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Showing posts with label Microsoft Exchange Server. Show all posts

Iranian Hackers Launch Cyberattack Against US and the UK 

 

Secureworks, a cybersecurity firm, has detected a new attack attributed to the Iranian hacker organization known as APT34 or Oilrig, which utilized custom-crafted tools to target a Jordanian diplomat. APT35, Magic Hound, NewsBeef, Newscaster, Phosphorus, and TA453 are advanced persistent threat (APT) actors known for targeting activists, government organizations, journalists, and other entities. 

A ransomware gang with an Iranian operational connection has been linked to a succession of file-encrypting malware operations targeting institutions in Israel, the United States, Europe, and Australia.

"Elements of Cobalt Mirage activities have been reported as Phosphorus and TunnelVision," Secureworks, which tracks the cyberespionage group, said today. "The group appears to have switched to financially motivated attacks, including the deployment of ransomware." 

The threat actor used recently obtained access to breach the network of a nonprofit organization in the United States in January 2022, where they built a web shell which was then used to drop further files, according to the researchers. 

The threat actor has seemingly carried out two types of intrusions, one of which involves opportunistic ransomware assaults using genuine tools like BitLocker and DiskCryptor for financial benefit. The second round of attacks is more focused, with the primary purpose of securing access and acquiring intelligence, with some ransomware thrown in for good measure.

Initial access routes are enabled by scanning internet-facing servers for web shells and exploiting them as a route to move laterally and activate the ransomware, which is vulnerable to widely reported holes in Fortinet appliances and Microsoft Exchange Servers. 

The spear-phishing email, which Fortinet discovered, was sent to a Jordanian diplomat and pretended to be from a government colleague, with the email address faked accordingly. The email included a malicious Excel attachment with VBA macro code that creates three files: a malicious binary, a configuration file, and a verified and clean DLL. The macro also adds a scheduled job that runs every four hours to provide the malicious application (update.exe) persistence. 

Another unique discovery concerns two anti-analysis methods used in the macro: the manipulating of sheet visibility in the spreadsheet and a check for the presence of a mouse, both of which may not be available on malware analysis sandbox services.

Secureworks detailed a January 2022 attack on an undisclosed US charity organization but said the exact means by which full volume encryption capability is triggered is unknown. In mid-March 2022, another attack aimed at a US local government network is thought to have used Log4Shell holes in the target's VMware Horizon architecture to perform reconnaissance and network scanning tasks. 

While the group has managed to breach a huge number of targets around the world, the security researchers believe that "their capacity to leverage on that access for financial gain or information collection is limited." Secureworks determines that the group's use of publicly available tools for ransomware activities proves that it is still a threat.

On Microsoft Exchange Servers, a New IceApple Exploit Toolkit was Launched

 

Security analysts discovered a new post-exploitation framework that could enable Microsoft Exchange servers to be compromised. This framework, known as IceApple, was created by threat actors who wanted to preserve a low profile while launching long-term attacks to assist reconnaissance and data exfiltration. 

"As of May 2022, IceApple is under active development, with 18 modules seen in operation across several enterprise contexts," CrowdStrike reported. The complex virus was identified in various victim networks and in geographically separate areas, which were detected in late 2021. Victims come from a variety of fields, including technology, academia, and government.

IceApple is unique for being an in-memory framework, implying a threat actor's desire to keep a low forensic footprint and avoid detection, which bears all the signs of a long-term algorithmic mission by creating files that appear to come from Microsoft's IIS web server. While most of the malware has been found on Microsoft Exchange servers, IceApple can function under any Internet Information Services (IIS) web app, making it a dangerous threat.

IceApple activity, as per CrowdStrike researchers, could be linked to nation-state attacks. Although IceApple has not been linked to any single threat actor, many believe it was developed by China. 

The actual number of victims of the attack has not been determined by CrowdStrike, but they do not rule out the possibility that the threat will expand in the following weeks. In this regard, the experts suggested updating any apps used by public and commercial businesses to strengthen the system's protection against this framework. 

The malware can locate and erase files and directories, write data, collect credentials, search Active Directory, and transfer sensitive data due to the framework's various components. These components' build timestamps date back to May 2021.

Cuba Ransomware Hacked Microsoft Exchange Servers

 

To get early access to business networks and encrypt devices, the Cuba ransomware campaign is exploiting Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities. The ransomware group is known as UNC2596, and the ransomware itself is known as COLDDRAW, according to cybersecurity firm Mandiant. 

Cuba is the most popular name for malware. Cuba is a ransomware campaign that began in late 2019, and while it started slowly, it gained traction in 2020 and 2021. In December 2021, the FBI issued a Cuba ransomware notice, stating that the group has infiltrated 49 critical infrastructure firms in the United States. Researchers indicate that the Cuba operation predominantly targets the United States, followed by Canada, according to a new analysis by Mandiant. Since August 2021, the Cuba ransomware gang has been using Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities to launch web shells, RATs, and backdoors to gain a foothold on the target network. 

