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Vulnerability exposes location of thousands of malware C&C servers

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A vulnerability in a tool used by cyber-criminal gangs is now helping researchers expose the locations of thousands of malware command-and-control (C&C) servers.

The vulnerability –now patched since the start of the year– affected Cobalt Strike, a legitimate penetration testing tool used by security researchers to emulate cyber-attacks.

Cobalt Strike has been around for more than a decade, but for the past five years, it has slowly been adopted by cyber-criminal groups as well.

Malware gangs and nation-state cyber-espionage groups have used Cobalt Strike because of its simple and very efficient client-server architecture.

Cyber-criminals use Cobalt Strike to host their C&C servers, and then deploy malware on company networks through Cobalt “beacons” they plant on infected hosts.

Over the past few years, Cobalt Strike slowly became the go-to toolkit for many threat actors, such as the FIN6 and FIN7 (Carbanak) cyber-criminal gangs, but also nation-state hackers such as APT29 (Cozy Bear).

But unbeknownst to all these hacker groups was that Fox-IT researchers discovered a bug in the Cobalt Strike server component. Built on NanoHTTPD, a Java-based web server, crooks didn’t know that it contained a bug that allowed Fox-IT to track them since 2015.

According to Fox-IT researchers, the NanoHTTPD server accidentally added an additional space in the server’s HTTP responses, like in the image below.


Image: Fox-IT

This extra whitespace allowed Fox-IT to detect Cobalt Strike communications between beacons and their C&C servers across the years, until January 2, 2019, when Cobalt Strike developers patched the bug and removed the extra space in version 3.13.

“In total Fox-IT has observed 7718 unique Cobalt Strike team server or NanoHTTPD hosts between the period of 2015-01 and 2019-02,” the company said in a blog post this week.

Because the issue is now patched, Fox-IT researchers revealed this little trick, along with a list of historical IP addresses that used to or are still hosting Cobalt Strike C&C servers.

The company hopes that security teams use this list to check their network logs for these IP addresses and identify past or current security breaches.

Some of these IP addresses might belong to legitimate Cobalt Strike instances hosted by security firms for testing purposes, but Fox-IT believes that many of these are also from hacker groups.

They said that a cursory examination of their list of 7,700+ IP addresses revealed malware C&C servers tied to China’s APT10 government hacking unit, the Bokbot banking trojan, and servers managed by remnants of the Cobalt Group (also known as FIN7 or Carbanak).

KnownSec 404 Team, a Chinese cyber-security company that runs the ZoomEye IoT search engine confirmed Fox-IT’s discovery by identifying 3,643 Cobalt Strike NanoHTTPD-based servers that are still operational at this moment –86 percent of which were also on Fox-IT’s list, the company said.

Fox-IT says that current scans for the extra whitespace are turning fewer and fewer results, as servers are getting patched.

However, the company says that most threat actors tend to use pirated, cracked, and unregistered versions of the Cobalt Strike software, and therefore will remain unpatched for a long time to come.

As legitimately-owned servers will receive the Cobalt Strike patch, most of the servers that will come up during scans in the coming future will most likely be part of malware operations.

Cobalt Strike servers stats

Image: Fox-IT

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Unified Endpoint Management

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Endpoint management is one of the most significant challenges in the enterprise today. An increasingly large percentage of our workforce is distributed and demands flexibility to work wherever they want, whenever they want. We must respond by giving them access to the services they require to do their jobs effectively. The alternative is that we, as a business, will suffer, lose good people, and become less competitive. However, we must achieve this essential access while maintaining security and control of our business’s data assets.

An appropriate endpoint management strategy is key to addressing these issues. Our approach should be holistic and unified, bringing together control of devices, management of applications, security of data, and access controls.

Unified endpoint management (UEM) is the approach to meeting this challenge. It has evolved from traditionally disparate solutions for endpoint management, application delivery, and security into a single platform. This single platform delivers a consistent end-user experience across all devices, applications, and locations while maintaining security and control of data assets. The leading solutions allow us to enroll devices easily into our control, provide support, and ensure constituency and compliance while managing access to our applications and data.

This GigaOM Key Criteria Report describes UEM solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigaOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products that excel in this sector. Together, these reports give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.

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.

Solution 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.

The post Key Criteria for Evaluating Unified Endpoint Management appeared first on Gigaom.

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Data Storage for Ever Changing Business Needs

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Join GigaOm analyst Enrico Signoretti and CTERA CTO Aron Brand in this one-hour live webinar as they explore file storage trends and dynamics through the lens of IT infrastructure modernization projects.

The file and cloud experts will discuss the limitations of traditional NAS architectures in today’s corporate environments and how organizations are implementing distributed cloud file storage to solve remote collaboration, ransomware protection, and unstructured data growth challenges.

Signoretti and Brand will also examine the recently published GigaOm Radar for Distributed Cloud File Storage, in which CTERA was named the leader. They will review the report’s key criteria and evaluation metrics for choosing a distributed cloud file storage platform, helping IT leaders to understand which vendors are most aligned to their needs today as well as 12-18 months down the road.

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High Performance Application Security Testing – Cloud WAF Security Platforms

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research features analyst Jake Dolezal and will focus on comparing Web Application Firewall (WAF) security platforms in an enterprise with high performance needs.

This webinar will discuss web application security mechanisms deployed in the cloud. The cloud enables enterprises to differentiate and innovate with microservices at a rapid pace. However, the cloud is just as vulnerable, if not more so, to attacks and breaches as on-premises APIs and apps are. Our focus is specifically on approaches to securing apps, APIs, and microservices that are tuned for high performance and availability. We define “high performance” as companies that experience workloads of more than 1,000 transactions per second (tps) and require a maximum latency below 30 milliseconds across the landscape.

In this webinar, we will reveal the performance tests of security mechanisms on NGINX, AWS, and Azure, specifically: ModSecurity, NGINX App Protect WAF, AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), and Azure WAF.

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

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