Attacks/Breaches

11/7/2018
04:00 PM
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Crytpocurrency Exchange Targeted Via Attack on Web Traffic Analysis Firm

"Island-hopping" attackers breached StatCounter so they could get to users of gate.io.

Island-hopping attacks, where adversaries target an organization so they can access networks belonging to its customers, partners, and other affiliates, are on the rise. The latest victim is StatCounter, a Web analytics platform that more than 2 million websites worldwide use to track and analyze user visits.

Security vendor ESET says attackers successfully breached StatCounter on Nov. 3 and injected code into a JavaScript tag that webmasters add to their site pages to track visitors.

The attackers added the malicious code to the middle of StatCounter's script, making it harder to detect than when malicious code is injected into the beginning or at the end of a legitimate file. In this case, the malicious code was designed to steal bitcoins from users of crytpocurrency exchange gate.io, a site that uses StatCounter.

According to researchers from ESET, the malicious code — which StatCounter has since removed — would check to see whether a user's URL contained "myaccount/withdraw/BTC." If it did, the script would then add new code to the Web page for essentially intercepting and tampering with a user's request to withdraw bitcoins from his or her account at gate.io.

When a gate.io user would submit a withdrawal request, the code would basically replace the destination address for the bitcoin transfer with one for the attacker's own cryptocurrency wallet, says Matthieu Faou, malware researcher at ESET.

Users wouldn't see anything suspicious when submitting the order because the destination address was replaced only when the user submitted the request. The order would then be processed and users would likely see at that point that the destination address for the transfer had been replaced. However, by then it would be too late because the order was executed, Faou explains.

ESET says it has been unable to determine how many gate.io customers may have been victimized in this manner or how many bitcoins the attackers may have been able to steal. There is no evidence to suggest that the attackers targeted other websites via StatCounter in a similar way.

"The main takeaway is that the security of an organization [or] a website also depends on the security of third-party organizations," Faou says. In recent years, attackers have gone after target organizations by breaking into the usually less protected networks of their partners and suppliers and using that as a jumping off point.

Such attacks have highlighted the need for closer scrutiny of supply chain partners in recent years. "Webmasters should choose carefully the external scripts they decide to use. If such scripts [are] not strictly necessary, they should avoid using it," Faou says.

On the flip side, the trend also shows why organizations should not underestimate the potential of their own networks being used to launch attacks on their customers, partners, and other third parties. Site owners should be on guard against attacks, even if they might perceive themselves as being of little interest to cyber adversaries, security experts have cautioned.

In StatCounter's case, the site appears to have been targeted purely because it provided the attackers with an entryway to gate.io. Meanwhile, earlier this year, security vendor RiskIQ released a report describing how numerous suppliers of third-party scripts and components to major e-commerce sites were targeted in a massive payment card theft campaign involving a threat actor named Magecart.

RiskIQ discovered that Magecart had installed card-skimming software on some 800 e-commerce sites by inserting malicious code into third-party scripts these sites were using for various functions, including customer support. The third-party script and component providers targeted in the campaign included Inbenta, SocialPlus, PushAssist, and AnnexCloud. In each case, these companies were breached not because they were the primary targets, but for the access they provided to the e-commerce sites.

Nearly one in two cyberattacks currently involve such island hopping, Carbon Black noted recently in its quarterly incident response threat report. With large organizations getting increasingly better at securing their networks, expect the trend to continue, the security vendor noted.

"Fifty percent of all attacks now leverage island hopping — which means a vulnerability puts not only your organization at risk, but those 
of your customers and partners as well," Carbon Black stated in its report.

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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