This year, we have seen five significant security paradigm shifts in our industry. This includes the acknowledgment that the greater the diversity of our data sets, the better the AI and machine learning outcomes. This diversity gives us an advantage over our cyber adversaries and improves our threat intelligence. It allows us to respond swiftly and effectively, addressing one of the most difficult challenges for any security team. For Microsoft, our threat protection is built on an unparalleled cloud ecosystem that powers scalability, pattern recognition, and signal processing to detect threats at speed, while correlating these signals accurately to understand how the threat entered your environment, what it affected, and how it currently impacts your organization. The AI capabilities built into Microsoft Security solutions are trained on 8 trillion daily threat signals from a wide variety of products, services, and feeds from around the globe. Because the data is diverse, AI and machine learning algorithms can detect threats in milliseconds.
All security teams need insights based on diverse data sets to gain real-time protection for the breadth of their digital estates. Greater diversity fuels better AI and machine learning outcomes, improving threat intelligence and enabling faster, more accurate responses. In the same way, a diverse and inclusive cybersecurity team also drives innovation and diffuses group think.
Jason Zander, Executive Vice President, Microsoft Azure, knows firsthand the advantages organizations experience when embracing cloud-based protections that look for insights based on diverse data sets. Below, he shares how they offer real-time protection for the breadth of their digital estates:How does diverse data make us safer?
The secret ingredient lies in the cloud itself. The sheer processing power of so many data points allows us to track more than 8 trillion daily signals from a diverse collection of products, services, and the billions of endpoints that touch the Microsoft cloud every month. Microsoft analyzes hundreds of billions of identity authentications and emails looking for fraud, phishing attacks, and other threats. Why am I mentioning all these numbers? It’s to demonstrate how our security operations take petabytes’ worth of data to assess the worldwide threat, then act quickly. We use that data in a loop—get the signals in, analyze them, and create even better defenses. At the same time, we do forensics to see where we can raise the bar.
Microsoft also monitors the dark web and scans 6 trillion IoT messages every day, and we leverage that data as part of our security posture. AI, machine learning, and automation all empower your team by reducing the noise of constant alerts, so your people can focus on meeting the truly challenging threats.Staying ahead of the latest threats
As the pandemic swept the globe, we were able to identify new COVID-19 themed threats—often in a fraction of a second—before they breached customers’ networks. Microsoft cyber defenders determined that adversaries added new pandemic-themed lures to existing and familiar malware. Cybercriminals are always changing their tactics to take advantage of recent events. Insights based on diverse data sets empower robust real-time protection as our adversaries’ tactics shift.
Microsoft also has the Cyber Defense Operations Center (CDOC) running 24/7. We employ over 3,500 full-time security employees and spend about $1 billion in operational expenses (OPEX) every year. In this case, OPEX includes all the people, equipment, algorithms, development, and everything else needed to secure the digital estate. Monitoring those 8 trillion signals is a core part of that system protecting our end users.Tried and proven technology
If you’re part of the Microsoft ecosystem—Windows, Teams, Microsoft 365, or even Xbox Live—then you’re already benefitting from this technology. Azure Sentinel is built on the same cybersecurity technology we use in-house. As a cloud-native security information and event management (SIEM) solution, Azure Sentinel uses scalable machine learning algorithms to provide a birds-eye view across your entire enterprise, alleviating the stress that comes from sophisticated attacks, frequent alerts, and long resolution time frames. Our research has shown that customers who use Azure Sentinel achieved a 90 percent reduction in alert fatigue.
Just as it does for us, Azure Sentinel can work continuously for your enterprise to:
- Collect data across all users, devices, applications, and infrastructure—both on-premises and in multiple clouds.
- Detect previously undetected threats (while minimizing false positives) using analytics and threat intelligence.
- Investigate threats and hunt down suspicious activities at scale using powerful AI that draws upon years of cybersecurity work at Microsoft.
- Respond to incidents rapidly with built-in orchestration and automation of common tasks.
As Jason explained, Microsoft is employing AI, machine learning, and quantum computing to shape our responses to cyber threats. We know we must incorporate a holistic approach that includes people at its core because technology alone will not be enough. If we don’t, cybercriminals will exploit group preconceptions and biases. According to research, gender-diverse teams make better business decisions 73 percent of the time. Additionally, teams that are diverse in age and geographic location make better decisions 87 percent of the time. Just as diverse data makes for better cybersecurity, the same holds true for the people in your organization, allowing fresh ideas to flourish. Investing in diverse teams isn’t just the right thing to do—it helps future proof against bias while protecting your organization and customers.
To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
The post CISO Spotlight: How diversity of data (and people) defeats today’s cyber threats appeared first on Microsoft Security.
Organizations have been digitally transforming at warp speed in response to the way businesses operate and how people work. As a result, digital security teams have been under immense pressure to ensure their environments are resilient and secure. Many have turned to a Zero Trust security model to simplify the security challenges from this transformation and the shift to remote work.
Over the past year, we have been hard at work helping customers navigate these challenges by listening to their difficulties, sharing our own learnings, and building controls, tools, and practices that enable the implementation of Zero Trust. However, one of the things we hear most consistently is the need for additional deployment support.
We are excited to announce the launch of the Zero Trust Deployment Center—a repository of information to improve their Zero Trust readiness as well as specific guidance on implementing Zero Trust principles across their identities, endpoints, data, applications, networks, and infrastructure. The Zero Trust Deployment Center breaks down deployment guidance into plain-language objectives across each of the technology pillars, providing an actionable list of steps needed to implement Zero Trust principles in your environment.
This repository is the perfect place to start planning and deploying your Zero Trust strategy.
Figure 1: Zero Trust Deployment Center web page.
If you are already well underway in your journey, these objectives will provide a great framework to help measure your progress and ensure you are meeting critical milestones. If you’re interested in measuring your Zero Trust maturity, we’ve also created a Zero Trust assessment tool to help measure your current maturity and identify possible next milestones and priorities along with technologies.
Learn more about Zero Trust and Microsoft Security. Also, bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. And follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
An essential requirement of being a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is stakeholder management. In many organizations, security is still seen as a support function; meaning, any share of the budget you receive may be viewed jealously by other departments. Bringing change to an organization that’s set in its ways can be a challenge (even when you’ve been hired to do just that). But whether you’ve been brought on to initiate digital transformation or to bring an organization into compliance, you’ll need everyone to see that it’s in their best interest to work together on the program.
I sat down to discuss some CISO Stressbuster tips with my colleague Abbas Kudrati who has worked as a CISO in many different organizations for over 20 years before joining Microsoft. Here are several things we identified as important to weathering the cybersecurity storms and in Abbas’s own words.
Abbas Kudrati, a Chief Cybersecurity Advisor at Microsoft shares his advice for relieving stress in today’s CISO Stressbuster post.1. Business engagement makes a difference
My passion is for building or fixing things. My reputation in those areas means that I am often engaged to work on a new project or implement changes to an existing system. I’m a generalist CISO who works across industries, but in every role I’ve undertaken I’ve managed to get something unique done, and often received an award as well. My tasks have ranged from achieving better compliance to improving incident response plans or aligning with international standards such as CREST UK or COBIT 5.
My focus is on implementing the changes that are needed to make a difference and then finding a good successor to take over maintaining and operating a large, complex environment. My typical tenure as a CISO was two to three years, but I know some CISOs, particularly in large, complex environments such as mining organizations, where they’ve been in their role for six to eight years and running. They have a good rapport with their management; the CISO feels supported and they’re able to support the business in return. Those two things—engagement with management and reciprocal organizational support—are essential to being a successful CISO.2. Know what you want to accomplish
It’s often difficult to gauge the state of an organization until you’re in it. Sometimes when you start a role you’ll realize how bad it is and think, “What have I gotten into?” You don’t want to mess up your CV by staying for only six months; so, you try to stick it out. But if the support and communication aren’t there, it’s not worth the stress of staying for more than two years. This is the common reason many CISO’s leave.
A different frustration can occur when you exceed targets. There have been instances when I’ve been brought on board to deliver a targeted result within three years but managed to accomplish it within 18 months to 2 years. Then in the second stage, the company says it can afford to keep it running. That’s not what I want. I want to make a difference and be planning around that; so, I can then choose to move on.3. Hire and build the right talent
The final challenge, particularly in the countries where I’ve worked, is hiring the right talent. In the Asia-Pacific region, there’s a very competitive market for skilled individuals. In some situations, I’ve looked to use my academic connections to hire fresh minds and build them up. Not only do I get the skills I need, but I’m helping to support the development of our profession. This isn’t easy to achieve, but I’ve developed some of my most passionate employees this way.4. Find mentors and advisors
It can be lonely being a CISO. Not many people understand what you do, and you often won’t get the internal support you need. It helps to find a mentor. I’ve always sought out mentors in the role of CISO who are doing security in a more advanced way. Don’t be limited just to finding this in your immediate location. Find the right mentor in any industry or region, and today that person can be anywhere in the world. In Australia, there are only a handful of people in organizations large enough to have a CISO at an executive level. Finding that international connection was invaluable to me.
Vendors and partners also can be a good sounding board and source of advice. I had a good relationship with the account team at Cisco and they introduced me to their CISO, who gave me a lot of valuable insights. This is something I’ve carried into my role at Microsoft—I provide our customers with the same kinds of insights and external viewpoint that I appreciated receiving in my earlier roles. Customers appreciate the insights you can provide, helping them to make tough decisions and evolve their strategy.5. Burnout is real and career progression can be a challenge
Being a CISO is not an easy job. You’re on the frontline during security incidents; a routine 9-5 schedule is almost impossible. In the Asia-Pacific region, there are also limitations on where you can go to develop your career. Some countries are not big enough to have sufficient mature organizations that need a CISO. For example, there is a limit on how many CISO roles will exist in Malaysia or Indonesia. Australia is slightly bigger. Singapore has even more opportunities, but it’s still not on the same scale as countries in other parts of the world.
CISO’s often move on to be advisors, consultants, or even into early retirement. It’s quite common to see CISO’s retire and become non-executive directors on company boards, where their experience is invaluable. Being a virtual CISO allows you to share expertise and support, work on specific projects (such as hiring a team), share expertise, or educate an organization without being tied into permanent employment. When moving on, a CISO will often take a reduction in salary in exchange for a reduction in stress and regained family time.