"Mandiant has also identified the exploitation of Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities, including ProxyShell and ProxyLogon, as another access point leveraged by UNC2596 likely as early as August 2021," explains Mandiant in a new report. 

Cobalt Strike or the NetSupport Manager remote access tool is among the backdoors planted, although the organisation also utilises their own 'Bughatch', 'Wedgecut', 'eck.exe', as well as Burntcigar' tools. 
  • Wedgecut comes in the form of an executable named “check.exe,” which is a reconnaissance tool that enumerates the Active Directory through PowerShell.
  • Bughatch is a downloader that fetches PowerShell scripts and files from the C&C server. To evade detection, it loads in memory from a remote URL.
  • Burntcigar is a utility that can terminate processes at the kernel level by exploiting a flaw in an Avast driver, which is included with the tool for a “bring your own vulnerable driver” attack.
Finally, Termite is a memory-only dropper that downloads and loads the payloads mentioned earlier. However, this tool has been seen in campaigns by a variety of threat groups, indicating that it is not exclusively utilised by Cuba threat actors. 

Threat actors use stolen account credentials obtained with the widely available Mimikatz and Wicker tools to elevate access. They then use Wedgecut to undertake network reconnaissance before using RDP, SMB, PsExec, and Cobalt Strike to move laterally. Bughatch is then loaded by Termite, followed by Burntcigar, which disables security tools and creates the foundation for data exfiltration and file encryption. For the exfiltration process, the Cuba gang does not use cloud services, instead transfers everything to its own private infrastructure. 

Changing Operations 

Cuba ransomware teamed up with spammers behind the Hancitor malware in May 2021 to get access to corporate networks via DocuSign phishing emails. Since then, Cuba's operations have shifted to focus on vulnerabilities in public-facing services, such as the Microsoft Exchange ProxyShell and ProxyLogon flaws. Because security updates to fix the exploited vulnerabilities have been available for months, this move makes the assaults more potent but also easier to prevent. 

Once there are no more valuable targets running unpatched Microsoft Exchange servers, the Cuba operation will likely shift its focus to other vulnerabilities. This means that adopting accessible security updates as soon as they are released by software providers is critical in maintaining a strong security posture against even the most sophisticated threat actors.

SquirrelWaffle Adds a Spin of Fraud to Exchange Server Malspamming

 

Squirrelwaffle, ProxyLogon, and ProxyShell are being utilized against Microsoft Exchange Servers to conduct financial fraud via email hijacking. Sophos researchers revealed that a Microsoft Exchange Server that had not been fixed to safeguard it against a set of serious vulnerabilities identified last year was used to hijack email threads and disseminate malspam. 

On March 2, 2021, Microsoft released emergency updates to address zero-day vulnerabilities that could be exploited to take over servers. At the time, Hafnium, an advanced persistent threat (APT) group, was constantly exploiting the bugs, and other APTs swiftly followed suit. Despite the fact that the ProxyLogon/ProxyShell flaws are now widely known, some servers remain unpatched and vulnerable to assaults. 

Sophos has described an instance that combined Microsoft Exchange Server vulnerabilities with Squirrelwaffle, a malware loader that was first discovered in malicious spam operations last year. Malicious Microsoft Office documents or DocuSign content tacked on to phishing emails are frequently used to spread the loader. Squirrelwaffle is frequently used to fetch and execute CobaltStrike beacons via a VBS script if an intended victim has permitted macros in the compromised documents. 

According to Sophos, the loader was used in the recent campaign once the Microsoft Exchange Server had been compromised. By hijacking existing email threads between employees, the server of an undisclosed organisation was utilised to "mass distribute" Squirrelwaffle to internal and external email addresses. 

Email Hijacking can take a variety of forms. Social engineering and impersonation, such as an attacker posing as an executive to dupe accounting departments into signing off on a fraudulent transaction, or sending email blasts with links to malware payloads, can disrupt communication channels. The spam campaign was utilized to disseminate Squirrelwaffle in this example, but attackers also extracted an email thread and used the internal knowledge contained within to execute financial fraud. Customer information was obtained, and a victim organization was chosen. The attackers generated email accounts using a domain to reply to the email thread outside of the server, using a technique known as typo-squatting to register a domain with a name that was very similar to the victim. 

Sophos explained, "To add further legitimacy to the conversation, the attackers copied additional email addresses to give the impression that they were requesting support from an internal department. In fact, the additional addresses were also created by the attacker under the typo-squatted domain." 

The attackers attempted for six days to divert a legitimate financial transaction to a bank account they owned. The money was about to be processed, and the victim escaped the attack only because a bank involved in the transaction realized the transfer was most likely fake. 

Matthew Everts, Sophos researcher commented, "This is a good reminder that patching alone isn't always enough for protection. In the case of vulnerable Exchange servers, for example, you also need to check the attackers haven't left behind a web shell to maintain access. And when it comes to sophisticated social engineering attacks such as those used in email thread hijacking, educating employees about what to look out for and how to report it is critical for detection."