3/24/2020
10:55 AM
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Automated Tools Make Cyberattacks Easier to Pull Off

Gone are the days when threat actors had to actually spend time and effort planning and developing an attack on their own, Recorded Future says.



Just as security automation is helping organizations more effectively detect, respond to, and remediate cyberthreats, it is making life easier for cybercriminals as well.

Recorded Future recently analyzed data from its threat intelligence platform, open source intelligence sources, and public reporting to see whether it could identify the automated tools and services that threat actors are most commonly using to facilitate attacks.

The threat intelligence vendor discovered a thriving ecosystem of merchants selling a variety of products for automating almost every aspect of the attack chain — from initial reconnaissance and network break-in to payload delivery, defense evasion, data exfiltration, and monetization of stolen data.

Recorded Future found malware that once might have taken attackers months to develop, test, and deploy now readily available off-the shelf, giving both sophisticated and unsophisticated actors the ability to execute malicious campaigns with little effort.

In a report this week, the vendor released a list of 10 automated tools and services it found threat actors are most commonly using to automate attacks currently. Among them are products that allow attackers to quickly validate or access passwords for thousands of accounts, and products that allow attackers to bypass antimalware products to deliver payloads and tools for stealing credentials and other sensitive data from compromised systems. The list also includes sniffers for stealing payment card data from e-commerce sites and underground marketplaces, where threat actors can sell stolen credentials and other data in a fully automated fashion.

Many of the tools and services that attackers are using these days are automated and commoditized and therefore easier to use by threat actors, says Roman Sannikov, director of analyst services at Recorded Future. "We found tools that allow cybercriminals to brute-force access without even opening a command line, with bots at their disposal," he says.

The trend highlights the need for organizations to keep up to date on the tactics, techniques, and procedures of threat actors and the tools and service they use, he says.

"Really, the biggest difference is the speed and ease with which a threat actor can stand up a campaign," Sannikov says."When so many things that in the past had to be done manually now come off the shelf, so to speak, a threat actor can just grab a tool that suits their needs."

One example of how simple it has become for threat actors to launch a malicious campaign is the easy availability of access to breached entities, he says. No longer do attackers have to spend time and effort trying to hack into a target network on their own. Numerous sources are available underground where a would-be attacker can purchase — or even get for free — entire databases of credentials that other attackers might have previously extracted from compromised websites. Often the contents of these databases are not sold entirely but in chunks, such as email accounts and passwords or other personally identifiable information.

Access to Compromised Networks
Other sources are available where cybercriminals can buy access to compromised networks belonging to business, government, and educational entities for prices ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, Recorded Future said.

"In these instances, cybercriminals have obtained access to an organization's network using different methods such as compromised third-party software (such as Citrix, TaxSlayer, or LexisNexis), RDP access, compromised Internet routers, or phishing," the vendor noted.

Similarly, so-called "checkers" and "brute-forcers" are readily available that allow attackers to direct large-scale, automated login requests against target websites to identify and break into valid accounts. Popular tools in this category, such as STORM, Black Bullet Account Cracker, and Sentry MBA, allow attackers to target and attempt account takeovers at almost any company with an online presence.

"Checkers and brute-forcers have become significantly more sophisticated and one step [better] than they were in the past," Sannikov says. "Threat actors can run exposed user name and password combinations against multiple potential entities" at the same time.

Recorded Future researchers also found multiple "loaders," with names such as "Amadey," "Diamond Fox," and "Smoke Bot," that allow attackers to drop malicious payloads on victim systems, as well as "crypters" for obfuscating and encrypting malware to evade detection. "Stealers," for extracting credentials and other sensitive data from systems, and banking injects, which are often used in conjunction with banking Trojans to steal a user's bank account login credentials, are other commonly available tools.

Recorded Future discovered that cybercriminals these days do not even have to worry about finding a buyer for their stolen data. Several markets are available underground where they can sell their content for a fixed amount or for a share of the profit from sales of the data.

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "Three Ways Your BEC Defense Is Failing & How to Do Better."

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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