For me, the move to being Chief Security Advisor for the Asia-Pacific region at Microsoft was a logical and fulfilling step. I can pay forward to customers that support that I received from vendors as a CISO. My experience and expertise can help organizations better consider the changes required to undertake a successful digital transformation.6. Discipline and human connections are essential
There is so much disruption in a CISO’s working life; it’s important to focus on your physical and mental well-being as much as your work. Take regular breaks; go outdoors and get some fresh air. Take time for mental well-being with meditation or physical exercise. COVID-19 has underlined how important it is to connect with your family. Since a crisis may interrupt your holidays and weekends, don’t count on those times to relax.
Building your ally network both within the company and outside is essential to maintaining your sense of balance, perspective, and support. I really like the concept of allies that Microsoft fosters across different groups, backgrounds, and environments. We all need to be there to support each other. Now that the whole world is connected, we can be, too. Checking how people are and supporting them is core to managing our group stress, and has never been more important than during a pandemic. Take the time to connect.7. Truths to remember
This is a wake-up call for organizations that may be thinking of hiring a CISO, or just looking to fill a spot in an organizational chart—having a warm body in that position is not enough. Business executive and leadership teams must provide adequate resources and give the CISO the ability to manage risk and help the business be successful. Keep these tips in mind when you’re hiring:
- CISO’s don’t own security incidents; they manage them.
- CISO’s need access to all business units for success.
- CISOs need to understand the business to be effective; please mentor them.
- CISO’s need to collaborate with their peers; so, don’t isolate them.
- CISOs need to be involved in all technology decisions to manage risks.
Being a CISO is a dream job for many cybersecurity professionals, including me. The job is stressful; however, many CISOs accept the challenges because they feel they’re making a difference. I enjoyed having that sense of purpose and leading teams toward a specific goal. That focus—and the opportunity to be part of a leadership team—is becoming a requirement for today’s modern security executive. With this in mind, how will your business optimize its practices for the sake of your CISO’s success?
To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
The post CISO Stressbusters: 7 tips for weathering the cybersecurity storms appeared first on Microsoft Security.
It’s hard to keep pace with all the changes happening in the world of cybersecurity. Security experts and leaders must continue learning (and unlearning) to stay ahead of the ever-evolving threat landscape. In fact, many of us are in this field because of our desire to continuously challenge ourselves and serve the greater good.
So many of the advancements in security are now utilizing this amorphous, at times controversial, and complex term called “artificial intelligence” (AI). Neural networks, clustering, fuzzy logic, heuristics, deep learning, random forests, adversarial machine learning (ML), unsupervised learning. These are just a few of the concepts that are being actively researched and utilized in security today.
But what do these techniques do? How do they work? What are the benefits? As security professionals, we know you have these questions, and so we decided to create Security Unlocked, a new podcast launching today, to help unlock (we promise not to overuse this pun) insights into these new technologies and the people creating them.
In each episode, hosts Nic Fillingham and Natalia Godyla take a closer look at the latest in threat intelligence, security research, and data science. Our expert guests share insights into how modern security technologies are being built, how threats are evolving, and how machine learning and artificial intelligence are being used to secure the world.
Each episode will also feature an interview with one of the many experts working in Microsoft Security. Guests will share their unique path to Microsoft and the infosec field, what they love about their calling and their predictions about the future of ML and AI.
New episodes of Security Unlocked will be released twice a month with the first three episodes available today on all major podcast platforms. We will talk about specific topics in future blogs and provide links to podcasts to get more in-depth.Episode 1: Going ‘deep’ to identify attacks, and Holly Stewart
Guests: Arie Agranonik and Holly Stewart
In this episode, Nic and Natalia invited Arie Agranonik, Senior Data Scientist at Microsoft, to better understand how we’re using deep learning models to look at behavioral signals and identify malicious process trees. In their chat, Arie explains the differences and use cases for techniques such as deep learning, neural networks, and transfer learning.
Nic and Natalia also speak with Holly Stewart, Principal Research Manager at Microsoft, to learn how, and when, to use machine learning, best practices for building an awesome security research team, and the power of diversity in security.Episode 2: Unmasking threats with AMSI and ML, and Dr. Josh Neil
Guests: Ankit Garg, Geoff McDonald, and Dr. Josh Neil
In this episode, members of the Microsoft Defender ATP Research team chat about how the antimalware scripting interface (AMSI) and machine learning are stopping active directory attacks.
They’re also joined by Josh Neil, Principal Data Science Manager at Microsoft, as he discusses his path from music to mathematics, one definition of “artificial intelligence,” and the importance of combining multiple weak signals to gain a comprehensive view of an attack.Episode 3: Behavior-based protection for the under-secured, and Dr. Karen Lavi
Guests: Hardik Suri and Dr. Karen Lavi
Blog referenced: Defending Exchange servers under attack
In this episode, Nic and Natalia chat with Hardik Suri on the importance of keeping servers up-to-date and how behavior-based monitoring is helping protect under-secured Exchange servers.
Dr. Karen Lavi, Senior Data Scientist Lead at Microsoft, joins the discussion to talk about commonalities between neuroscience and cybersecurity, her unique path to Microsoft (Teaser: She started in the Israeli Defense Force and later got her PhD in neuroscience), and her predictions on the future of AI.
Please join us monthly on the Microsoft Security Blog for new episodes. If you have feedback on how we can improve the podcast or suggestions for topics to cover in future episodes, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or talk to us on our @MSFTSecurity Twitter handle.
And don’t forget to subscribe to Security Unlocked.
All risks have to be viewed through the lens of the business or organization. While information on cybersecurity risks is plentiful, you can’t prioritize or manage any risk until the impact (and likelihood) to your organization is understood and quantified.
This rule of thumb on who should be accountable for risk helps illustrate this relationship:
The person who owns (and accepts) the risk is the one who will stand in front of the news cameras and explain to the world why the worst case scenario happened.
This is the first in a series of blogs exploring how to manage challenges associated with keeping an organization resilient against cyberattacks and data breaches. This series will examine both the business and security perspectives and then look at the powerful trends shaping the future.
This blog series is unabashedly trying to help you build a stronger bridge between cybersecurity and your organizational leadership.
Organizations face two major trends driving both opportunity and risk:
- Digital disruption: We are living through the fourth industrial revolution, characterized by the fusion of the physical, biological, and digital worlds. This is having a profound impact on all of us as much as the use of steam and electricity changed the lives of farmers and factory owners during early industrialization.
Tech-disruptors like Netflix and Uber are obvious examples of using the digital revolution to disrupt existing industries, which spurred many industries to adopt digital innovation strategies of their own to stay relevant. Most organizations are rethinking their products, customer engagement, and business processes to stay current with a changing market.
- Cybersecurity: Organizations face a constant threat to revenue and reputation from organized crime, rogue nations, and freelance attackers who all have their eyes on your organization’s technology and data, which is being compounded by an evolving set of insider risks.
Organizations that understand and manage risk without constraining their digital transformation will gain a competitive edge over their industry peers.Cybersecurity is both old and new
As your organization pulls cybersecurity into your existing risk framework and portfolio, it is critical to keep in mind that:
- Cybersecurity is still relatively new: Unlike responding to natural disasters or economic downturns with decades of historical data and analysis, cybersecurity is an emerging and rapidly evolving discipline. Our understanding of the risks and how to manage them must evolve with every innovation in technology and every shift in attacker techniques.
- Cybersecurity is about human conflict: While managing cyber threats may be relatively new, human conflict has been around as long as there have been humans. Much can be learned by adapting existing knowledge on war, crime, economics, psychology, and sociology. Cybersecurity is also tied to the global economic, social, and political environments and can’t be separated from those.
- Cybersecurity evolves fast (and has no boundaries): Once a technology infrastructure is in place, there are few limits on the velocity of scaling an idea or software into a global presence (whether helpful or malicious), mirroring the history of rail and road infrastructures. While infrastructure enables commerce and productivity, it also enables criminal or malicious elements to leverage the same scale and speed in their actions. These bad actors don’t face the many constraints of legitimate useage, including regulations, legality, or morality in the pursuit of their illicit goals. These low barriers to entry on the internet help to increase the volume, speed, and sophistication of cyberattack techniques soon after they are conceived and proven. This puts us in the position of continuously playing catch up to their latest ideas.
- Cybersecurity requires asset maintenance: The most important and overlooked aspect of cybersecurity is the need to invest in ‘hygiene’ tasks to ensure consistent application of critically important practices.
One aspect that surprises many people is that software ‘ages’ differently than other assets and equipment, silently accumulating security issues with time. Like a brittle metal, these silent issues suddenly become massive failures when attackers find them. This makes it critical for proactive business leadership to proactively support ongoing technology maintenance (despite no previous visible signs of failure).
In an interconnected world, a certain amount of playing catch-up is inevitable, but we should minimize the impact and probabilities of business impact events with a proactive stance.
Organizations should build and adapt their risk and resilience strategy, including:
- Keeping threats in perspective: Ensuring stakeholders are thinking holistically in the context of business priorities, realistic threat scenarios, and reasonable evaluation of potential impact.
- Building trust and relationships: We’ve learned that the most important cybersecurity approach for organizations is to think and act symbiotically—working in unison with a shared vision and goal.
Like any other critical resource, trust and relationships can be strained in a crisis. It’s critical to invest in building strong and collaborative relationships between security and business stakeholders who have to make difficult decisions in a complex environment with incomplete information that is continuously changing.
- Modernizing security to protect business operations wherever they are: This approach is often referred to as Zero Trust and helps security enable the business, particularly digital transformation initiatives (including remote work during COVID-19) versus the traditional role as an inflexible quality function.
As organizations become digital, they effectively become technology companies and inherit both the natural advantages (customer engagement, rapid scale) and difficulties (maintenance and patching, cyberattack). We must accept this and learn to manage this risk as a team, sharing the challenges and adapting to the continuous evolution.
In the coming blogs, we will explore these topics from the perspective of business leaders and from cybersecurity leaders, sharing lessons learned on framing, prioritizing, and managing risk to stay resilient against cyberattacks.
To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
The post Becoming resilient by understanding cybersecurity risks: Part 1 appeared first on Microsoft Security.
Companies face a wide range of security challenges, such as Open Source Foundation for Application Security Project (OWASP) vulnerabilities, advanced BOT threats and the need to manage BOTs, securing APIs, and protecting against volumetric and non-volumetric DDoS attacks. Advanced threats mean that application security solutions must do much more. Organizations require a synchronized attack-mitigation system that provides advanced application protection against all the above threats, across all platforms and environments at all times; providing comprehensive security and a single view of application security events for quick incident response and a minimum impact on business.
