Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint //

Privacy

3/19/2018
05:10 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Russian APT Compromised Cisco Router in Energy Sector Attacks

DragonFly hacking team that targeted US critical infrastructure compromised a network router as part of its attack campaign against UK energy firms last year.

Yet another nation-state hacking team has been spotted compromising a network router to get to its ultimate targets: this time, it's the infamous Russian APT known as DragonFly 2.0 that was called out by the US federal government last week for hacking into US energy networks.

Researchers from Cylance this month revealed that they recently discovered that the group had hacked a core Cisco router on the network of Vietnam's largest oil-rig manufacturer, a state-owned entity, in order to steal user credentials and ultimately infiltrate energy firms in the UK in March of 2017. The Cisco router that was abused was an "end of life" network device that ultimately gave the attackers an attack vector to target energy firms, according to Cylance. DragonFly used the stolen credentials as phishing lures to attack energy sector entity targets in the UK.

But there are several missing pieces of the attack puzzle, according to Cylance: including just how the router was hacked and how exactly that got the attackers to their targets in the UK.

Kevin Livelli, director of threat intelligence at Cylance, says it's also unclear whether the oil rig manufacturer was a supplier to the UK targets or not. Such a connection might explain how it chose those targets, but Cylance found no such direct connection in its research.

"This is a piece of a larger campaign that we're reporting on here," Livelli says. "We found a decoy document embedded in one of the hashes in malware samples in our continued research into this group. We could tell those decoy documents were being targeted at folks in the energy sector in UK."

If a victim opened the rigged document - a curriculum vitae - he or she was then unknowingly connected to the compromised router, which automatically authenticated them to a malicious SMB server via the user's encrypted credentials. "When the user supplied their credentials, [that] was harvested by the router," he says.

"The router was compromised separately, and then incorporated into the attack," Livelli explains.

The US-CERT and FBI last week made a rare attribution announcement stating that Russia is behind the well-documented DragonFly attack campaigns, and targeted the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.

Router hacks are rare, but this is the second consecutive revelation this month of a nation-state targeting a router as an attack vector. Researchers at Kaspersky Lab earlier this month reported a nation-state cyber espionage campaign targeting Africa and the Middle East that infects network MikroTik routers in order to snare administrative credentials from its targets and then move laterally within the victim network.

Slingshot, believed to be an English-speaking and sophisticated hacking team, drops a malicious dynamic link library (DLL) on the routers that serves as a downloader for other malware. When a router admin logs into the device, his or her endpoint machine gets infected by the router. Alexey Shulmin, lead malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab, told Dark Reading that router compromises often go unnoticed because router security is a blind spot for most enterprises.

Cylance's Livelli says router hacking typically indicates a sophisticated threat group is behind it, because it allows them to remain under the radar. "The compromise of a core router is deeply concerning because [it] is difficult to detect, to forensically investigate, and difficult to patch and remediate," he says. "We don't have the same suite of tools available to us to analyze and deal with router firmware" as we have with other systems, he says.

CrowdStrike also has seen signs of DragonFly 2.0 – which it calls Berserk Bear – going after routers. "In summer 2017, CrowdStrike observed Berserk Bear - associated with the energy credential-harvesting occurring during that same time period - attempting to access Internet-facing routers," says Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike. "The SMB-harvesting techniques associated with this activity are by now fairly well known and not a strong attribution anchor."

'Not a Vuln'

A Cisco spokesperson said the incident reported by Cylance was tied to legacy routers and not its latest generation of products; the issue isn't a vulnerability in the router but instead requires an attacker to somehow steal a router admin's credentials or gain physical access to the router. Cisco has previously warned, for example, of threats where an attacker gains admin or physical access to a Cisco IOS Classic router and replaces the operating system with a malicious version. 

"While we cannot speculate about specific details in this scenario, our investigations have found that in many cases, admin credentials are accessed by bad actors through compromised authentication servers or social engineering," said a Cisco spokesperson.

Cylance said DragonFly basically used the Cisco router as a vehicle for its attack, which is tied to the mid-July 2017 attacks warned by Britain's National Cyber Security Centre and reported by Motherboard.

Related Content:

 

Interop ITX 2018

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop ITX. Learn from the industry’s most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the security track here.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Data Leak Week: Billions of Sensitive Files Exposed Online
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/10/2019
Intel Issues Fix for 'Plundervolt' SGX Flaw
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/11/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
The transition from DevOps to SecDevOps is combining with the move toward cloud computing to create new challenges - and new opportunities - for the information security team. Download this report, to learn about the new best practices for secure application development.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-5252
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
There is an improper authentication vulnerability in Huawei smartphones (Y9, Honor 8X, Honor 9 Lite, Honor 9i, Y6 Pro). The applock does not perform a sufficient authentication in a rare condition. Successful exploit could allow the attacker to use the application locked by applock in an instant.
CVE-2019-5235
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
Some Huawei smart phones have a null pointer dereference vulnerability. An attacker crafts specific packets and sends to the affected product to exploit this vulnerability. Successful exploitation may cause the affected phone to be abnormal.
CVE-2019-5264
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
There is an information disclosure vulnerability in certain Huawei smartphones (Mate 10;Mate 10 Pro;Honor V10;Changxiang 7S;P-smart;Changxiang 8 Plus;Y9 2018;Honor 9 Lite;Honor 9i;Mate 9). The software does not properly handle certain information of applications locked by applock in a rare condition...
CVE-2019-5277
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Huawei CloudUSM-EUA V600R006C10;V600R019C00 have an information leak vulnerability. Due to improper configuration, the attacker may cause information leak by successful exploitation.
CVE-2019-5254
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Certain Huawei products (AP2000;IPS Module;NGFW Module;NIP6300;NIP6600;NIP6800;S5700;SVN5600;SVN5800;SVN5800-C;SeMG9811;Secospace AntiDDoS8000;Secospace USG6300;Secospace USG6500;Secospace USG6600;USG6000V;eSpace U1981) have an out-of-bounds read vulnerability. An attacker who logs in to the board m...