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Cyber Security

Understanding and Preventing the Log4j Exploit and Botnets

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Written by Amr Alashaal, Regional Vice President – Middle East at A10 Networks

Of all the security issues that have appeared over the last few years, none has had the impact of the Log4j exploit. Also called the Log4Shell, it was reported to the developers, the Apache Software Foundation, on 24 November, 2021, by the Chinese tech giant Alibaba and it took two weeks to develop and release a fix.

The existence of the Log4j exploit was first publicly published in a tweet by Chen Zhaojun, a cyber security researcher with the Alibaba Cloud Security team on December 9, 2021 and formally announced by the U.S. Institute of Standards (NIST) under identifier CVE-2021-44832 on December 10, 2021 with a follow-up reanalysis, CVE-2021-45046, published on December 14, 2021. The Apache Software Foundation gave the exploit the highest Common Vulnerability Scoring System severity rating of 10.

The exploit allowed cyber threat actors to mount remote code execution (RCE) attacks on the widely used Apache Log4j Java logging library. An RCE exploit allows an attacker to run whatever code they please on a remote device. In the case of the Log4Shell vulnerability, which was particularly easy to exploit, successful execution allows the attacker to obtain full access to the computer.

What is Log4j?
Log4j is a subsystem for recording events such as error and status reports, an important component of modern applications. Developed by the Apache Software Foundation, Log4j is a free, open-source software package (also referred to as “FOSS”) written in Java. First released on January 8, 2001, the package became a foundational component of an extremely large number of projects due to its lightweight and easy to use characteristics.

How Does the Log4j Vulnerability Work?
The Log4j vulnerability is due to the use of the Java Naming and Directory Interface (JNDI), which allows additional Java objects from remote naming services during runtime execution. Apache Log4j2 2.0-beta9 through 2.15.0 (excluding security releases 2.12.2, 2.12.3, and 2.3.1) were all vulnerable to Log4Shell. The first completely fixed Logj4 release was version 2.17.0, published on December 17, 2021.

To mount an attack, cyber threat actors send web servers specially crafted HTTP/HTTPS requests to log an event that includes a JNDI request in the header that might get logged as, for example, a user-agent string:

If the attacker is lucky, the server passes the user-agent string to Log4j to be logged. Log4j interprets the string and, finding a JNDI request, queries the specified LDAP server. This is where the problem lies in vulnerable versions of Log4j because of inadequate verification and “cleaning” of the request. The LDAP server, which is controlled by the attacker, responds with directory data that contains the malicious Java object. The data is received by the server and executed and the system gets compromised.

How Bad is the Log4j Exploit?
Some of the most notable services affected by the vulnerability included Cloudflare, iCloud, Minecraft: Java Edition, Steam, Tencent QQ, and Twitter. Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince, tweeted on December 11, “Earliest evidence we’ve found so far of #Log4J exploit is 2021-12-01 04:36:50 UTC. That suggests it was in the wild at least 9 days before publicly disclosed. However, don’t see evidence of mass exploitation until after public disclosure.”

Of course, after public disclosure, cyber threat actors swung into action. An article posted on the Google Security blog updated nine days after the Log4Shell vulnerability was announced, wrote that “The ecosystem impact numbers for just log4j-core [the Apache Log4j Implementation], as of 19th December are over 17,000 packages affected, which is roughly 4 % of the ecosystem. 25% of affected packages have fixed versions available.” As the Google article pointed out, that was the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” because those packages were used by other packages resulting in over 35,000 Java packages being vulnerable.

The Google blog post also pointed out that “For greater than 80% of the packages, the vulnerability is more than one level deep, with a majority affected five levels down (and some as many as nine levels down). These packages will require fixes throughout all parts of the tree, starting from the deepest dependencies first.”

The reason Log4j became such a big deal was due to the enormous number and popularity of products that used the library; hundreds of millions of devices were, and many still are, affected as a consequence. A contemporaneous article in The Guardian described the vulnerability as “a major threat to organizations around the world” and noted that it “may be the worst computer vulnerability discovered in years.” Those assertions proved to be correct.