Customers are increasingly requesting, if not requiring, a fully managed service option for security elements. Beyond the obvious complexity of managing the positive and negative security model rules, today’s attacks are dynamic and evolving. Teams managing application security are stressed by the rapid pace of new application development and application changes, all of which require vulnerability assessment and remediation in the form of automated continuous and consistent security policies.
Cloud is disrupting technology and security is the biggest challenge for customers around the world. Radware is embracing this shift by focusing on ‘Strength in Security’ with Microsoft Azure and is focused on helping Microsoft Azure customers secure their workloads and applications. Radware works closely with Microsoft’s engineering teams to create new and innovative solutions in Azure that benefit from Microsoft’s unique cloud capabilities and services like Azure DDoS Protection and Microsoft Azure Sentinel to build a more secure digital infrastructure, enabling customers to overcome security challenges. Radware Security for Azure provides local availability and easy deployment capabilities across any Azure region, enabling organizations to move to Azure with the knowledge that their applications, networks, and data will be secure around the world.The application threat landscape
Application vulnerabilities are now the fastest-growing cybersecurity threat to organizations, according to a year-over-year comparison of Radware’s annual Global Application & Network Security Report. Applications, and the APIs they leverage, must be protected against an expanding variety of attack methods. In addition, DevOps and Agile development practices mean that applications are in a state of constant flux, and security policies must adapt to keep pace. Web application security solutions must be smarter and address a broad spectrum of vulnerability exploitation scenarios and attack types and vectors. On top of protecting the application from these common vulnerabilities, they have to protect APIs and mitigate denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, manage bot traffic, and make a distinction between legitimate bots and malicious bots.
Web applications are a critical part of most modern businesses, but many organizations continue to overlook web application security, despite escalating threats. According to a recent Gartner report, by 2023, more than 30 percent of public-facing web applications will be protected by cloud web application and API protection services that combine DDoS protection, bot mitigation, API protection, and web application firewalls (WAFs).
Cloud web application and API security and integrated BOT and DDoS protection is the evolution of cloud-delivered WAF services. Comprehensive cloud-delivered managed security services is a more comprehensive runtime protection successor to WAF appliances. It is faster to deploy and easier for organizations to maintain. Customers want to consume security products without managing the underlying infrastructure which is a big benefit that a product like Radware Security for Azure brings to customers in Azure.
Radware Security for Azure is a managed service that provides network and application security protection against small-scale to even the most sophisticated large-scale attacks ensuring applications are protected from malicious DDoS attacks and zero-day web attacks and common vulnerabilities.
By leveraging the global scale of the Microsoft network and integrating with Azure DDoS Protection, Radware Security for Azure provides enhanced Layer 3 – Layer 7 DDoS mitigation capabilities tuned for applications and resources deployed in virtual networks backed by an industry-leading service level agreement (SLA) and 24/7 incident response team.
Radware provides advanced protection for web applications in Azure with an integrated application and API security service. Radware Security for Azure provides:
To learn more about the Microsoft Intelligent Security Association (MISA), visit our website where you can learn about the MISA program, product integrations, and find MISA members. Visit the video playlist to learn about the strength of member integrations with Microsoft products.
For more information about Microsoft Security Solutions, visit the Microsoft Security website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage of security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
As announced today, Microsoft took action against the Trickbot botnet, disrupting one of the world’s most persistent malware operations. Microsoft worked with telecommunications providers around the world to take down key Trickbot infrastructure. As a result, operators will no longer be able to use this infrastructure to distribute the Trickbot malware or activate deployed payloads like ransomware.
Microsoft actively tracks the threat landscape, monitoring threat actors, their campaigns, specific tactics, and evolution of malware. We share this intelligence with the community and use our research to continuously improve our products. Below, we will detail the evolution of the Trickbot malware, associated tactics, recent campaigns, and dive into the anatomy of a particular attack we observed.
Trickbot was first spotted in 2016 as a banking trojan that was created as a successor to Dyre and designed to steal banking credentials. Over the years, Trickbot’s operators were able to build a massive botnet, and the malware evolved into a modular malware available for malware-as-a-service. The Trickbot infrastructure was made available to cybercriminals who used the botnet as an entry point for human-operated campaigns, including attacks that steal credentials, exfiltrate data, and deploy additional payloads, most notably Ryuk ransomware, in target networks.
Trickbot was typically delivered via email campaigns that used current events or financial lures to entice users to open malicious file attachments or click links to websites hosting the malicious files. Trickbot campaigns usually used Excel or Word documents with malicious macro codes, but other types of attachments have been used. The campaigns were observed in a wide range of verticals and geolocation, with operators frequently reusing previously compromised email accounts from earlier campaigns to distribute emails without narrowing targets.
In addition to phishing emails, Trickbot was also deployed through lateral movement via Server Message Block (SMB) or as a second-stage payload of other malware like Emotet. Once Trickbot was launched, operators utilized it to install reconnaissance tools like PowerShell Empire, Metasploit, and Cobalt Strike. They used these tools to steal credentials and network configuration information, move laterally to high-value assets, or deliver additional malicious payloads.
Threat data from Microsoft 365 Defender, which correlates signals from endpoints, email and data, identities, and cloud apps to deliver comprehensive protection against threats, shows that Trickbot showed up in both large and small enterprises across the globe, helped no doubt by its modular nature and widespread misconception of it being a “commodity” banking trojan.Anatomy of a Trickbot campaign
Trickbot is one of the most prolific malware operations in the world, churning out multiple campaigns in any given period. In one specific campaign, the Trickbot operators used several disparate compromised email accounts to send out hundreds of malicious emails to both enterprise and consumer accounts. Recipients were from a variety of industry verticals and geolocations and do not appear to have been specifically targeted. This campaign used a shipping and logistics theme, and had the following subject lines:
- Shipment receipt
- Delivery finished
- Urgent receipt comment
- Essential receipt reminder
- Required declaration
The emails contained a malicious Excel attachment that, when opened, prompted the user to enable macros. If enabled, the macro wrote a malicious JScript Encoded (JSE) file to the disk, which is then executed via WScript. The JSE script connected to the affected organization’s domain controller and performed several LDAP queries to gather information about Active Directory, including the schema and user lists. The script then exfiltrated the information to attacker-controlled infrastructure. The script used the jscript.encode command to encode both server-side and client-side files in order to obfuscate content and evade detection.
Next, the JSE file performed several reconnaissance queries to obtain information about the device’s network adapter, antivirus products, domain role, and email. Once the exfiltration was completed, a dropped .bat file established a connection with two separate C2 servers: an IP address and a domain hosted on a separate IP address. Trickbot used both these C2 servers to evade network filtering configurations. The .bat file performed reconnaissance commands to find domain administrators on the network. It then dropped and launched the Greenshot screenshot tool and Cobalt Strike beacon on the device.
At this point, the operators had gained control of the affected device, only 8.5 hours after the user opened the malicious email attachment. The operators then started to copy the freeware tool ADFind.exe, which they used for discovery as well as for gathering domain configuration and organization information. They then archived data found during this discovery to a .7z file for later exfiltration.
The attackers ran several commands to obtain information about the domain controller and gather Kerberos tickets, conducted port scanning on SMB port 445, NetBIOS 139, and queried LDAP for multiple server devices. Using the information gathered, attackers pinged several potentially high-value devices. From there, they viewed the contents of specific text and log files, likely gleaned from their reconnaissance. Upon finding a device with an open port 445, they used runas /netonly (logon type 9, which is intentionally used to confuse analysis of logon events) for authentication and interactively executed commands on the device.
Once authenticated, the attackers viewed existing RDP files from prior unrelated sessions for RDP settings and credentials. From there, they dropped a Trickbot executable and stole credentials from the Windows Vault and Credentials Manager, allowing the attackers to evade many well-known security mechanisms that monitor processes accessing Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS) memory to dump the credentials. They used a .bat file to view multiple shares, ping additional servers, and read several text files. Finally, the attackers exfiltrated all gathered data.
The attackers persisted in the network via a copy of the malicious .jse file in the Startup folder. Using this .jse file, they have the capability to return to this network later and attempt to log on to other, more valuable devices and steal additional information or drop additional payloads. This highlights the importance of comprehensive response to “commodity malware” like Trickbot: the original banking trojan infection may be triaged and remediated, but without a full understanding of Trickbot as an entry vector to human adversaries, the real threat remains in the network.Modular, multi-stage malware
Trickbot is a multi-stage malware typically composed of a wrapper, a loader, and a main malware module. The wrapper, which uses multiple templates that constantly change, is designed to evade detection by producing unique samples, even if the main malware code remains the same.
When the wrapper process runs, it runs the loader fully in its memory. The loader has a highly modular design. It decrypts each function at runtime before running it, and then encrypts it back. Likewise, all human-readable strings are decrypted and all APIs are resolved at runtime. In some scenarios, Trickbot uses UAC bypasses to elevate the privileges of its processes. On 64-bit systems, Trickbot uses the “Heaven’s Gate” technique to switch 32-bit code to 64-bit, and has an additional stage where a 64-bit loader injects the main module into the suspended process.
The loader runs the main malware module directly in memory. After creating scheduled tasks for persistence, the main malware module decrypts a configuration file, which contains the information it needs for its next steps:
- Establish HTTPS communication with command and control (C2) server
- Download modules from the C2 server
- Monitor the status of the downloaded modules
- Synchronize communication between the main module and the downloaded modules
The modules are likewise run in memory via injection into the suspended process. Over the years, Trickbot has used a wide range of modules for various malicious activities. These include the following:
Modules Purpose pwgrab Gathers credentials, autofill data, history and so on from browsers networkDll Gathers network and system information importDll Gathers browser data injectDll Main banker module; uses static and dynamic web browser injection and data theft tabDll Propagates Trickbot via EternalRomance Exploit Propagates Trickbot via SMB EternalBlue Exploit shareDll Propagates Trickbot via Windows network shares vncDll, BCTestDll Remote control/Virtual Network Computing module; provides backdoor for further module downloads rdpscanDll Launches brute force attacks against selected Windows systems running Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connection exposed to the Internet Systeminfo Gathers system information mailsearcher Searches all files on disk and compares their extensions to a predefined list to harvest emails addresses outlookDll Gather Outlook credentials psfin Gathers point of sale (POS) software credentials squlDll Gathers email addresses stored in SQL servers aDll Runs various commands on a Windows domain controller to steal Active Directory credentials
Trickbot sends information like domain names and IP ranges of compromised networks back to operators, who then select some of these networks for additional exploitation and reconnaissance activities. On selected networks, Trickbot operators installed additional tools like Cobalt Strike, and switch to a hands-on-keyboard attacks. Once the operators gain foothold on a network, they used tools like Mimikatz and LaZagne to steal additional credentials and tools like BloodHound and ADFind to perform reconnaissance actions. Apart from using the stolen credentials and collected data to further the attack, operators also exfiltrated data. They then leave multiple persistence points on the network to enable the eventual delivery of other payloads like Ryuk ransomware.
