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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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Retrospective thoughts on KubeCon Europe 2022

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I’m not going to lie. As I sit on a plane flying away from Valencia, I confess to have been taken aback by the scale of Kubecon Europe this year. In my defence, I wasn’t alone the volume of attendees appeared to take conference organisers and exhibitors by surprise, illustrated by the notable lack of water, (I was told) t-shirts and (at various points) taxis.

Keynotes were filled to capacity, and there was a genuine buzz from participants which seemed to fall into two camps: the young and cool, and the more mature and soberly dressed.

My time was largely spent in one-on-one meetings, analyst/press conferences and walking the stands, so I can’t comment on the engineering sessions. Across the piece however, there was a genuine sense of Kubernetes now being about the how, rather than the whether. For one reason or another, companies have decided they want to gain the benefits of building and deploying distributed, container-based applications.

Strangely enough, this wasn’t being seen as some magical sword that can slay the dragons of legacy systems and open the way to digital transformation the kool-aid was as absent as the water. Ultimately, enterprises have accepted that, from an architectural standpoint and for applications in general, the Kubernetes model is as good as any available right now, as a non-proprietary, well-supported open standard that they can get behind.

Virtualisation-based options and platform stacks are too heavyweight; serverless architectures are more applicable to specific use cases. So, if you want to build an application and you want it to be future-safe, the Kubernetes target is the one to aim for.

Whether to adopt Kubernetes might be a done deal, but how to adopt certainly is not. The challenge is not with Kubernetes itself, but everything that needs to go around it to make resulting applications enterprise-ready.

For example, they need to operate in compliance environments; data needs to be managed, protected, and served into an environment that doesn’t care too much about the state; integration tools are required with external and legacy systems; development pipelines need to be in place, robust and value-focused; IT Operations need a clear view of what’s running whereas a bill of materials, and the health of individual clusters; and disaster recovery is a must.

Kubernetes doesn’t do these things, opening the door to an ecosystem of solution vendors and (often CNCF-backed) open source projects. I could drill into these areas Service Mesh, GitOps, orchestration, observability, and backup but the broader point is that they are all evolving and coalescing around the need. As they increase in capability, barriers to adoption reduce and the number of potential use cases grows.

All of which puts the industry at an interesting juncture. It’s not that tooling isn’t ready: organizations are already successfully deploying applications based on Kubernetes. In many cases, however, they are doing more work than they need developers need insider knowledge of target environments, interfaces need to be integrated rather than using third-party APIs, higher-order management tooling (such as AIOps) has to be custom-deployed rather than recognising the norms of Kubernetes operations.

Solutions do exist, but they tend to be coming from relatively new vendors that are feature rather than platform players, meaning that end-user organisations have to choose their partners wisely, then build and maintain development and management platforms themselves rather than using pre-integrated tools from a singe vendor.

None of this is a problem per se, but it does create overheads for adopters, even if they gain earlier benefits from adopting the Kubernetes model. The value of first-mover advantage has to be weighed against that of investing time and effort in the current state of tooling: as a travel company once told me, “we want to be the world’s best travel site, not the world’s best platform engineers.”

So, Kubernetes may be inevitable, but equally, it will become simpler, enabling organisations to apply the architecture to an increasingly broad set of scenarios. For organisations yet to make the step towards Kubernetes, now may still be a good time to run a proof of concept though in some ways, that sip has sailed perhaps focus the PoC on what it means for working practices and structures, rather than determining whether the concepts work at all.

Meanwhile and perhaps most importantly, now is a very good moment for organisations to look for what scenarios Kubernetes works best “out of the box”, working with providers and reviewing architectural patterns to deliver proven results against specific, high-value needs these are likely to be by industry and by the domain (I could dig into this, but did I mention that I’m sitting on a plane? ).

Jon Collins from Kubecon 2022

Kubernetes might be a done deal, but that doesn’t mean it should be adopted wholesale before some of the peripheral detail is ironed out.

The post Retrospective thoughts on KubeCon Europe 2022 appeared first on GigaOm.

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Security

Retrospective thoughts on Kubecon

Published

on

I’m not going to lie. As I sit on a plane flying away from Valencia, I confess to have been taken aback by the scale of Kubecon Europe this year. In my defence, I wasn’t alone the volume of attendees appeared to take conference organisers and exhibitors by surprise, illustrated by the notable lack of water, (I was told) t-shirts and (at various points) taxis.

Keynotes were filled to capacity, and there was a genuine buzz from participants which seemed to fall into two camps: the young and cool, and the more mature and soberly dressed.

My time was largely spent in one-on-one meetings, analyst/press conferences and walking the stands, so I can’t comment on the engineering sessions. Across the piece however, there was a genuine sense of Kubernetes now being about the how, rather than the whether. For one reason or another, companies have decided they want to gain the benefits of building and deploying distributed, container-based applications.

Strangely enough, this wasn’t being seen as some magical sword that can slay the dragons of legacy systems and open the way to digital transformation the kool-aid was as absent as the water. Ultimately, enterprises have accepted that, from an architectural standpoint and for applications in general, the Kubernetes model is as good as any available right now, as a non-proprietary, well-supported open standard that they can get behind.

