Attacks/Breaches

10/9/2018
05:45 PM
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Lesser Skilled Cybercriminals Adopt Nation-State Hacking Methods

The trend underscores the need for organizations of all sizes to be prepared to detect and respond to threats faster, CrowdStrike says.

Relatively unskilled, criminally motivated hackers are increasingly adopting the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) typically used by more sophisticated nation-stated backed adversaries.

New analysis by security vendor CrowdStrike's Falcon OverWatch threat-hunting team of intrusion detection engagements at customer locations between January and June this year shows a continued blurring of lines between methods employed by criminals and known nation-state actors.

This trend spells trouble for enterprises because it means that no one is really safe from sophisticated attacks, says Jennifer Ayers, vice president of CrowdStrike's OverWatch and security response team. "Sophisticated techniques are becoming a little more commoditized," she says. "Anything goes. Anyone can be a target."

One example is cybercriminals increasingly using TeamViewer software to gain remote access to targets. TeamViewer is a legitimate tool for connecting to remote computers for desktop sharing and collaboration and enabling remote support, among other uses. 

CrowdStrike first observed TeamViewer being used for malicious purposes back in 2013 by Team Bear, a Russian advanced persistent threat actor. Team Bear used malicious versions of TeamViewer to remain hidden and persistent on victim machines and to enable communications with command-and-control servers. Since then, numerous other adversaries have begun employing the same tactics, including criminally motivated actors.

In the first quarter of this year, threat actors leveraging TeamViewer targeted the hospitality sector in particular. According to CrowdStrike, at least four major hospitality organizations experienced TeamViewer-related intrusions during the quarter. In each case, the attackers spoofed the TeamViewer binaries to make them appear like expected file names. The command and control infrastructure used in all four attacks were similar, suggesting the same attack group was behind them.  

In a separate incident, an unknown attacker used valid credentials to log into TeamViewer remotely and install various malware tools on systems belonging to a major organization in the entertainment industry.

The use of TeamViewer to gain remote access to target systems is not the only technique that less sophisticated, criminally motivated threat actors have begun borrowing from state-sponsored groups. In April of this year, CrowdStrike observed a criminal actor using a Trojanized version of Arkadin's Vision Desktop App software to drop malware on a system, allowing additional second stage tools to be installed on the compromised host.

China Rising

Such intrusions show that criminal actors—like their more sophisticated state-sponsored counterparts—are increasingly employing hands-on-the-keyboard tactics to break into systems, conduct reconnaissance, steal credentials, and move laterally, Ayers says.

"You want to be able to detect a threat in as close to real-time as possible," she says. CrowdStrike OverWatch's data shows that adversaries on average take just one hour and 58 minutes to begin moving laterally in a compromised network after gaining initial access to it. The vendor recommends that organizations ideally be able to detect an intrusion in less than one minute, investigate it in less than 10 minutes, and mitigate the threat in under one hour.

CrowdStrike's review of threat hunting data from the first half of this year also revealed an uptick in targeted intrusion attempts by China-based threat actors against organizations in multiple industries including biotech, pharmaceutical, defense, mining and professional services.

Of the 70 or so intrusions that CrowdStrike OverWatch was able to attribute to a specific actor or region, China-based actors were likely behind 40 of them. It's hard to say what specifically might be driving the uptick, though there has been an overall increase in cyber espionage activities, Ayers notes.

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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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