While much has been made of the Trickbot’s supposed antivirus evasion capabilities, it’s a simple PowerShell command being run to turn off Microsoft Defender Antivirus, but it can perform this action only if the user has administrative rights.Recent prominent Trickbot campaigns
In June 2020, we tracked multiple Trickbot campaigns. As is typical with Trickbot, some of the email campaigns took advantage of current events as lures to entice users to click on malicious attachments. These lures include Black Lives Matter and COVID-19. Earlier in the year, we reported that Trickbot was the most prolific malware operation using COVID-19-themed lures. Many other simultaneous campaigns used more generic lures, such as shipping and logistics, invoicing and payments, customer complaints, and various financial lures.
The email body was often simple but maintained consistency with the lure used in the subject line. The emails used a wide range of attachment types, including:
- Word macro attachments
- Excel VBA macro attachments
- Excel 4.0 macro attachments
- Java Network Launch Protocol (.jnlp) attachments
Some campaigns do away with the attachments and instead use malicious links to websites that host malicious files.
The sender infrastructure for all these emails varied as well. In most campaigns, operators used compromised legitimate email accounts and compromised marketing platforms to distribute the malicious emails. However, in one instance, the operators registered several domains using less popular top-level domains (TLDs) such as “.monster” and “.us” to create their own mail server and send malicious emails from attacker-defined email addresses. At least one of these campaigns used attacker-owned email sender infrastructure that was later used to deliver Dridex malware in a separate campaign. The Dridex malware is known to be associated with the CHIMBORAZO (also known as TA505) crime group. Additionally, CHIMBORAZO ran simultaneous campaigns that delivered Trickbot.
The following graphic illustrates the various campaigns, tactics, and techniques used by the operators. The complexity of these simultaneous campaigns and techniques indicates that this is a coordinated and professional effort conducted by a sophisticated activity group.Extended detection and response for the full range of threats
The action against Trickbot is one of the ways in which Microsoft provide real-world protection against threats. This action will result in protection for a wide range of organizations, including financial services institutions, government, healthcare, and other verticals from malware and human-operated campaigns delivered via the Trickbot infrastructure.
In the recently released Microsoft Digital Defense Report, we called out that cybercriminals of all skill sets take advantage of the perception that commodity threats are less impactful to businesses. Trickbot is proof that this assumption is obsolete, and organizations need to treat and address Trickbot and other malware infections as the broadly damaging threats that they are.
To help protect customers from the full range of threats, from common malware to highly modular, multi-stage threats like Trickbot, as well as nation-state level attacks, Microsoft 365 Defender delivers coordinated protection for identities, endpoints, cloud apps, email and documents. Microsoft Defender for Office 365 detects malicious attachments and links in email campaigns. Microsoft Defender for Endpoint detects and blocks the Trickbot malware and all related components, as well as malicious activities on endpoints. Microsoft Defender for Identity identifies and detects suspicious user activities and compromised identities.
This breadth of cross-domain visibility allows Microsoft 365 Defender to correlate signals and comprehensively detect and resolve attack chains. Security operations teams can then use the rich set of tools in Microsoft 365 Defender to further hunt for threats and gain insights for hardening networks from compromise.
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Microsoft 365 Defender Research Team
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Attackers are persistent and motivated to continuously evolve – and no platform is immune. That is why Microsoft has been working to extend its industry-leading endpoint protection capabilities beyond Windows. The addition of mobile threat defense into these capabilities means that Microsoft Defender for Endpoint (previously Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection) now delivers protection on all major platforms.
Microsoft’s mobile threat defense capabilities further enrich the visibility that organizations have on threats in their networks, as well as provide more tools to detect and respond to threats across domains and across platforms. Like all of Microsoft’s security solutions, these new capabilities are likewise backed by a global network of threat researchers and security experts whose deep understanding of the threat landscape guide the continuous innovation of security features and ensure that customers are protected from ever-evolving threats.
For example, we found a piece of a particularly sophisticated Android ransomware with novel techniques and behavior, exemplifying the rapid evolution of mobile threats that we have also observed on other platforms. The mobile ransomware is the latest variant of a ransomware family that’s been in the wild for a while but has been evolving non-stop. This ransomware family is known for being hosted on arbitrary websites and circulated on online forums using various social engineering lures, including masquerading as popular apps, cracked games, or video players. The new variant caught our attention because it’s an advanced malware with unmistakable malicious characteristic and behavior and yet manages to evade many available protections, registering a low detection rate against security solutions.
As with most Android ransomware, this new threat doesn’t actually block access to files by encrypting them. Instead, it blocks access to devices by displaying a screen that appears over every other window, such that the user can’t do anything else. The said screen is the ransom note, which contains threats and instructions to pay the ransom.
Figure 1. Sample ransom note used by older ransomware variants
What’s innovative about this ransomware is how it displays its ransom note. In this blog, we’ll detail the innovative ways in which this ransomware surfaces its ransom note using Android features we haven’t seen leveraged by malware before, as well as incorporating an open-source machine learning module designed for context-aware cropping of its ransom note.New scheme, same goal
In the past, Android ransomware used a special permission called “SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW” to display their ransom note. Apps that have this permission can draw a window that belongs to the system group and can’t be dismissed. No matter what button is pressed, the window stays on top of all other windows. The notification was intended to be used for system alerts or errors, but Android threats misused it to force the attacker-controlled UI to fully occupy the screen, blocking access to the device. Attackers create this scenario to persuade users to pay the ransom so they can gain back access to the device.
To catch these threats, security solutions used heuristics that focused on detecting this behavior. Google later implemented platform-level changes that practically eliminated this attack surface. These changes include:
- Removing the SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW error and alert window types, and introducing a few other types as replacement
- Elevating the permission status of SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW to special permission by putting it into the “above dangerous” category, which means that users have to go through many screens to approve apps that ask for permission, instead of just one click
- Introducing an overlay kill switch on Android 8.0 and later that users can activate anytime to deactivate a system alert window
To adapt, Android malware evolved to misusing other features, but these aren’t as effective. For example, some strains of ransomware abuse accessibility features, a method that could easily alarm users because accessibility is a special permission that requires users to go through several screens and accept a warning that the app will be able to monitor activity via accessibility services. Other ransomware families use infinite loops of drawing non-system windows, but in between drawing and redrawing, it’s possible for users to go to settings and uninstall the offending app.
The new Android ransomware variant overcomes these barriers by evolving further than any Android malware we’ve seen before. To surface its ransom note, it uses a series of techniques that take advantage of the following components on Android:
- The “call” notification, among several categories of notifications that Android supports, which requires immediate user attention.
- The “onUserLeaveHint()” callback method of the Android Activity (i.e., the typical GUI screen the user sees) is called as part of the activity lifecycle when the activity is about to go into the background as a result of user choice, for example, when the user presses the Home key.
The malware connects the dots and uses these two components to create a special type of notification that triggers the ransom screen via the callback.
Figure 2. The notification with full intent and set as “call’ category
As the code snippet shows, the malware creates a notification builder and then does the following:
- setCategory(“call”) – This means that the notification is built as a very important notification that needs special privilege.
- setFullScreenIntent() – This API wires the notification to a GUI so that it pops up when the user taps on it. At this stage, half the job is done for the malware. However, the malware wouldn’t want to depend on user interaction to trigger the ransomware screen, so, it adds another functionality of Android callback:
Figure 3. The malware overriding onUserLeaveHint
As the code snippet shows, the malware overrides the onUserLeaveHint() callback function of Activity class. The function onUserLeaveHint() is called whenever the malware screen is pushed to background, causing the in-call Activity to be automatically brought to the foreground. Recall that the malware hooked the RansomActivity intent with the notification that was created as a “call” type notification. This creates a chain of events that triggers the automatic pop-up of the ransomware screen without doing infinite redraw or posing as system window.Machine learning module indicates continuous evolution
As mentioned, this ransomware is the latest variant of a malware family that has undergone several stages of evolution. The knowledge graph below shows the various techniques this ransomware family has been seen using, including abusing the system alert window, abusing accessibility features, and, more recently, abusing notification services.
Figure 4. Knowledge graph of techniques used by ransomware family
This ransomware family’s long history tells us that its evolution is far from over. We expect it to churn out new variants with even more sophisticated techniques. In fact, recent variants contain code forked from an open-source machine learning module used by developers to automatically resize and crop images based on screen size, a valuable function given the variety of Android devices.
The frozen TinyML model is useful for making sure images fit the screen without distortion. In the case of this ransomware, using the model would ensure that its ransom note—typically fake police notice or explicit images supposedly found on the device—would appear less contrived and more believable, increasing the chances of the user paying for the ransom.
The library that uses tinyML is not yet wired to the malware’s functionalities, but its presence in the malware code indicates the intention to do so in future variants. We will continue to monitor this ransomware family to ensure customers are protected and to share our findings and insights to the community for broad protection against these evolving mobile threats.Protecting organizations from threats across domains and platforms
Mobile threats continue to rapidly evolve, with attackers continuously attempting to sidestep technological barriers and creatively find ways to accomplish their goal, whether financial gain or finding an entry point to broader network compromise.
This new mobile ransomware variant is an important discovery because the malware exhibits behaviors that have not been seen before and could open doors for other malware to follow. It reinforces the need for comprehensive defense powered by broad visibility into attack surfaces as well as domain experts who track the threat landscape and uncover notable threats that might be hiding amidst massive threat data and signals.
Microsoft Defender for Endpoint on Android, now generally available, extends Microsoft’s industry-leading endpoint protection to Android. It detects this ransomware (AndroidOS/MalLocker.B), as well as other malicious apps and files using cloud-based protection powered by deep learning and heuristics, in addition to content-based detection. It also protects users and organizations from other mobile threats, such as mobile phishing, unsafe network connections, and unauthorized access to sensitive data. Learn more about our mobile threat defense capabilities in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint on Android.
Malware, phishing, and other threats detected by Microsoft Defender for Endpoint are reported to the Microsoft Defender Security Center, allowing SecOps to investigate mobile threats along with endpoint signals from Windows and other platforms using Microsoft Defender for Endpoint’s rich set of tools for detection, investigation, and response.