Virtualisation-based options and platform stacks are too heavyweight; serverless architectures are more applicable to specific use cases. So, if you want to build an application and you want it to be future-safe, the Kubernetes target is the one to aim for.

Whether to adopt Kubernetes might be a done deal, but how to adopt certainly is not. The challenge is not with Kubernetes itself, but everything that needs to go around it to make resulting applications enterprise-ready.

For example, they need to operate in compliance environments; data needs to be managed, protected, and served into an environment that doesn’t care too much about the state; integration tools are required with external and legacy systems; development pipelines need to be in place, robust and value-focused; IT Operations need a clear view of what’s running whereas a bill of materials, and the health of individual clusters; and disaster recovery is a must.

Kubernetes doesn’t do these things, opening the door to an ecosystem of solution vendors and (often CNCF-backed) open source projects. I could drill into these areas Service Mesh, GitOps, orchestration, observability, and backup but the broader point is that they are all evolving and coalescing around the need. As they increase in capability, barriers to adoption reduce and the number of potential use cases grows.

All of which puts the industry at an interesting juncture. It’s not that tooling isn’t ready: organizations are already successfully deploying applications based on Kubernetes. In many cases, however, they are doing more work than they need developers need insider knowledge of target environments, interfaces need to be integrated rather than using third-party APIs, higher-order management tooling (such as AIOps) has to be custom-deployed rather than recognising the norms of Kubernetes operations.

Solutions do exist, but they tend to be coming from relatively new vendors that are feature rather than platform players, meaning that end-user organisations have to choose their partners wisely, then build and maintain development and management platforms themselves rather than using pre-integrated tools from a singe vendor.

None of this is a problem per se, but it does create overheads for adopters, even if they gain earlier benefits from adopting the Kubernetes model. The value of first-mover advantage has to be weighed against that of investing time and effort in the current state of tooling: as a travel company once told me, “we want to be the world’s best travel site, not the world’s best platform engineers.”

So, Kubernetes may be inevitable, but equally, it will become simpler, enabling organisations to apply the architecture to an increasingly broad set of scenarios. For organisations yet to make the step towards Kubernetes, now may still be a good time to run a proof of concept though in some ways, that sip has sailed perhaps focus the PoC on what it means for working practices and structures, rather than determining whether the concepts work at all.

Meanwhile and perhaps most importantly, now is a very good moment for organisations to look for what scenarios Kubernetes works best “out of the box”, working with providers and reviewing architectural patterns to deliver proven results against specific, high-value needs these are likely to be by industry and by the domain (I could dig into this, but did I mention that I’m sitting on a plane? ).

Jon Collins from Kubecon 2022

Kubernetes might be a done deal, but that doesn’t mean it should be adopted wholesale before some of the peripheral detail is ironed out.

The post Retrospective thoughts on Kubecon appeared first on GigaOm.

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Defeating Distributed Denial of Service Attacks

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It seems like every day the news brings new stories of cyberattacks. Whether ransomware, malware, crippling viruses, or more frequently of late—distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. According to Infosec magazine, in the first half of 2020, there was a 151% increase in the number of DDoS attacks compared to the same period the previous year. That same report states experts predict as many as 15.4 million DDoS attacks within the next two years.

These attacks can be difficult to detect until it’s too late, and then they can be challenging to defend against. There are solutions available, but there is no one magic bullet. As Alastair Cooke points out in his recent “GigaOm Radar for DDoS Protection” report, there are different categories of DDoS attacks.

And different types of attacks require different types of defenses. You’ll want to adopt each of these three defense strategies against DDoS attacks to a certain degree, as attackers are never going to limit themselves to a single attack vector:

Network Defense: Attacks targeting the OS and network operate at either Layer 3 or Layer 4 of the OSI stack. These attacks don’t flood the servers with application requests but attempt to exhaust TCP/IP resources on the supporting infrastructure. DDoS protection solutions defending against network attacks identify the attack behavior and absorb it into the platform.

Application Defense: Other DDoS attacks target the actual website itself or the web server application by overwhelming the site with random data and wasting resources. DDoS protection against these attacks might handle SSL decryption with hardware-based cryptography and prevent invalid data from reaching web servers.

Defense by Scale: There have been massive DDoS attacks, and they show no signs of stopping. The key to successfully defending against a DDoS attack is to have a scalable platform capable of deflecting an attack led by a million bots with hundreds of gigabits per second of network throughput.

Table 1. Impact of Features on Metrics
[chart id=”1001387″ show=”table”]

DDoS attacks are growing more frequent and more powerful and sophisticated. Amazon reports mitigating a massive DDoS attack a couple of years ago in which peak traffic volume reached 2.3 Tbps. Deploying DDoS protection across the spectrum of attack vectors is no longer a “nice to have,” but a necessity.

In his report, Cooke concludes that “Any DDoS protection product is only part of an overall strategy, not a silver bullet for denial-of-service hazards.” Evaluate your organization and your needs, read more about each solution evaluated in the Radar report, and carefully match the right DDoS solutions to best suit your needs.

Learn More About the Reports: Gigaom Key Criteria for DDoS, and Gigaom Radar for DDoS

The post Defeating Distributed Denial of Service Attacks appeared first on GigaOm.

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