In mid-December 2021 Glen Pendley, deputy chief technology officer at Tenable, commented, “[the Log4Shell vulnerability] … is in a league above every other vulnerability we’ve seen in the last few decades. It gives flaws like Heartbleed and Shellshock, a run for their money because of just how pervasive and devastating it is. Everything across heavy industrial equipment, network servers, down to printers, and even your kid’s Raspberry Pi is potentially affected by this flaw. Some affected systems may be on-premises, others may be hosted in the cloud, but no matter where they are, the flaw is likely to have an impact. Cybercriminals are already rubbing their hands with glee as early signs of ransomware activity have started to emerge. The worst part is, we aren’t even in the thick of it yet. Don’t be surprised when some major disruptions occur over the next few weeks and months, pointing at Log4j as the root cause.”

The bottom line is that the Log4Shell vulnerability is a systemic problem due to its appearance in tens of thousands of libraries used by thousands of programs. The resulting complexity makes fixing enterprise-class applications very difficult. A list of applications affected by Log4j can be found on GitHub.

Who’s Using the Log4j Exploit and How?
Once the Log4j vulnerability was publicly announced, multiple cyber threat actors immediately began to use it. For example, starting on December 15, 2021, an Iranian state-sponsored hacking group named Charming Kitten or APT35 launched multiple attacks against Israeli government and business sites trying to exploit the Log4j vulnerability.
While attacks using the Log4Shell vulnerability can be effective for state actors focused on specific politically targeted websites, the really dangerous use of the exploit is when botnets perform large scale scanning for vulnerable sites to create crypto mining and DDoS platforms. Given that there are still millions of unpatched sites using out of date Log4j code, it’s fertile ground for hackers.

As early as December 2021, security researchers identified Mirai botnets adopting the Log4j vulnerability to suborn IoT devices including IP cameras, smart TVs, network switches, and routers. Since then two botnets, Elknot (also known as the BillGates trojan) and the Gafgyt (AKA BASHLITE), have also been detected using the Log4j exploit.

A relatively new malware named B1txor20 by researchers at Qihoo 360’s Network Security Research Lab also exploits the Log4j vulnerability. The malware, which deploys backdoors, SOCKS5 proxy, malware downloading, data theft, arbitrary command execution, and rootkit installing functionality was first identified in March of 2022 and attacks Linux ARM, X64 CPU architecture devices. Using the Log4j exploit, the malware infects new hosts and uses DNS tunneling to receive instructions and exfiltrate data to and from the botnet’s command and control servers. Fortunately, B1txor20 has non-functional features and is buggy but, of course, the cyber threat actors behind the malware are expected to fix and improve the software.

How to Prevent Log4j Exploits
There are four ways that enterprise cyber security teams can prevent Log4j exploits in vulnerable systems:

  1. Upgrade or disable Log4j libraries. As noted earlier, fixing enterprise-scale applications while minimizing service downtime can be an engineering nightmare.
  2. Deploy a web application firewall (WAF) to filter out unauthorized sources and content such as JNDI requests from unknown IP addresses.
  3. Disable JNDI lookups.
  4. Disable the loading of remote Java objects.

Cyber Security

New Hacktivism Model Trends Worldwide

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Check Point Research (CPR) outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. Five characteristics mark today’s form of hacktivism, according to researchers: political ideology, leadership hierarchy, formal recruiting, advanced tools, and public relations. CPR gives the hacktivist group Killnet an example of the latest model, detailing its attacks by country and attack timeline. CPR warns that hacktivism that originates in conflict-related geographies has the potential to scale worldwide.

  • Before, hacktivism was mostly focused on a few individuals carrying small-scale DDoS and defacement attacks
  • Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured, and sophisticated
  • CPR believes the new model of hacktivism began in conflict areas in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and proliferated to other areas during 2022

Check Point Research outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. The hacktivism of the new model is better organized, structured and sophisticated, compared to the past. Hacktivist groups no longer consist of a few random individuals who carry out small DDoS or defacement attacks on low-tier websites. These are coordinated organizations with distinct characteristics previously unseen.

Key Characteristics:

  • Consistent political ideology (manifestos and/or sets of rules)
  • Hierarchy of leadership (Smaller groups relay attack orders to “commanders)
  • Formal recruitment process (Based on minimum requirements)
  • Tools that the groups provide to their members (Advanced tools for notoriety)
  • Robust public relations functions (Presences on major websites)

Why now?
CPR suspects the shift in the hacktivism model began roughly two years ago, with several hacktivist groups like Hackers of Savior, Black Shadow, and Moses Staff that focused exclusively on attacking Israel. CPR believes the Russian-Ukrainian war has proliferated the new model of hacktivism significantly. For example, The IT Army of Ukraine was publicly mobilized by the Ukrainian government to attack Russia. The new hacktivism also saw groups that supported the Russian geopolitical narrative, with groups like Killnet, Xaknet, From Russia with Love (FRwL), NoName057(16), and more.