Threat data from endpoints are combined with signals from email and data, identities, and apps in Microsoft 365 Defender (previously Microsoft Threat Protection), which orchestrates detection, prevention, investigation, and response across domains, providing coordinated defense. Microsoft Defender for Endpoint on Android further enriches organizations’ visibility into malicious activity, empowering them to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to against attack sprawl and cross-domain incidents.Technical analysis Obfuscation
On top of recreating ransomware behavior in ways we haven’t seen before, the Android malware variant uses a new obfuscation technique unique to the Android platform. One of the tell-tale signs of an obfuscated malware is the absence of code that defines the classes declared in the manifest file.
Figure 5. Manifest file
The classes.dex has implementation for only two classes:
- The main application class gCHotRrgEruDv, which is involved when the application opens
- A helper class that has definition for custom encryption and decryption
This means that there’s no code corresponding to the services declared in the manifest file: Main Activity, Broadcast Receivers, and Background. How does the malware work without code for these key components? As is characteristic for obfuscated threats, the malware has encrypted binary code stored in the Assets folder:
Figure 6. Encrypted executable code in Assets folder
When the malware runs for the first time, the static block of the main class is run. The code is heavily obfuscated and made unreadable through name mangling and use of meaningless variable names:
Figure 7. Static blockDecryption with a twist
The malware uses an interesting decryption routine: the string values passed to the decryption function do not correspond to the decrypted value, they correspond to junk code to simply hinder analysis.
On Android, an Intent is a software mechanism that allows users to coordinate the functions of different Activities to achieve a task. It’s a messaging object that can be used to request an action from another app component.
The Intent object carries a string value as “action” parameter. The malware creates an Intent inside the decryption function using the string value passed as the name for the Intent. It then decrypts a hardcoded encrypted value and sets the “action” parameter of the Intent using the setAction API. Once this Intent object is generated with the action value pointing to the decrypted content, the decryption function returns the Intent object to the callee. The callee then invokes the getAction method to get the decrypted content.
Figure 8. Decryption function using the Intent object to pass the decrypted valuePayload deployment
Once the static block execution is complete, the Android Lifecycle callback transfers the control to the OnCreate method of the main class.
Figure 9. onCreate method of the main class decrypting the payload
Next, the malware-defined function decryptAssetToDex (a meaningful name we assigned during analysis) receives the string “CuffGmrQRT” as the first argument, which is the name of the encrypted file stored in the Assets folder.
Figure 10. Decrypting the assets
After being decrypted, the asset turns into the .dex file. This is a notable behavior that is characteristic of this ransomware family.
Figure 11. Asset file before and after decryption
Once the encrypted executable is decrypted and dropped in the storage, the malware has the definitions for all the components it declared in the manifest file. It then starts the final detonator function to load the dropped .dex file into memory and triggers the main payload.
Figure 12. Loading the decrypted .dex file into memory and triggering the main payloadMain payload
When the main payload is loaded into memory, the initial detonator hands over the control to the main payload by invoking the method XoqF (which we renamed to triggerInfection during analysis) from the gvmthHtyN class (renamed to PayloadEntry).
Figure 13. Handover from initial module to the main payload
As mentioned, the initial handover component called triggerInfection with an instance of appObj and a method that returns the value for the variable config.
Figure 14. Definition of populateConfigMap, which loads the map with values
Correlating the last two steps, one can observe that the malware payload receives the configuration for the following properties:
- number – The default number to be send to the server (in case the number is not available from the device)
- api – The API key
- url – The URL to be used in WebView to display on the ransom note
The malware saves this configuration to the shared preferences of the app data and then it sets up all the Broadcast Receivers. This action registers code components to get notified when certain system events happen. This is done in the function initComponents.
Figure 15. Initializing the BroadcastReceiver against system events
From this point on, the malware execution is driven by callback functions that are triggered on system events like connectivity change, unlocking the phone, elapsed time interval, and others.
Microsoft Defender Research
The post Sophisticated new Android malware marks the latest evolution of mobile ransomware appeared first on Microsoft Security.
One of the things that our Detection and Response Team (DART) and Customer Service and Support (CSS) security teams see frequently during investigation of customer incidents are attacks on virtual machines from the internet.
This is one area in the cloud security shared responsibility model where customer tenants are responsible for security. Security is a shared responsibility between Microsoft and the customer and as soon as you put just one virtual machine on Azure or any cloud you need to ensure you apply the right security controls.
The diagram below illustrates the layers of security responsibilities:
Fortunately, with Azure, we have a set of best practices that are designed to help protect your workloads including virtual machines to keep them safe from constantly evolving threats. This blog will share the most important security best practices to help protect your virtual machines.
The areas of the shared responsibility model we will touch on in this blog are as follows:
- Identity and directory infrastructure
- Network Controls
- Operating System
We will refer to the Azure Security Top 10 best practices as applicable for each:Best practices 1. Use Azure Secure Score in Azure Security Center as your guide
Secure Score within Azure Security Center is a numeric view of your security posture. If it is at 100 percent, you are following best practices. Otherwise, work on the highest priority items to improve the current security posture. Many of the recommendations below are included in Azure Secure Score.2. Isolate management ports on virtual machines from the Internet and open them only when required
The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a remote access solution that is very popular with Windows administrators. Because of its popularity, it’s a very attractive target for threat actors. Do not be fooled into thinking that changing the default port for RDP serves any real purpose. Attackers are always scanning the entire range of ports, and it is trivial to figure out that you changed from 3389 to 4389, for example.
If you are already allowing RDP access to your Azure VMs from the internet, you should check the configuration of your Network Security Groups. Find any rule that is publishing RDP and look to see if the Source IP Address is a wildcard (*). If that is the case, you should be concerned, and it’s quite possible that the VM could be under brute force attack right now.
It is relatively easy to determine if your VMs are under a brute force attack, and there are at least two methods we will discuss below:
- Azure Defender (formerly Azure Security Center Standard) will alert you if your VM is under a brute force attack.
- If you are not using Security Center Standard tier open the Windows Event Viewer and find the Windows Security Event Log. Filter for Event ID 4625 (an account failed to log on). If you see many such events occurring in quick succession (seconds or minutes apart), then it means you are under brute force attack.
Other commonly attacked ports would include: SSH (22), FTP (21), Telnet (23), HTTP (80), HTTPS (443), SQL (1433), LDAP 389. This is just a partial list of commonly published ports. You should always be cautious about allowing inbound network traffic from unlimited source IP address ranges unless it is necessary for the business needs of that machine.
A couple of methods for managing inbound access to Azure VMs:
- Use just-in-time (JIT) VM access
Just-in-time will allow you to reduce your attack service while also allowing legitimate users to access virtual machines when necessary.
Network security groups contain rules that allow or deny traffic inbound to, or outbound traffic from several types of Azure resources including VMs. There are limits to the number of rules and they can become difficult to manage if many users from various network locations need to access your VMs.
For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:
If you are required to allow inbound traffic to your VMs for business reasons, this next area is of critical importance. Do you have complete confidence that any user account that would be allowed to access this machine is using a complex username/password combination? What if this VM is also domain joined? It’s one thing to worry about local accounts, but now you must worry about any account in the domain that would have the right to log on to that Virtual Machine.
For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:
Vulnerabilities of the operating system are particularly worrisome when they are also combined with a port and service that is more likely to be published. A good example is the recent vulnerabilities affecting the Remote Desktop Protocol called “BlueKeep.” A consistent patch management strategy will go a long way towards improving your overall security posture.5. Keep third-party applications current and patched
Applications are another often overlooked area, especially third-party applications installed on your Azure VMs. Whenever possible use the most current version available and patch for any known vulnerabilities. An example is an IIS Server using a third-party Content Management Systems (CMS) application with known vulnerabilities. A quick search of the Internet for CMS vulnerabilities will reveal many that are exploitable.
For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:
Utilize the Azure Security Center Standard tier to ensure you are actively monitoring for threats. Security Center uses machine learning to analyze signals across Microsoft systems and services to alert you to threats to your environment. One such example is remote desktop protocol (RDP) brute-force attacks.
For more information, see this top Azure Security Best Practice:Azure Backup Service
In addition to turning on security, it’s always a good idea to have a backup. Mistakes happen and unless you tell Azure to backup your virtual machine there isn’t an automatic backup. Fortunately, it’s just a few clicks to turn on.Next steps
Equipped with the knowledge contained in this article, we believe you will be less likely to experience a compromised VM in Azure. Security is most effective when you use a layered (defense in depth) approach and do not rely on one method to completely protect your environment. Azure has many different solutions available that can help you apply this layered approach.
If you found this information helpful, please drop us a note at email@example.com.
The post Best practices for defending Azure Virtual Machines appeared first on Microsoft Security.
IoT devices are becoming more prevalent in almost every aspect of our lives—we will rely on them in our homes, our businesses, as well as our infrastructure. In February, Microsoft announced the general availability of Azure Sphere, an integrated security solution for IoT devices and equipment. General availability means that we are ready to provide OEMs and organizations with quick and cost-effective device security at scale. However, securing those devices does not stop once we put them into the hands of our customers. It is only the start of a continual battle between the attackers and the defenders.
Building a solution that customers can trust requires investments before and after deployment by complementing up-front technical measures with ongoing practices to find and mitigate risks. In April, we highlighted Azure Sphere’s approach to risk management and why securing IoT is not a one-and-done. Products improve over time, but so do hackers, as well as their skills and tools. New security threats continue to evolve, and hackers invent new ways to attack devices. So, what does it take to stay ahead?
As a Microsoft security product team, we believe in finding and fixing vulnerabilities before the bad guys do. While Azure Sphere continuously invests in code improvements, fuzzing, and other processes of quality control, it often requires the creative mindset of an attacker to expose a potential weakness that otherwise might be missed. Better than trying to think like a hacker is working with them. This is why we operate an ongoing program of red team exercises with security researchers and the hacker community: to benefit from their unique expertise and skill set. That includes being able to test our security promise not just against yesterday’s and today’s, but against even tomorrow’s attacks on IoT devices before they become known more broadly. Our recent Azure Sphere Security Research Challenge, which concluded on August 31, is a reflection of this commitment.Partnering with MSRC to design a unique challenge
Our goal with the three-month Azure Sphere Security Research Challenge was twofold: to drive new high-impact security research, and to validate Azure Sphere’s security promise against the best challengers in their field. To do so, we partnered with the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) and invited some of the world’s best researchers and security vendors to try to break our device by using the same kinds of attacks as any malicious actor might. To make sure participants had everything they needed to be successful, we provided each researcher with a dev kit, a direct line to our OS Security Engineering Team, access to weekly office hours, and email support in addition to our publicly available operating system kernel source code.
