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Cyber Security

Protecting your Organization from Emotet and the Omnatuor Malvertising Network



Written by Mohammed Al-Moneer, Regional Director, META at Infoblox

In the last edition of our Quarterly Cyber Threat Intelligence Report, Infoblox brings into focus and provides insights into two major cyber threats that organizations should be aware of – Emotet and Omnatuor Malvertising Network.

Emotet is a notorious malware family that has evolved significantly over the years: from a simple banking trojan to a botnet to an infrastructure for content delivery. Infoblox has been monitoring Emotet and providing insights into its activity all along. Emotet has been around since 2014. It survived its January 2021 takedown by law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, UK, and US and from Germany, France, Lithuania, Canada, and Ukraine. During the takedown, Emotet was offline for 11 months.

The frequency of Emotet-related malspam campaigns increased from January to May 2022 as the malware authors changed techniques to evade Microsoft’s increasing countermeasures on VBA Macro security. The Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics was attacked on 12 June 2022, and recent reports put Emotet back at the top of the list of malware families with an impact that spans the globe. A consistent feature of Emotet has been its use of email as a delivery vector. Microsoft Office documents have been the attachments of choice, and Excel files have been the most prevalent of these documents.

Infoblox’s analysis indicates that the actors behind Emotet have made some attempts to protect the network from further takedowns. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the use of compromised websites and of email as a delivery vector has persisted, and this has enabled us to reliably identify and track Emotet’s activity. Infoblox’s view of the threat landscape affords a detailed understanding of not only the current prevalence of Emotet in malspam, but also of the location and services used in its infrastructure.

As our company continues to research and monitor Emotet’s behavior, it will provide protection by denying access to the compromised domains used to host the Emotet payload, and it will offer vital, actionable intelligence on Emotet’s C&C infrastructure.

We recommend the following actions for protection from this kind of attack:

  • To mitigate the risk of infection from known threats, keep security software up to
    date and patched.
  • Conduct security awareness training in the organization. It is important for
    everyone to be up to date with the latest techniques used by attackers to trick
    users who receive malicious emails.
  • Enhance network perimeter security. 99% of successful attacks involve some
    type of network communication. Having the right tools in place can help identify
    and minimize the impact of a threat like Emotet before they cause damage

For some time, the Infoblox Threat Intelligence Group has been tracking a malvertising network (the “Omnatuor Malvertising Network”) that not only abuses push notifications, pop-ups, and redirects within a browser but continues to serve ads even after the user navigates away from the initial page.

Omnatuor has been dismissed by the security community as adware, a label that implies the activity is largely a nuisance. This naive response underestimates the danger of the potential threat posed by malvertising in general, and the Omnatuor actor in particular. In addition to its ability to persist, the network delivers dangerous content.

The Omnatuor actor takes advantage of WordPress vulnerabilities and is effective at spreading riskware, spyware, and adware. It uses an extensive infrastructure and has a broad reach into networks across the globe. The Omnatuor domain has a suspiciously high breadth and query volumes.

An initial look into WHOIS data revealed the domain was created on 12 July 2021. Since being registered it was present in 45% to 48% of all customer networks and surpassed 50% at various times. Most networks contained tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of queries for the domain. From July 2021 to July 2022, we observed just over 25.4 million unique, resolved queries to omnatuor[.]com.

This campaign compromises vulnerable WordPress sites through embedded malicious JavaScript or PHP code. The code redirects users or otherwise forces them to view and click malvertisements via pop-ups and push notifications.

We recommend that users take the following preventive measures:

  • To assist in blocking known malvertising efforts, leverage the GitHub repository of indicators associated with the Omnatuor Malvertising Network.32 Infoblox offers a sample of indicators in this article and will continue to update the GitHub repository as new indicators are discovered.
  • Use an adblocker program, such as UBlock Origin. The adware is delivered via an inline script, and blocking only the domains and IP addresses at a firewall or DNS level will not stop push notifications, redirects, or pop-ups. Because the DNS query cannot be completed, the contents of those vectors will not load; however, the browsing experience will still be interrupted.
  • Disable JavaScript entirely, or use a web extension (such as NoScript) to enable JavaScript only on trusted sites.

Cyber Security

OneNote Documents Increasingly Used to Deliver Malware



Proofpoint researchers recently identified an increase in threat actor use of OneNote documents to deliver malware via email to unsuspecting end-users in December 2022 and January 2023. OneNote is a digital notebook created by Microsoft and available via the Microsoft 365 product suite. Proofpoint has observed threat actors deliver malware via OneNote documents, which are .one extensions, via email attachments and URLs.

