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2022 in Review: 10 of the Year’s Biggest Cyberattacks

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Written by Phil Muncaster, guest writer at ESET

The past year has seen the global economy lurch from one crisis to another. As COVID-19 finally began to recede in many regions, what replaced it has been rising energy bills, soaring inflation, and a resulting cost-of-living crisis – some of it spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ultimately, these developments have opened the door to new opportunities for financially-motivated and state-backed threat actors.

They have targeted governments, hospitals, cryptocurrency firms, and many other organisations with impunity. The cost of a data breach now stands at nearly $4.4 million – and as long as threat actors continue to achieve successes like those below, we can expect it to rise even higher for 2023.

Here are 10 of the worst cyber incidents of the year, be it for the damage they wrought, the level of sophistication, or geopolitical fallout. The list is in no particular order, but it makes sense to open it with malicious cyber operations that took aim at Ukraine and immediately raised concerns about their wider ramifications and associated cyber risks faced by the wider world.

Ukraine under (cyber)attack: Ukraine’s critical infrastructure has found itself, yet again, in the crosshairs of threat actors. Early into Russia’s invasion, ESET researchers worked closely with CERT-UA on remediating an attack that targeted the country’s grid and involved destructive malware that Sandworm had attempted to deploy against high-voltage electrical substations. The malware – which ESET named Industroyer2 after an infamous piece of malware used by the group to cut power in Ukraine in 2016 – was used in combination with a new version of the destructive CaddyWiper variant, most likely to hide the group’s tracks, slow down incident response and prevent operators of the energy company from regaining control of the ICS consoles.

More wipers: CaddyWiper was far from the only destructive data wiper discovered in Ukraine just before or in the first few weeks of Russia’s invasion. On February 23rd, ESET telemetry picked up HermeticWiper on hundreds of machines in several organizations in Ukraine. The following day, a second destructive, data-wiping attack against a Ukrainian governmental network started, this time delivering IsaacWiper.

Internet down: Barely an hour before the invasion, a major cyberattack against commercial satellite internet company Viasat disrupted broadband internet service for thousands of people in Ukraine and even elsewhere in Europe, leaving behind thousands of bricked modems. The attack, which exploited a misconfigured VPN device to gain access to the satellite network’s management section, is believed to have been intended to impair the communication capabilities of the Ukrainian command during the first hours of the invasion. Its effects were felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders, however.

Conti in Costa Rica: A major player in the cybercrime underground this year was the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group Conti. One of its most audacious raids was against the small South American nation of Costa Rica, where a national emergency was declared after the government branded a crippling attack an act of “cyber-terrorism.” The group has since disappeared, although its members are likely to simply have moved on to other projects or rebranded wholesale, as RaaS outfits generally due to avoid scrutiny from law enforcers and governments.

Other ransomware actors: There were also in action in 2022. A CISA alert from September explained that Iran-affiliated threat actors compromised a US municipal government and an aerospace company, among other targets, by exploiting the infamous Log4Shell bug for ransomware campaigns, which isn’t all that common for state-backed entities. Also intriguing was a US government compromise in November that was also blamed on Iran. An unnamed Federal Civilian Executive Branch (FCEB) organization was breached and crypto mining malware was deployed.

Ronin Network: This was created by Vietnamese blockchain game developer Sky Mavis to function as an Ethereum sidechain for its Axie Infinity game. In March it emerged that hackers managed to use hijacked private keys to forge withdrawals to the tune of 173,600 Ethereum ($592 million) and $25.5 million from the Ronin bridge, in two transactions. The resulting $618 million theft, at March prices, was the largest ever from a crypto firm. Infamous North Korean group Lazarus has since been linked to the raid. The hermit nation has been traced in the past to thefts worth billions of dollars, used to fund its nuclear and missile programs.

Lapsus$: This burst onto the scene in 2022, as an extortion group using high-profile data thefts to force payment from its corporate victims. These have included Microsoft, Samsung, Nvidia, Ubisoft, Okta and Vodafone. Among its many methods are bribery of insiders at firms and their contractors. Although the group had been relatively silent for a while, it re-emerged at the end of the year after hacking Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games. Several alleged members of the group have been arrested in the UK and Brazil.

International Red Cross (ICRC): In January, the ICRC reported a major breach that compromised the personal details of over 515,000 “highly vulnerable” victims. Stolen from a Swiss contractor, the data included details of individuals separated from their families due to conflict, migration, and disaster, missing persons and their families, and people in detention. It was subsequently blamed on an unnamed nation-state and occurred when an unpatched system was exploited.