Our goal was to focus the research on the highest impact on customer security, which is why we provided six research scenarios with additional rewards of up to 20 percent on top of the Azure Bounty (up to $40,000), as well as $100,000 for two high-priority scenarios proving the ability to execute code in Microsoft Pluton or in Secure World. We received more than 3,500 applications, which is a testament to the strong interest of the research community in securing IoT. More information on the design of the challenge and our collaboration with MSRC can be found here on their blog post.Researchers identify high impact vulnerabilities before hackers
The quality of submissions from participants in the challenge far exceeded our expectations. Several participants helped us find multiple potentially high impact vulnerabilities in Azure Sphere. The quality is a testament to the expertise, determination, and the diligence of the participants. Over the course of the challenge, we received a total of 40 submissions, of which 30 led to improvements in our product. Sixteen were bounty-eligible; adding up to a total of $374,300 in bounties awarded. The other 10 submissions identified known areas where potential risk is specifically mitigated in another part of the system—something often referred to in the field as “by design.” The high ratio of valid submissions to total submissions speaks to the extremely high quality of the research demonstrated by the participants.
Jewell Seay, Azure Sphere Operating System Platform Security Lead, has shared detailed information of many of the cases in three recent blog posts describing the security improvements delivered in our 20.07, 20.08, and 20.09 releases. Cisco Talos and McAfee Advanced Threat Research (ATR), in particular, found several important vulnerabilities, and one particular attack chain is highlighted in Jewell’s 20.07 blog.
While the described attack required physical access to a device and could not be executed remotely, it exposed potential weaknesses spanning both cloud and device components of our product. The attack included a potential zero-day exploit in the Linux kernel to escape root privileges. The vulnerability was reported to the Linux kernel security team, leading to a fix for the larger open source community which was shared with the Linux community. If you would like to learn more and get an inside view of the challenge from one of our research partners, we highly recommend McAfee ATR’s blog post.What it takes to provide renewable and improving security
With Azure Sphere, we provide our customers with a robust defense based on the Seven Properties of Highly Secured Devices. One of the properties, renewable security, ensures that a device can update to a more secure state—even if it has been compromised. While this is essential, it is not sufficient on its own. An organization must be equipped with the resources, people, and processes that allow for a quick resolution before vulnerabilities impact customers. Azure Sphere customers know that they have the strong commitment of our Azure Sphere Engineering team—that our team is searching for and addressing potential vulnerabilities, even from the most recently invented attack techniques.
We take this commitment to heart, as evidenced by all the fixes that went into our 20.07, 20.08, and 20.09 releases. In less than 30 days of McAfee reporting the attack chain to us, we shipped a fix to all of our customers, without the need for them to take any action due to how Azure Sphere manages updates. Although we received a high number of submissions throughout multiple release cycles, we prioritized analyzing every single report as soon as we received it. The success of our challenge should not just be measured by the number and quality of the reports, but also by how quickly reported vulnerabilities were fixed in the product. When it came to fixing the found vulnerabilities, there was no distinction made between the ones that were proven to be exploited or the ones that were only theoretical. Attackers get creative, and hope is not part of our risk assessment or our commitment to our customers.Our engagement with the security research community
On behalf of the entire team and our customers, we would like to thank all participants for their help in making Azure Sphere more secure! We were genuinely impressed by the quality and number of high impact vulnerabilities that they found. In addition, we would also like to thank the MSRC team for partnering with us on this challenge.
Our goal is to continue to engage with this community on behalf of our customers going forward, and we will continue to review every potential vulnerability report for Azure Sphere for eligibility under the Azure Bounty Program awards.
Our team learned a lot throughout this challenge, and we will explore and announce additional opportunities to collaborate with the security research community in the future. Protecting our platform and the devices our customers build and deploy on it is a key priority for us. Working with the best security researchers in the field, we will continue to invest in finding potential vulnerabilities before the bad guys do—so you don’t have to!
If you are interested in learning more about how Azure Sphere can help you securely unlock your next IoT innovation:
- Visit the Azure Sphere website to learn more.
- Get started.
- Secure your IoT deployment during the security talent shortage.
- Cybersecurity best practices to implement highly secured devices.
The post Why we invite security researchers to hack Azure Sphere appeared first on Microsoft Security.
This tumultuous year has brought paradigm shifts across every facet of daily life. A global pandemic has pushed much of our lives online—work, school, entertainment, shopping, and socializing. But one thing remains unchanged: people everywhere share a common need for safety. Today, our need for personal safety includes the digital realm. At Microsoft, we believe that a secure online experience helps empower people to do more, create more, and have trust in the technology that connects us all. It’s no wonder that cybersecurity is a vital part of everything we build.
“People are both my first and last line of defense” –Bret Arsenault, Microsoft Chief Information Security Officer
Now as we kick off Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the purpose of this initiative and how Microsoft is helping to empower people around the world with seamless, integrated security. We want to help to create a safer world for everyone so that online learning, remote work, community building, and even shopping online can be enriching experiences.
My first 12 calendar weeks at Microsoft have been packed—from my first introduction at Microsoft Inspire to sharing our security, compliance, and identity innovations at Microsoft Ignite last week. In between, we’ve shared insights from our customers about their journeys to create a more secure workplace during this time of global transformation. I’m committed to listening and learning from all of you, and excited to share my enthusiasm for this dynamic industry.
Throughout October, Microsoft will join the National Cybersecurity Alliance and other industry partners to promote online safety for consumers and businesses. I’m energized to share our plans to empower people and organizations worldwide and invite you to learn more about our efforts.Security awareness for all
Most of us think we’re too smart to fall for a phishing scam, and our confidence only grows when we’re logged onto a company network. Statistics show that nearly one in three security breaches starts with a phishing attack, costing the affected organization an average of $1.4 million. With the rise in people working from home, new attacks such as consent phishing have cropped up to take advantage of remote workers dealing with home-life distractions. Terranova has partnered with Microsoft to create the Gone Phishing Tournament during October, using real lures (phishing emails) to capture accurate click-through statistics—providing organizations with data-backed insights to grow their security awareness programs.
Microsoft security help and learning will feature five new articles during October—localized for 36 languages and updating every Monday—each covering security topics that affect all types of users. The first of which, 3 easy tips to improve cybersecurity, provides information on how to uninstall unused apps that might be compromising your security, as well as how to get rid of unwanted browser extensions. Visitors also learn how to do a deep scan for malware using Microsoft Defender Offline and how to reset their devices to factory settings using Windows 10.
This week of October 5, “Keys to the kingdom: Securing your devices and accounts,” explains how multifactor authentication (MFA) works, as well as the advantages of using the free Microsoft Authenticator app to secure your smartphone. Look for more articles on secure networking, scams and attacks, and backup and recovery to follow throughout the month. Year ‘round, the Microsoft security help & learning page is updated with educational content for students, parents, remote workers and anyone who wants to arm themselves with up-to-date information on protecting against cyber threats.Cybersecurity workshops
Microsoft Store will also be running virtual workshops throughout the month of October in support of Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Attendees for “Work safer and smarter with Microsoft 365” will learn how Microsoft 365 Business helps safeguard their data and lowers security risks with Windows Defender and Windows 10 device management, as well as providing app protection for Office mobile apps on iOS and Android—including a single login for all apps and services.
“Work better together with Microsoft Teams” enables users to experience the flexibility and highly secure access Teams delivers for organizations of any size. Both workshops feature a security component designed to help users stay safe and secure online. Microsoft will also feature cybersecurity resources and content on our new Small and Medium Business (SMB) Resource Center, launching today, October 5. Delivered the same week, our first SMB newsletter will also include cybersecurity information and resources.Diverse hiring for smarter AI
Building diverse cyber teams is a major source of passion and advocacy for me. It isn’t just the right thing to do; it gives us a strategic advantage as a company and as a defender against threat actors worldwide who would seem to sew confusion and harm. How? AI remains one of the best tools to confront cyber threats. But effective, responsible AI requires the input and ideas of a diverse group. This diversity of thought is not just about gender or ethnic diversity. It’s both of those, certainly, but so much more. Effective AI requires diversity of experiences, cultures, opinions, education, perspectives, and many other factors. On a team where everyone has similar skills and backgrounds, members risk sinking into groupthink and losing creativity. Data shows that diverse teams make better decisions than individuals 87 percent of the time. And it makes perfect sense. If we’re building solutions for all, we need to include all in the building of those solutions.
By ensuring diversity in our teams, we help create AI systems that warrant people’s trust—while moving closer to future–proofing against bias in tech. At Microsoft, we’ve forged partnerships, created initiatives, and built in transparency as part of our holistic approach to address systemic issues contributing to the low representation of women in cybersecurity. Listen to the podcast session where Bret Arsenault, Microsoft CISO talks with Ann Johnson, Corporate Vice President of Business Development, Security, Compliance & Identity at Microsoft, about why investing in diverse teams isn’t just the right thing to do—the future of cybersecurity depends on it. And be sure to watch our panel discussion, “Future Proofing Against Bias,” happening October 21 at EWF (Executive Women’s Forum).
Microsoft is working every day to help empower users to achieve more while staying safe and secure. Behind our technical innovations are people hungry to do more. We want to create an inclusive world where every human being can be a cybersecurity hero. For more information on how you can enable your security team and organization to be #cybersmart, visit our cybersecurity website.
To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit the Microsoft Security website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity and please reach out to me on Linkedin or follow me at @vasujakkal.
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Phishing is still one of the most significant risk vectors facing enterprises today. Innovative email security technology like Microsoft Defender for Office 365 stops a majority of phishing attacks before they hit user inboxes, but no technology in the world can prevent 100 percent of phishing attacks from hitting user inboxes. At that point in time, your employees become your defenders. They must be trained to recognize and report phishing attacks. But not all training is equally proficient.
This blog examines the current state of security awareness training, including how you can create an intelligent solution to detect, analyze, and remediate phishing risk. You’ll also learn about an upcoming event to help you get data-driven insights to compare your current phishing risk level against your peers.