Case Study: Killnet, from East to West
In April of this year, the group completely shifted its focus to support Russian geopolitical interests all over the world. The group claimed to have executed more than 550 attacks, between late February and September. Only 45 of them were against Ukraine, less than 10% of the total number of attacks.

  1. March: the group executed a DDoS attack on Bradley International Airport in Connecticut (US)
  2. April: websites belonging to the Romanian Government, such as the Ministry of Defense, Border Police, National Railway Transport Company and a commercial bank, were rendered unreachable for several hours.
  3. May: massive DDOS attacks were executed against two major EU countries, Germany and Italy
  4. June: Two very significant waves of attacks were executed against Lithuania and Norway in response to severe geopolitical developments between those countries and Russia
  5. July: Killnet focused their efforts on Poland and caused several government websites to be unavailable.
  6. August: Cyber-attacks were deployed on Latvia, Estonia and USA institutions
  7. September: the group targeted Asia for the first time and focused its efforts on Japan, due to Japan’s support for Ukraine

Sergey Shykevich, Threat Intelligence Group Manager at Check Point Software, said, “Hacktivism now has a whole new meaning. Before, the term meant a few random folks launching small DDoS attacks. Hacktivism is no longer just about social groups with fluid agendas. Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured and more sophisticated. I believe everything changed within the past year, especially with the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.”

“There are some key characteristics that mark the new model of hacktivism, including a consistent political ideology, a clear hierarchy of leadership, formal recruiting processes, sophisticated tool set, and robust PR capabilities. Though the change began in specific conflict-related geographical regions, it has now spread west and even further. Major corporations and governments in Europe and the US are being heavily targeted by this emerging type of hacktivism. All this allows the new hacktivism groups to be mobilized to governmental narratives and achieve strategic and broad-based goals with higher success levels – and much wider public impact – than ever before,” he said.

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Cyber Security

Kaspersky Industrial Cybersecurity Now Delivers EDR

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With new EDR functionality in Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity, customers can now gain instant visibility on operational technology (OT) security incidents and run response actions. The solution also helps reveal hidden weaknesses in networks, be it vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, or incompliance with policies and regulations. With the new features of active polling and a physical topology map, organizations can see even more of the assets in their OT network and how they interconnect. These new capabilities and the deeper integration of Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes and Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Networks greatly enhance the OT visibility and control, compliance, and threat protection.

IT and OT convergence bring a growing number of connections, equipment, and services to industrial organizations. Maintaining control, availability, security, and compliance will require a new generation of dedicated cybersecurity solutions. According to IDC Worldwide IT/OT Convergence 2022 Predictions, by 2024, 30% of industrial enterprises will incorporate centralized security management tools to bridge the IT/OT gap. The renewed Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity platform comes alongside this trend.

With EDR in Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes, a cybersecurity team can track malicious activity, analyze the root cause through attack spread path visualization, and run response actions on SCADA computers and operator workstations. The product provides a wide range of response actions that do not impact the industrial process unless there is explicit operator intervention, including quarantining or removing a malicious object, prohibition running a malicious process in the future, and so on. To ensure the threat does not spread to other machines, security specialists can create indicators of compromise (IoCs) or artifacts to indicate a system has been breached and run a cross-endpoint response based on these IoCs.

The EDR functionality is delivered as part of KICS for Nodes without the need to install additional hardware. It works on any operating system, including Windows XP, and is optimal for industrial networks as it doesn’t overload them with traffic and has no impact on ICS hosts. On top of this, it doesn’t require any specific skills from IT or OT security administrators.

With Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Networks, customers can implement a risk-oriented approach to cybersecurity. The product can now detect weaknesses that can potentially put OT integrity at risk or cause technology process disruption. The areas covered include vulnerable network architecture (access to external networks, lack of segmentation, multi-homed devices); weak host security settings (open ports, lack of authorization, disabled firewalls); obsolete, vulnerable, unwanted, unencrypted protocols, and anomalies in network protocols; outdated OS; unauthorized devices; and vulnerabilities in the PLCs. All risks are scored for severity in the management console, so security teams can focus on the most critical ones first.