While there is an increase in the number of campaigns utilizing OneNote to deliver malware, its use is unusual. Based on Proofpoint’s observed characteristics of past threat campaigns, it is believed that threat actors have increasingly adopted OneNote as of result of their experimentation with different attachment types to bypass threat detection. Since Microsoft began blocking macros by default in 2022, threat actors have experimented with many new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), including the use of previously infrequently observed filetypes such as virtual hard disk (VHD), compiled HTML (CHM), and now OneNote (.one).

Observed email campaigns that use OneNote for malware delivery share similar characteristics. While the message subjects and senders vary, nearly all campaigns use unique messages to deliver malware, and do not typically utilize thread hijacking. Messages typically contain OneNote file attachments with themes such as invoice, remittance, shipping, and seasonal themes such as Christmas bonus, among other subjects. In mid-January 2023, Proofpoint researchers observed actors using URLs to deliver OneNote attachments that use the same TTPs for malware execution.

The OneNote documents contain embedded files, often hidden behind a graphic that looks like a button. When the user double-clicks the embedded file, they will be prompted with a warning. If the user clicks continue, the file will execute. The technique may be effective for now. At the time of analysis, multiple OneNote malware samples observed by Proofpoint were not detected by numerous anti-virus vendors on VirusTotal.

It is important to note, an attack is only successful if the recipient engages with the attachment, specifically by clicking on the embedded file and ignoring the warning message displayed by OneNote. Organizations should educate end users about this technique and encourage users to report suspicious emails and attachments.

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Channel Talk

NetWitness Signs Distribution Partnership with CyberKnight



NetWitness today announced it is partnering with CyberKnight, to bring its extended detection and response (XDR) solutions to enterprises in the Middle East. “Together, NetWitness and CyberKnight will enable enterprise and government customers in the Middle East with fast detection and automatic response capabilities to combat today’s advanced cybersecurity threats,” the companies said.

The NetWitness Platform is an open XDR solution that enables security teams to detect, understand the full scope of a compromise, and automatically respond to security threats across modern IT infrastructures, accelerating threat detection and response. NetWitness delivers enhanced visibility across all capture points, including logs, network packets, net flow, endpoints, and computing platforms on-premise, in the cloud, or as a hybrid of the two. The NetWitness Platform applies threat intelligence as well as user and entity behavior analytics to detect, prioritize, investigate threats, and automate responses, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of security strategies.

“We are excited about this new partnership with NetWitness, as their modern approach to security will give customers in the Middle East an advantage in the battle against cyberattacks, ensuring unsurpassed visibility, smarter threat detection, and faster analytics — all on-premises. Hundreds of organizations in the Middle East are already using this robust platform, which easily integrates with the world’s most critical and widely deployed tools, as well as many specialized and industry-specific solutions,” commented Avinash Advani, CEO and Founder at CyberKnight.

“Keeping end users safe from ever-evolving cyberattacks requires forward-thinking and holistic approaches that enable security operations teams to stay ahead of such breaches. We are proud to continue our expansion in the region and offer enterprises our unparalleled XDR platform. We are thrilled about our partnership with CyberKnight, which allows us to leverage their regional coverage, channel breadth, deep-rooted customer relationships, and cybersecurity expertise to accelerate our growth,” added Motaz Al Mohamady, head of Channel Sales — Middle East, Turkey, and Africa, at NetWitness.

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Cyber Security

79% of MEA Organizations have a “Protection Gap”: Veeam Research



Veeam Software has released findings of the company’s fourth annual Data Protection Trends Report to better understand how data protection is evolving in a digital world.

Notable insights from the report include:

  • Reliability and consistency (of protecting IaaS and SaaS alongside data center servers) are the key drivers for improving data protection in 2023. For organizations that are struggling to protect cloud-hosted data with legacy backup solutions, it is likely they will supplement their data center backup solution with IaaS/PaaS and/or SaaS capabilities.
  • Ransomware is both the most common and most impactful cause of outages, alongside natural disasters (fire, flood, etc.) and user errors (overwrites, deletion, etc.). Organizations should implement backup and recovery solutions that support a holistic approach to data protection, and that can integrate with other cyber detection and remediation technologies to ensure comprehensive cyber resilience.
  • Cloud-based services seem nearly inevitable for organizations of all sizes. But similar to how there isn’t just one type of production cloud, there isn’t just one protection cloud scenario. Organizations should consider cloud tiers for retention, Backup as a Service (BaaS), and ultimately, Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS).