A new reality for cybersecurity
The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at a modern enterprise must contend with a myriad of threats. The hybrid mix of legacy on-premises systems and cloud solutions, along with the proliferation of employee devices and shadows, means your security team needs a new and comprehensive view of phishing risk across the organization. Self-reported training completion metrics don’t provide insights into behavior changes or risk reduction, leading CISOs to distrust these metrics. Improvement in employee behavior becomes difficult to measure, leaving them anxious that employee behavior has improved at all.
Many information workers view security awareness training as a tedious interruption that detracts from productivity. Often when an employee is compromised during a simulated attack, they find the ensuing training to be punitive and navigate away from the training like nothing happened. Worse, simulations are often out-of-context and don’t make sense for the employee’s industry or function.
Making secure behaviors a part of people’s daily habits requires a regular program of targeted education combined with realistic simulations. That means regular breach and attack simulations against endpoints, networks, and cloud security controls. Microsoft Defender for Office 365 now features simulations to help you detect and remediate phishing risks across your organization. Attack Simulation Training in Microsoft Defender for Office 365, delivered in partnership with Terranova Security, helps you gain visibility over organizational risk, the baseline against predicted compromise rates, and prioritize remediations. To learn more about this capability, watch the product launch at Microsoft Ignite 2020
Terranova Security employs a pedagogical approach to cybersecurity, including gamification and interactive sessions designed to engage users’ interest. The simulations are localized for employees around the world and follow the highest web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. You will be able to measure employee behavior changes and deploy an integrated, automated security awareness program built on three pillars of protection:
- Simulate real threats: Detect vulnerabilities by using real lures (actual phishing emails) and templates, training employees on the most up-to-date threats. Administrators can automate and customize simulations, including payload attachment, user targeting, scheduling, and cleanup. Azure Active Directory (AAD) groups automate user importing, and the vast library of training content enables personalized training based on a user’s vulnerability score or simulation performance.
- Remediate intelligently: Quantify your social engineering risk across employees and threat vectors to accurately target remedial training. Measure the behavioral impact and track your organization’s progress against a baseline compromise rate. Set up automated repeat offender simulations with the user susceptibility metric and add context by correlating behavior with a susceptibility score.
- Improve your security posture: Reinforce your human security system with hyper-targeted training designed to change employee Attack Simulation Training in Microsoft Defender for Office 365 provides nano learnings and micro learnings” to cater to diverse learning styles to reinforce awareness.
Check your threat level
Coinciding with National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), Terranova will release the results at the end of October from their the Terranova Security Gone Phishing Tournament. This popular event helps security leaders get an up-to-the-minute picture of their organization’s phishing click rate. Terranova launched this campaign back in August and supplied a free phishing simulation for its applicants and enabled them to benchmark themselves against their peers, giving them accurate click-rate data for comparison.
Co-sponsored by Microsoft, the Terranova Security Gone Phishing Tournament uses an email template from Attack simulation training—a new capability of Office 365 ATP releasing later this year—that acts as an intelligent social engineering risk management tool using context-aware simulations and targeted training.
To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions, visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
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Zero Trust revolves around three key principles: verify explicitly, use least privileged access, and assume breach. Microsoft’s Advanced Compliance Solutions are an important part of Zero Trust.
This post applies a Zero Trust lens to protecting an organization’s sensitive data and maintaining compliance with relevant standards. Ultimately, Zero Trust architecture is a modern approach to security that focuses on security and compliance for assets regardless of their physical or network location, which contrasts with classic approaches that attempt to force all assets on a ‘secure’ and compliant network.
A Zero Trust strategy should start with Identity and Access Management. Microsoft built Azure Active Directory (AAD) to enable rapid Zero Trust adoption:
Architects focus on applying the Zero Trust principles to protect and monitor six technical pillars of the enterprise including:
- Applications and APIs
In an integrated Microsoft Zero Trust solution, AAD and Microsoft Defender for Identity provide protection, monitoring, and trust insights in the User/Identity Pillar. Microsoft Defender for Endpoints and Intune protect and manage the Device. Azure Security Center and Azure Sentinel monitor, report and provide automated playbooks to deal with events.
Microsoft’s Advanced Compliance solutions are foundational to Zero Trust as well, particularly when implemented to support Microsoft 365.
Microsoft Information Protection, Insider Risk Management and Microsoft Cloud App Security are all part of a complete Zero Trust architecture.
Advanced Auditing can increase the visibility around insider or bad actor’s activities with sensitive data like documents and emails as well as increasing the period over which audit data is available for review.
Let’s look closer at these solutions:
- Microsoft Information Protection: Allows policy enforcement at the document level based on AAD identity. This protection is resident with the document throughout its lifecycle. It controls the identities, groups or organizations that can access the document, expires access to the document and controls what authorized users can do with the document e.g. view, print, cut and paste as well as other controls like enforced watermarking. These controls can be mandatory or can support users with suggested protection. The policy can be informed by machine learning, standard sensitivity data types (like social security numbers), regular expressions, keywords or exact data match. When users elect to apply different protection than recommended, their actions are tracked for later review. Documents can thus be protected throughout their lifecycle, wherever they may travel and to whomever they may be transmitted.
Microsoft Information Protection sensitivity labels are fully integrated with our data loss prevention solution, preventing movement of sensitive information at the boundary of the cloud, between Microsoft and third-party clouds, and at the device endpoint (e.g. laptop).
- Insider Risk Management: Applies machine learning to the signals available from Microsoft O365 tenant logs, integration with Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection and an increasing number of Microsoft and third party relevant signals to alert on insiders such as employees or contractors who are misusing their access. Default policies are provided, and enterprises can customize policies to meet their needs including for specific projects or scoped to users deemed to be at high risk. These policies allow you to identify risky activities and mitigate these risks. Current areas of focus for the solution are:
- Leaks of sensitive data and data spillage
- Confidentiality violations
- Intellectual property (IP) theft
- Insider trading
- Regulatory compliance violations
These signals are visualized and actioned by other Microsoft solutions. Insider Risk Management uses its specialized algorithms and machine learning to correlate signal and expose Insider Risks in context. It also provides workflows and visualizations to manage cases.
Insider Risk Management is integrated with AAD and acts on signals from Microsoft Information Protection as well as others in the tenant, providing additional security value from the systems already in place. The alerts generated by the system can be managed with the native case management features or surfaced to Azure Sentinel or third-party systems through the API.
- Microsoft Cloud App Security: Is a Cloud Access Security Broker that supports various deployment modes including log collection, API connectors, and reverse proxy. It provides rich visibility, granular control over data travel, and sophisticated analytics to identify and combat cyber threats across all Microsoft and third-party cloud services. It controls shadow IT. It can be used to govern the use of Microsoft and third-party clouds and the sensitive information placed there.
- Advanced Auditing for M365: Advanced Audit retains all Exchange, SharePoint, and Azure Active Directory audit records for a default of one year. You can retain audit logs for up to ten years. Crucial events for investigations, such as whether an attacker has accessed a mail message, whether a sensitive document is re-labelled and many other new log data types are part of this solution. Investigation playbooks will also shortly be part of this solution.
These Advanced Compliance solutions have native visibility into AAD, the Microsoft Tenant, and into each other. For example, Insider Risk Management has visibility into Microsoft Information Protection sensitivity labels. Microsoft Cloud App Security has visibility into and can act on sensitivity labels.
This visibility and machine learning run through the Microsoft Security and Advanced Compliance solutions, making them particularly well suited to a holistic Zero Trust architecture.
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Today, Microsoft is releasing a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware.
In addition to attacks becoming more sophisticated, threat actors are showing clear preferences for certain techniques, with notable shifts towards credential harvesting and ransomware, as well as an increasing focus on Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Among the most significant statistics on these trends:
- In 2019 we blocked over 13 billion malicious and suspicious mails, out of which more than 1 billion were URLs set up for the explicit purpose of launching a phishing credential attack.
- Ransomware is the most common reason behind our incident response engagements from October 2019 through July 2020.
- The most common attack techniques used by nation-state actors in the past year are reconnaissance, credential harvesting, malware, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) exploits.
- IoT threats are constantly expanding and evolving. The first half of 2020 saw an approximate 35% increase in total attack volume compared to the second half of 2019.
Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that we take steps to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace; that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA). Our data shows that enabling MFA would alone have prevented the vast majority of successful attacks.
To read the full blog and download the Digital Defense Report visit the Microsoft On-the-issues Blog.
CTA: To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
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Microsoft consistently tracks the most advanced threat actors and evolving attack techniques. We use these findings to harden our products and platform and share them with the security community to help defenders everywhere better protect the planet.
Recently, the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) observed the evolution of attacker techniques by an actor we call GADOLINIUM using cloud services and open source tools to enhance weaponization of their malware payload, attempt to gain command and control all the way to the server, and to obfuscate detection. These attacks were delivered via spear-phishing emails with malicious attachments and detected and blocked by Microsoft 365 Defender, formerly Microsoft Threat Protection (MTP), and able to be detected using Azure Sentinel.
As these attacks were detected, Microsoft took proactive steps to prevent attackers from using our cloud infrastructure to execute their attacks and suspended 18 Azure Active Directory applications that we determined to be part of their malicious command & control infrastructure. This action helped transparently protect our customers without requiring additional work on their end.
GADOLINIUM is a nation-state activity group that has been compromising targets for nearly a decade with a worldwide focus on the maritime and health industries. As with most threat groups, GADOLINIUM tracks the tools and techniques of security practitioners looking for new techniques they can use or modify to create new exploit methods.
Recently, MSTIC has observed newly expanded targeting outside of those sectors to include the Asia Pacific region and other targets in higher education and regional government organizations. As GADOLINIUM has evolved, MSTIC has continued to monitor its activity and work alongside our product security teams to implement customer protections against these attacks.
Historically, GADOLINIUM used custom-crafted malware families that analysts can identify and defend against. In response, over the last year GADOLINIUM has begun to modify portions of its toolchain to use open-source toolkits to obfuscate their activity and make it more difficult for analysts to track. Because cloud services frequently offer a free trial or one-time payment (PayGo) account offerings, malicious actors have found ways to take advantage of these legitimate business offerings. By establishing free or PayGo accounts, they can use cloud-based technology to create a malicious infrastructure that can be established quickly then taken down before detection or given up at little cost.
The following GADOLINIUM technique profile is designed to give security practitioners who may be targeted by this specific actor’s activity insight and information that will help them better protect from these attacks.2016: Experimenting in the cloud
GADOLINIUM has been experimenting with using cloud services to deliver their attacks to increase both operation speed and scale for years. The image in Figure 1 is from a GADOLINIUM controlled Microsoft TechNet profile established in 2016. This early use of a TechNet profiles’ contact widget involved embedding a very small text link that contained an encoded command for malware to read.
