Ransomware, supply chain attacks and nation-state threat actors have grabbed mainstream headlines in recent years, and organizations are largely recognizing that they must invest more in cybersecurity to defend against those emerging techniques.
However, new research shows that some organizations are prioritizing defending against those trending, newsworthy threats at the expense of the threats actually facing their organization.
According to Mike DeNapoli, director of cybersecurity architecture at security posture management platform Cymulate, organizations are focusing on those headline-grabbing threats too often.
While staying current on new and emerging attack techniques is essential for any IT and security professional, organizations are doing so at the expense of the threats they are more likely to encounter on a daily basis, DeNapoli says.
Citing the company’s “2022 Cybersecurity Effectiveness Report,” DeNapoli says 40% of the exploits vulnerability managers are discovering are over two years old. New attacker tools and techniques such as AI-assisted polymorphic ransomware attacks should of course garner attention, but not at the expense of proven attack vectors.
“(Polymorphic ransomware) is not something we should be ignoring in any way, but at the same time, ProxyShell and ProxyNotShell vulnerabilities are still visible on Exchange Server,” DeNapoli says. “Attackers…are going to go for the low-hanging fruit when it’s available.”
What organizations are testing for vs. what is actually being exploited
According to Cymulate’s research, 40% of the top CVEs identified most by vulnerability management platforms were over two years old, and a significant number of organizations are not testing against more widely recognized threats such as those Exchange Server vulnerabilities and malware such as Emotet.
Other known vulnerabilities in organizations’ environments include poorly configured identity and access management and privileged access management, as well as reliance on legacy infrastructure.
However, the top 10 immediate threats simulated last year share many characteristics, including being carried out by known threat actors; using phishing, watering hole and supply chain attacks; using known attack tools; having a clear motive; and being highly sophisticated and evasive.
Another top characteristic is that they were all abundantly reported on in specialized and mainstream press.
According to Cymulate, the top 10 most tested threats include:
- Manjusaka: a cyber-attack framework of Chinese origin, likely created for criminal use, it includes Windows and Linux implants and a ready-made command and control server.
- Powerless Backdoor: a cyber threat popular among Iranian hackers, designed to avoid detection by PowerShell, and can download a browser info stealer, keylogger, encrypt and decrypt data, execute arbitrary commands, and kill processes.
- APT 41 targeting U.S. State Governments: a Chinese state-sponsored hacking group that has been targeting US state governments using various tools and techniques such as Acunetix, Nmap, and SQLmap, and attack methods like phishing, watering hole attacks, and supply-chain attacks.
- Lazarus Phishing Attack on DoD Industry: a phishing campaign carried out by the North Korean hacking group Lazarus, targeting job applicants in the US defense sector with malicious documents containing macros.
- Industroyer 2: An APT-style malware that specifically targets industrial control systems (ICS) and critical infrastructure. A spinoff of the 2016 attack on Ukraine power grid.
- Spring4Shell: Exploiting the Spring Framework vulnerability (CVE-2022-22965), it allows for remote code execution without authentication.
- Follina Office Attack: Weaponizing Microsoft vulnerability (CVE-2022-30190), it allows for remote code execution without authentication.
- Ransomexx: A ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model, financially motivated and believed to be related to the sprite Spider ransomware group based in Russia.
- Quantum Ransomware: One of the fastest cases of time-to-ransom ever observed with initial access to domain-wide ransomware in just 3 hours and 44 minutes. The initial access vector for this attack was an IcedID payload delivered via email.
- Mikubot: A new variant of bot malware that is being offered for sale in threat actor forums, written in C++ and works on Windows operating systems from Vista to Windows 11. The malware is standalone and is being sold for $1300 for 1.5 months of access or $2200 for a three-month subscription.
However, the company’s list of most detected vulnerabilities configured by vulnerability management tools includes bugs that keep making appearances in threat research, such as Exchange Server vulnerabilities, PrintNightmare, and others.
- CVE-2022-30190 – Microsoft Windows Support Diagnostic Tool (MSDT) remote code execution vulnerability. Used in Follina attacks.
- CVE-2021-34527 – A remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability that allows threat actors to remotely inject DLLs. Used in conjunction with CVE-2021-1675 in PrintNightmare attacks
- CVE-2013-3900 – A WinVerifyTrust signature validation vulnerability that allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code via specially crafted portable executables by appending the malicious code snippet while still maintaining the validity of the file signature.
- CVE-2022-2190 – Microsoft HTTP protocol stack remote code execution vulnerability
- CVE-2021-1675 – Allows an attacker with low access privileges to use a malicious DLL file to escalate privilege. Used in conjunction with CVE-2021-34527 in PrintNightmare Attacks.
- CVE-2021-31956 – Windows NTFS Elevation of Privilege Vulnerability
- CVE-2018-0798 – A Microsoft Office memory corruption vulnerability that allows remote code execution due to the way objects are handled in memory.
- CVE-2018-0802 – A Microsoft Office memory corruption vulnerability that allows remote code execution due to the way objects are handled in memory.
- CVE-2017-11882 – A Microsoft Office memory corruption vulnerability that allows an attacker to run arbitrary code in the context of the current user by failing to properly handle objects in memory.
- CVE-2022-3786 – A buffer overrun can be triggered in X.509 certificate verification, specifically in name constraint checking. An attacker can craft a malicious email address in a certificate to overflow an arbitrary number of bytes containing the character (decimal 46) on the stack and cause a denial of service.
Assess your environment first
When IT and security professionals see these new attacks making headlines, they should first assess whether they have the vulnerable assets in their environment, and if they would be a target of the threat actor, if one was identified.
According to DeNapoli, that means getting a handle on shadow IT and cloud sprawl, which is admittedly difficult to do.
“But, it’s necessary, because if there is something like a Log4J, you don’t know what is running within the environment and it becomes incredibly difficult to determine if you could be attacked by that type of technique,” DeNapoli says. “Having those sort of catalogs or inventories of what’s there and what could be a target is going to help a lot.”
However, organizations should not be ignoring the things that came before, as threat actors have proven that leveraging old vulnerabilities–some of which are more than a decade old–is still successful.
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Known Exploited Vulnerabilities catalog is a prime example of this issue, as 481 of the 914 vulnerabilities on the list are from before 2020.
“Nation-state actors are using this backlog to successfully attack organizations,” DeNapoli says. “Always compare what’s coming out in the news to what you’ve got running to determine if this is something you should deal with immediately, or if it can be put on the backburner in favor of something much more likely to happen.”
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