“IT leaders are facing a dual challenge. They are building and supporting increasingly complex hybrid environments, while the volume and sophistication of cyberattacks are increasing,” said Danny Allan, CTO and Senior Vice President of Product Strategy at Veeam. “This is a major concern as leaders think through how they mitigate and recover business operations from any type of disruption. Legacy backup approaches won’t address modern workloads – from IaaS and SaaS to containers – and result in an unreliable and slow recovery for the business when it’s needed most. This is what’s focusing the minds of IT leaders as they consider their cyber resiliency plan. They need Modern Data Protection.”

The report shows that data protection budgets are increasing. Globally, organizations expect to increase their data protection budget in 2023 by 6.5%, which is notably higher than overall spending plans in other areas of IT. Of the 85% of organizations planning on increasing their data protection budgets, their average planned increase is 8.3% and often in concert with increased investments in cybersecurity tools.

The Middle East and Africa market throw up some interesting findings:

Protection and Availability Gap in the MEA region

  • 78% have an “Availability Gap” between how quickly they need systems to be recoverable and how quickly IT can bring them back
  • 79% have a “Protection Gap” between how much data they can lose and how frequently IT protects their data

Ransomware in the MEA region

Ransomware attacks continue to be more frequent

  • Only 14% experienced no ransomware attacks in 2022
  • 18% experienced only one attack
  • 48% experienced two or three attacks
  • And 21% experienced four or more attacks in 2022
  • 45% of organizations stated that ransomware (including both prevention and remediation) was their biggest hindrance to Digital Transformation or IT modernization initiatives, due to its burden on budgets and manpower
  • When organizations were asked about their most significant attacks suffered in 2022:
    • 39% of their entire production data set was successfully encrypted or destroyed
    • Only 55% of the encrypted/destroyed data was recoverable

“Ransomware is indiscriminatory – every business is a target. Rather than be gripped with fear at the prospect of being attacked, organizations must focus on what they can control – their defence. The fundamental principles of how to prepare defences against even the most sophisticated and powerful ransomware stay relatively the same. The first is the practice of impeccable digital hygiene. All employees must be trained to identify suspicious content and be warned of the impact that malpractice using work devices can lead to. Secondly, all businesses must prepare for their defences to fail. Concepts such as zero trust and deploying techniques such as two-factor authentication can be useful for restricting the access an attacker has to data. The best way to protect data is to ensure that it has been securely backed up and is fully recoverable before an incident takes place with the 3-2-1-1-0 backup rule – there should always be at least three copies of data, on at least two different types of media, at least one off-site and one immutable or offline, with zero unverified backups or errors,” concludes Rizk.

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BC/DR) initiatives in the MEA region

  • Every facet of IT continues to be a candidate for cloudification, with data protection being a common scenario.
    • 84% of Middle East & Africa organizations anticipate using Backup as a Service (BaaS) or Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) to protect at least some of their servers over the next two years.
  • That said, cloud-based storage is not misunderstood as the “tape killer” that early pundits tried to sell it as. When discussing the media used within their backup systems, the Middle East & Africa organizations reported that in addition to disk-based protection:
    • 64% of production data is stored in a cloud at some point in its lifecycle
    • 52% of production data is stored on a tape at some point in its lifecycle
  • 86% organizations consider their cyber and (traditional) BC/DR initiatives to be either mostly or completely integrated. To achieve that among organizations in the Middle East & Africa:
    • 41% want to orchestrate recovery workflows, instead of relying on manual processes
    • 25% will leverage on-premises infrastructures for their BC/DR
    • 41% will leverage cloud infrastructures for their BC/DR, using IaaS or DRaaS

“It is no surprise that BaaS and DRaaS are becoming so popular among regional organizations. They provide viable alternatives to managing everything. It can be more cost effective to outsource backup and disaster recovery needs instead of hiring and training in-house resources. A BaaS provider can ensure backups are not only successful but regularly tested and restorable. A DRaaS provider can support with as little as an off-site replication or fully manage your complete disaster recovery plan from testing and execution to failing over and failing back, should an unplanned event occur,” comments Rizk.

“Veeam understands these changing market dynamics and data protection needs of enterprises today. From critical workloads running on-premises to the sprawl of data in the cloud and at home offices, Veeam-powered BaaS and DRaaS service provider partners offer the off‑site backup, monitoring and management, and disaster recovery services organizations need to stay resilient in the face of any threat.”

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