Figure 1: GADOLINIUM controlled TechNet profile with embedded malware link.2018: Developing attacks in the cloud
In 2018 GADOLINIUM returned to using Cloud services, but this time it chose to use GitHub to host commands. The image in Figure 2 shows GitHub Commit history on a forked repository GADOLINIUM controlled. In this repository, the actors updated markdown text to issue new commands to victim computers. MSTIC has worked with our colleagues at GitHub to take down the actor accounts and disrupt GADOLINIUM operations on the GitHub platform.
Figure 2: GitHub repository controlled by GADOLINIUM.2019-2020: Hiding in plain sight using open source
GADOLINIUM’s evolving techniques
Two of the most recent attack chains in 2019 and 2020 were delivered from GADOLINIUM using similar tactics and techniques. Below is a summary view of how these attacks techniques have evolved followed by a detailed analysis of each step that security practitioners can use to better understand the threat and what defenses to implement to counter the attacks.
In the last year, Microsoft has observed GADOLINIUM migrate portions of its toolchain techniques based on open source kits. GADOLINIUM is not alone in this move. MSTIC has noticed a slow trend of several nation-state activity groups migrating to open source tools in recent years. MSTIC assesses this move is an attempt to make discovery and attribution more difficult. The other added benefit to using open-source types of kits is that the development and new feature creation is done and created by someone else at no cost. However, using open source tools isn’t always a silver bullet for obfuscation and blending into the noise.
Delivery & Exploitation (2019)
In 2019, we discovered GADOLINIUM delivering malicious Access database files to targets. The initial malicious file was an Access 2013 database (.accde format). This dropped a fake Word document that was opened along with an Excel spreadsheet and a file called mm.accdb.core which was subsequently executed. The file mm.accdb.core is a VBA dropper, based on the CactusTorch VBA module, which loads a .NET DLL payload, sets configuration information, and then runs the payload. Office 365 ATP detects and blocks malicious Microsoft Access database attachments in email. A redacted example of the configuration is displayed below.
Figure 3: VBA setting config and calling the “Run” function of the payload
Command and Control (2019)
Having gained access to a victim machine the payload then uses attachments to Outlook Tasks as a mechanism for command and control (C2). It uses a GADOLINIUM-controlled OAuth access token with login.microsoftonline.com and uses it to call the Outlook Task API to check for tasks. The attacker uses attachments to Outlook tasks as a means of sending commands or .NET payloads to execute; at the victim end, the malware adds the output from executing these commands as a further attachment to the Outlook task.
Interestingly, the malware had code compiled in a manner that doesn’t seem to be used in the attacks we saw. In addition to the Outlook Tasks API method described above, the extra code contains two other ways of using Office365 as C2, via either the Outlook Contacts API (get and add contacts) or the OneDrive API (list directory, get and add a file).
Actions on Objective (2019)
GADOLINIUM used several different payloads to achieve its exploitation or intrusion objectives including a range of PowerShell scripts to execute file commands (read/write/list etc.) to enable C2 or perform SMB commands (upload/download/delete etc.) to potentially exfiltrate data.
LazyCat, one of the tools used by GADOLINIUM, includes privilege escalation and credential dumping capability to enable lateral movement across a victim network. Microsoft 365 Defender for Endpoint detects the privilege escalation technique used:
LazyCat performs credential dumping through usage of the MiniDumpWriteDump Windows API call, also detected by Microsoft 365 Defender for Endpoint:
In mid-April 2020 GADOLINIUM actors were detected sending spear-phishing emails with malicious attachments. The filenames of these attachments were named to appeal to the target’s interest in the COVID-19 pandemic. The PowerPoint file (20200423-sitrep-92-covid-19.ppt), when run, would drop a file, doc1.dotm. Similarly, to the 2019 example, Microsoft 365 Defender for Office detects and blocks emails with these malicious PowerPoint and Word attachments.
Command and Control (2020)
The malicious doc1.dotm had two payloads which run in succession.
- The first payload turns off a type check DisableActivitySurrogateSelectorTypeCheck which the second stage needs as discussed in this blog.
- The second payload loads an embedded .Net binary which downloads, decrypts + runs a .png file.
The .png is actually PowerShell which downloads and uploads fake png files using the Microsoft Graph API to https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/drive/root:/onlinework/contact/$($ID)_1.png:/content where $ID is the ID of the malware. The GADOLINIUM PowerShell is a modified version of the opensource PowershellEmpire toolkit.
Actions on Objectives (2020)
The GADOLINIUM PowerShell Empire toolkit allows the attacker to load additional modules to victim computers seamlessly via Microsoft Graph API calls. It provides a command and control module that uses the attacker’s Microsoft OneDrive account to execute commands and retrieve results between attacker and victim systems. The use of this PowerShell Empire module is particularly challenging for traditional SOC monitoring to identify. The attacker uses an Azure Active Directory application to configure a victim endpoint with the permissions needed to exfiltrate data to the attacker’s own Microsoft OneDrive storage. From an endpoint or network monitoring perspective the activity initially appears to be related to trusted applications using trusted cloud service APIs and, in this scenario,, no OAuth permissions consent prompts occur. Later in this blog post, we will provide additional information about how Microsoft proactively prevents attackers from using our cloud infrastructure in these ways.
Command and Control—Server compromise
GADOLINIUM campaigns often involve installing web shells on legitimate web sites for command and control or traffic redirection. Microsoft 365 Defender for Endpoint detects web shells by analyzing web server telemetry such as process creation and file modifications. Microsoft blogged earlier in the year on the use of web shells by multiple groups and how we detect such activities.
Figure 6: Microsoft Defender ATP alerts of suspicious web shell attacks.
Web shell alerts from Microsoft 365 Defender for Endpoint can be explored in Azure Sentinel and enriched with additional information that can give key insights into the attack. MSTIC’s Azure Sentinel team recently published a blog outlining how such insights can be derived by analyzing events from the W3CIISLog.
Microsoft’s proactive steps to defend customers
In addition to detecting many of the individual components of the attacks through Microsoft’s security products and services such as Microsoft 365 Defender for Endpoint and for Microsoft 365 Defender for Office as described above, we also take proactive steps to prevent attackers from using our cloud infrastructure to perpetrate attacks. As a cloud provider, Microsoft is uniquely positioned to disrupt this attacker technique. The PowerShell Empire scenario is a good example of this. During April 2020, the Microsoft Identity Security team suspended 18 Azure Active Directory applications that we determined to be part of GADOLINIUM’s PowerShell Empire infrastructure (Application IDs listed in IOC section below). Such action is particularly beneficial to customers as suspending these applications protects all customers transparently without any action being required at their end.)
As part of Microsoft’s broader work to foster a secure and trustworthy app ecosystem, we research and develop detection techniques for both known and novel malicious applications. Applications exhibiting malicious behavior are quickly suspended to ensure our customers are protected.
GADOLINIUM will no doubt evolve their tactics in pursuit of its objectives. As those threats target Microsoft customers, we will continue to build detections and implement protections to defend against them. For security practitioners looking to expand your own hunting on GADOLINIUM, we are sharing the below indicators of compromise (IOCs) associated with their activity.List of related GADOLINIUM indicators
Hashes from malicious document attachments
Actor-owned email addresses
Azure Active Directory App IDs associated with malicious apps
Everyone knows about phishing scams, and most of us think we’re too smart to take the bait. Our confidence often reaches superhero levels when we’re logged onto a company network. As Chief Security Advisor for Microsoft, and previously at telco Swisscom, it’s my business to understand how well employees adapt security training into their daily routines. Years of experience have taught me there are commonalities in human behavior that cut across all levels of an organization. Above all, people want to trust the company they work for and the communications they receive. It’s our task to help them understand that yes, their employer is looking out for them, but they also need to be vigilant to protect themselves and their company’s private data.
Tip #1: Make it fun. That means creating training modules that people will actually want to watch. Think of your favorite TV shows. There’s a reason you want to binge every episode. You care about the characters, or you’re at least interested in how their dilemmas work out. A good example is the Fox TV show 24; every episode was one hour in an unfolding storyline with high stakes. Your training program doesn’t need life-or-death consequences, but it should give people a reason to watch beyond just checking a box for compliance.
Tip #2: Make it easy. Your end-user is your customer; so, you need them to buy-in. When investigating new security solutions, I ask: “Could you explain how this works to my mother in thirty minutes or less?” If not, it’s probably not a user-friendly solution. Asking people to create a password with 20 characters consisting of random symbols, cases, and numbers (that they shouldn’t write down) is not easy. For a better option, try passwordless authentication options for Azure Active Directory. If your organization has Microsoft Defender for Office 365 Plan 2, which includes Threat Investigation and Response capabilities, you can employ Attack Simulator in the Security & Compliance Center to run realistic scenarios. These simulated attacks can help you easily identify vulnerable users before a real attacker comes knocking.
Tip #3: Focus on your highest risk. Nearly one in three security breaches starts with a phishing attack costing the affected organization an average of USD1.4 million. Even after security training, employees still click on phishing links at an average rate of 20 – 30 percent. With the rise in people working from home, new forms, such as consent phishing, have cropped up to take advantage of new vulnerabilities. Direct your resources to where the people in your organization can see the risk is real, and you’ll generate positive engagement.
Tip #4: Be transparent about breaches. No organization can claim 100 percent invulnerability. Let people know they are the first line of defense. Communicating with staff when a successful attack occurs will help them remain alert. It’s okay to provide examples as long as you don’t reveal so much information that it’s obvious who clicked on that fake Zoom invitation. Be careful not to treat employees like children. They need to own their own actions, but shaming won’t make your organization safer.
Tip #5: Avoid a compliance only mindset. Yes, that once-a-year cybersecurity training your people dutifully click through meets the organizational requirement. But gaining employee buy-in means doing more than just checking the box. Schedule a refresher course after a breach, even if the victim happens to be another company. Creating a security program that’s fun and engaging will probably cost more, but ask yourself how high the costs from downtime and lost productivity from a major breach would run. Better to invest those funds in protection upfront.
Tip #6: Communicate and educate continuously. Make security news part of your normal staff communications. Talk to your people about the headline-making hacks that target large corporations and government agencies, as well as the smaller identity theft and payment-app scams we all contend with. Talk about supply chain security and the dangers of using unauthorized devices and shadow IT. Cybersecurity threats can feel overwhelming and scary. Communication helps demystify those threats and makes employees feel empowered to protect themselves and their organizations.
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