Uber: The ride-hailing giant was famously breached back in 2016 when details on 57 million users were stolen. In September it was reported that a hacker, potentially a member of Lapsus$, had compromised email and cloud systems, code repositories, an internal Slack account, and HackerOne tickets. The actor targeted an Uber external contractor, most likely grabbing their corporate password from the dark web.

Medibank: All of the Australian health insurance giant’s four million customers have personal data accessed by ransomware actors in an attack that may end up costing the firm US$35 million. Those responsible are believed to be linked to the infamous ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) outfit REvil (aka Sodinokibi) with compromised privileged credentials responsible for initial access. Those impacted now face a potential barrage of follow-on identity fraud attempts.

Whatever happens in 2023, some of the cautionary tales from these 10 major incidents should stand everybody, including CISOs, in good stead. Get your cybersecurity processes and operations right, organize cybersecurity awareness training for all employees, and partner with reputable security companies whose solutions can stand up to the complex methods deployed by threat actors.

Cyber Security

Netskope Joins Google Workspace Security Alliance

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Netskope has joined the Google Workspace Security Alliance to extend security and data protection for Workspace users. The Netskope One Platform provides a number of advanced security capabilities that protect data, defend against threats, and ensure users have fast and secure access to Google Workspace productivity and collaboration tools, including Gemini for Workspace.

As organizations increasingly adopt cloud technologies to drive innovation and efficiency, they are also challenged to secure sensitive data from a range of cyber risks, including:

  • Ongoing increases in the number of users uploading sensitive data to personal instances of cloud applications
  • New and evolving threat techniques such as abuse of certain applications for critical data access, back doors, and financial gain; compromise of credentials to access critical business data; insider threats; and more
  • Data exposure from the insecure use of both managed and unmanaged AI-based productivity tools

Netskope and Google Workspace empower organizations to embrace modern collaboration and productivity by enabling the secure use of AI-based productivity tools. Netskope provides advanced data loss prevention (DLP) techniques, delivering real-time visibility and control over users, data, and corporate vs. personal cloud instances. In addition, Netskope’s comprehensive threat protection through both API and inline controls detects threats in Google applications and monitors data movement and threat propagation between Google Workspace apps and third-party ecosystem applications.

“Netskope is proud to expand its partnership with Google Workspace by joining the Workspace Security Alliance. There are already thousands of customers using Netskope to safeguard their Google Workspace applications, and this new partnership further enhances the secure usage capabilities for application specific data protection policies,” said Andy Horwitz, VP, Global Partner Ecosystems, Netskope. “Together, Netskope and Google Workspace can help customers modernize their productivity stack. We look forward to helping customers safely optimize their employees’ daily productivity.”

The Netskope and Google Workspace partnership enables organizations to embrace collaboration and productivity while safeguarding critical data. Joint customers can now more effectively:

  1. Support best practice use of Gemini for Google Workspace: Leverage real-time user coaching to help enforce best practices in application usage. Organizations can gain visibility into data movement to minimize sensitive information sharing while achieving data compliance objectives.
  2. Protect sensitive data: Detect and manage access to sensitive data within Google Workspace applications, enforcing policies to prevent unauthorized data movement across platforms, including third-party services like Microsoft OneDrive, Box and Dropbox.
  3. Stop insider threats like data exfiltration: Prevent the download of sensitive data from Google Workspace business instances and then the upload to personal instances, which is one of today’s top reasons for data loss. Additionally, apply this control to unmanaged devices: allow unmanaged or personal device access to a specific cloud app for collaboration, however, do not allow downloading of sensitive data.
  4. Detect and stop elusive threats and malware: Protect against malware and phishing delivered from the cloud. Netskope’s multi-layered advanced threat protection (ATP) enhances security within Google Workspace and across cloud applications.
  5. Maintain compliance in Google Workspace: Ensure that organizations can adhere to regulations and meet compliance needs by enforcing security policies within Google Workspace.

“By partnering with Netskope, a leading SASE vendor, customers can confidently expand their Google Workspace adoption leveraging their existing IT infrastructure investments,” said Nikhil Sinha, Group Product Manager, Google Workspace. “Netskope instance awareness enables fine grained data governance policy differences to both corporate and personal Google Workspace accounts. We are excited to partner with Netskope to provide these advanced security capabilities to our customers.”