The updated Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes is able to automatically audit OT hosts or a group of hosts for vulnerabilities in the software, misconfigurations, and compliance with local or international regulations and corporate policies. The product uses open vulnerability and assessment language (OVAL) content to assess hosts. By default, the product provides a SCADA vulnerability database from Kaspersky ICS-CERT in OVAL format. Any OVAL database can be used, be it the NIST, CIS, or other regulations or custom samples.

Network and device visibility is enhanced thanks to active polling and the industrial network physical topology map in Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Networks. Active polling helps to identify assets in OT systems and their configuration, while a topology map visualizes the network architecture: how assets are physically connected and communicate with each other. With this data, OT operators or security teams can quickly understand elements such as where in the network a problem occurs and to what physical object in the production area it refers, allowing them to fix it faster.

Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes also gives OT security experts a portable USB scanner to use on machines for which policies restrict the installation of any software, including cybersecurity products. These can be old endpoints with outdated software or those that are too critical to install something on them. Another use case is subcontractors’ equipment, which they may use inside the customer’s OT network. OT security specialists can use a simple USB flash drive to download the scanner from KICS for Nodes and then use it to scan the isolated machine. The scanner doesn’t install anything on the machine but provides information about any threats found on it, so security teams can plan the necessary actions.

As a platform, Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity also ensures native integration of all its components, including KICS for Nodes for Windows and Linux, KICS for Networks, and orchestration through a single management platform. Deeper integration of KICS for Nodes and KICS for Networks enables network alerts enriched with data about a host, its processes, and under which user it was launched. IT/OT security teams, SOC analysts, and SCADA operators now have more visibility over suspicious actions as a result and can make informed decisions about response actions.

“With this update, we are empowering our customers with a risk-oriented and compliance-oriented OT security management platform. Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity shines the light on incidents and hidden vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and other weaknesses to minimize the risk of disruption to critical industrial processes. Along with corporate cybersecurity products, Kaspersky Industrial Cybersecurity is a crucial element of the ecosystem for industrial organizations to protect their assets from any threat vector, whether it exploits IT or OT. And through the native integration of all components in the ecosystem, and with a single management platform, we are gradually implementing the extended detection and response (XDR) concept for industrial cybersecurity in our portfolio,” commented Andrey Strelkov, Senior Product Manager at Kaspersky.

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Cyber Security

Global Cyber Security Revenue to Reach $334 Billion in 2026: GlobalData

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Cyber security has emerged as a top priority for organizations and consumers alike, especially following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to new ways of living and working with a huge reliance on digital infrastructure that remains vulnerable to cyberattacks. Against this backdrop, the global cyber security revenue is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.7% from $220 billion in 2021 to $334 billion in 2026, forecasts GlobalData, a leading data, and analytics company.

The surge in the volume and sophistication of cyber-attacks across organizations is expected to favor the enterprise cyber security market revenue growth over the forecast period. Madhumita Chaudhary, Practice Head at GlobalData, comments: “Despite the continued investments and growth in the cyber security space, the frequency of attacks and breaches have shown no signs of abatement. More than billions of records containing critical information were compromised since the pandemic. As such, enterprise cyber security will continue to dominate the overall cyber security demand in terms of market share, capturing a sizeable revenue share exceeding 90% in 2021.”

GlobalData’s latest report, “Cyber Security Market Size, Share and Trends Analysis Report by Type (Enterprise, Consumer), Product (Security Consulting, Managed Service Providers, Identity and Access Management), Vertical, Enterprise Size, Region, and Segment Forecasts, 2021-2026,” reveals that the consumer cyber security market too will register a healthy CAGR, exceeding 10% during 2021-2026. Chaudhary explains: “The rapid emergence of connected devices and associated security risks with no baseline security upgrades will favor the segment growth over the forecast period.”

In addition to the rising frequency of attacks, ransomware is also gaining prominence, and has been used in several high-profile attacks. It is the most concerning type of cyberattack for business leaders. Chaudhary continues: “Cyber security should be at the forefront of all digital transformation strategies. A lapse in focus could mean hefty repercussions in form of accelerated ransomware attacks.”

Asia-Pacific (APAC) is more vulnerable to cyber threats owing to the critical infrastructure and growing financial sector in the region. Furthermore, an increase in digital transformation initiatives, penetration of internet connectivity, and susceptibility stemming from IoT connectivity is likely to increase the adoption of cyber security solutions.

Chaudhary concludes: “Emerging countries in the APAC region like India, Singapore, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Taiwan are facing increasing cyber-crimes in terms of ransomware, phishing, and network attacks, and are projected to witness strong demand for cyber security products & services.”

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