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1/25/2013
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'Red October' Response Shows Importance Of Threat Indicators

Researchers provide indicators of compromise for Red October that helps companies check for infections

When Kaspersky Lab published the initial report identifying the Red October cyberespionage campaign early last week, many companies likely searched the publication for ways to detect the malware in their own systems.

While firms could attempt to tease out attributes that would help them identify signs of the attack, the report was not meant to offer actionable intelligence. To fill that need, Kaspersky Lab and security-management firm AlienVault followed up this week, releasing a compilation of the indicators of compromise (IOCs) (PDF) to help companies hunt down any potential infections.

IOCs -- the telltale signs that can be used by correlation programs and monitoring software to detect malicious software -- aid companies in responding to potential threats. Sharing such threat information is important, says Jaime Blasco, director of AlienVault research labs.

"The ideal scenario is that everyone and every vendor uses the same format for indicators of compromise," he says. "You can use it to share threat data, so all of us can benefit."

In creating the report, AlienVault used an open format designed to help companies exchange threat information known as OpenIOC. Created and used internally by Mandiant since 2007, the format for describing indicators of compromise was released in 2011 as OpenIOC. While reports can relay the narrative details of an attack, OpenIOC describes detailed information in a machine-readable format, says Douglas Wilson, principal consultant and threat indicators team lead for Mandiant.

"We are specifically describing artifacts, something where you could do a logical test to find out if there is an intruder on your system," Wilson says. "We are not describing threat actor groups; we are not describing campaigns. We are specifically using it to find evil on the systems that have intruders on them or previously had intruders on them."

[Mining access logs and identity stores can provide a good picture of what's going on inside the firewall, including suspicious insider activity. See Catching Attacks From The Inside Means Crunching More Data.]

The Red October cyberespionage network stealthily invaded the computers of governments and industry in a number of countries, mainly Eastern Europe, former states of the Soviet Union, and Asian countries. Discovered by Kaspersky Lab in October, Red October had been operating for about five years. While the espionage software appeared to be programmed by Russian developers, it used exploits common to Chinese targeted attacks to compromise systems, the firm said.

The report released by Kaspersky Lab and AlienVault includes file names and paths commonly used by Red October, as well as the domain names and IP addresses of the command-and-control and proxy servers used to manage the espionage network. The main backdoor was stored on infected systems using a wide variety of names and extensions, and in an encrypted format.

While antivirus and intrusion detection products will include ways of recognizing threats based on similar data, an open format for indicators of compromise allow companies to tailor the information to their own environment and systems, Wilson says.

"You can't open up an antivirus product to customize the signature," he says. "You can do that with an OpenIOC."

Giving companies a better way to share threat data is a laudable goal, says Gary Sockrider, solutions architect for the Americas for Arbor Networks. Information-sharing among companies in the same industry and between government agencies and the private sector has been difficult.

"Different entities and organizations -- they have different visibility into what is out there," he says. "The more that we can share this information, the more useful it can be for everyone."

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