prevents the antivirus product from being able to perform any malware scans.

TechRepublic: How WannaCry is still launching 3,500 successful attacks per hour

The PowerShell loader is used to launch malware including a backdoor based on the RPC protocol which is able to exfiltrate data, facilitates the execution of commands, and support plugins for additional malware modules.

“Many variants of this RPC backdoor are used in the wild,” ESET says. “Among some of them, we have seen local proxies (using upnprpc as the endpoint and ncalrpc as the protocol sequence) and newer versions embedding PowerShellRunner to run scripts directly without using powershell.exe.”

A PowerShell backdoor is also available for download. Known as PowerStallion, the lightweight backdoor uses cloud storage — such as Microsoft OneDrive — as a form of command-and-control (C2) server. The researchers believe the backdoor is included as a recovery access tool for the major Turla backdoor.

CNET: Amazon’s new Alexa features put more emphasis on privacy

Earlier this month, the company discovered the existence of another major backdoor used by Turla. Dubbed LightNeuron, the malware has been specifically designed for Microsoft Exchange email servers and works as a mail transfer agent (MTA).

ESET says that while the PowerShell scripts have been used against political targets in Eastern Europe, the cybersecurity firm believes “the same scripts are used more globally against many traditional Turla targets in Western Europe and the Middle East.”

Previous and related coverage

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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications



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?



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



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.

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