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Channel Talk

AmiViz and BitSight Join Forces to Elevate Middle East Risk Management

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AmiViz has partnered with Bitsight, a leading provider of cyber risk management solutions. This collaboration marks a significant step forward in bolstering cybersecurity capabilities across the region and facilitating Bitsight’s expansion efforts in the Middle East.

The partnership between AmiViz and Bitsight will enhance the cybersecurity landscape in the Middle East by introducing state-of-the-art solutions designed to tackle the evolving cyber threats confronting regional organizations. With both companies committed to improving cybersecurity awareness and resilience, they are set to pave the way for a safer and more secure digital environment in the region.

Commenting on the partnership with Bitsight, Ilyas Mohammed, COO at AmiViz said, “Our decision to onboard Bitsight demonstrates our commitment towards the evolution of the cybersecurity landscape in the Middle East. As organizations grapple with increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, the partnership between these two industry leaders promises to deliver enhanced value by equipping organizations with the tools and insights needed to effectively manage cyber risks and safeguard their digital assets in an ever-evolving threat landscape.”

Bitsight’s solutions can proactively assess and manage their cyber risk exposure and provide organizations with actionable intelligence to optimize their security investments, streamline vendor risk management processes, and enhance cyber resilience. With a focus on continuous monitoring and data-driven insights, Bitsight empowers organizations to make informed decisions and stay ahead of emerging cyber threats.

The Middle East has often been an attractive target for cyber-attacks, and this partnership will empower companies to address vulnerabilities and protect their digital assets proactively. By combining AmiViz’s deep understanding of the regional market dynamics with Bitsight’s cutting-edge technology and global expertise, the partnership will offer next-generation cybersecurity solutions tailored to the unique challenges and requirements of Middle Eastern organizations.

“We are proud to partner with AmiViz to transform the cyber risk management landscape in the Middle East,” said Xavier Artiguebieille, Senior Vice President, EMEA Sales at Bitsight. “Our combined efforts will equip organizations with the critical tools and intelligence needed to navigate and mitigate the complexities of modern cyber threats, enhancing their overall security and resilience.”

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Artificial Intelligence

ESET’s New AI Assistant Streamlines Threat Detection and Response

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ESET has introduced ESET AI Advisor, an innovative generative AI-based cybersecurity assistant that transforms incident response and interactive risk analysis. First showcased at RSA Conference 2024, the new solution is now available as part of the ESET PROTECT MDR Ultimate subscription tier and ESET Threat Intelligence.

Unlike other vendor offerings and typical generative AI assistants that focus on soft features like administration or device management, ESET AI Advisor seamlessly integrates into the day-to-day operations of security analysts, conducting in-depth analysis. Building on over two decades of ESET’s expertise in AI-driven endpoint protection, the offering provides detailed incident data and SOC team-level advisory. This is a game-changer for companies with limited IT resources who want to utilize the advantages of advanced Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions and threat intelligence feeds.

“As cybersecurity threats become increasingly sophisticated, ESET remains committed to providing cutting-edge solutions that address these challenges. The ESET AI Advisor module represents a significant leap forward in our mission to close the cybersecurity skills gap and empower organizations to safeguard their digital assets effectively,” said Juraj Malcho, Chief Technology Officer at ESET.

One of the primary benefits of this new solution is closing the cybersecurity skills gap. Security analysts of all skill levels can use ESET AI Advisor to conduct interactive risk identification, analysis, and response capabilities, which are provided in an easily understandable format. The user-friendly interface makes sophisticated threat data actionable even for less experienced IT and security professionals.

The ESET AI Advisor also excels in facilitating faster decision-making for critical incidents. Security analysts can simply consult the ESET AI Advisor to understand the specific threats their environment faces. Leveraging extensive XDR collected data, the ESET AI Advisor identifies and analyzes potential malware threats, providing intuitive insights into their behaviour and impact. It assists in recognizing phishing attempts and advising users on how to avoid falling victim to fraudulent emails or websites. By monitoring network traffic, the ESET AI Advisor can flag unusual or suspicious behaviour, helping security teams take appropriate action. Its ability to automate repetitive tasks is an additional advantage. Managing routine processes such as data collection, extraction, and basic threat detection, allows security teams to focus on more strategic initiatives.

In ESET Threat Intelligence, the new module will help researchers analyze vast quantities of unique APT reports and understand latest developments in world of cyber threats. With its conversational prompts and interactive dialogue, ESET AI Advisor empowers organizations to analyze and mitigate threats effortlessly and fortify their cybersecurity posture.

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