Recently Observed Attacks By Compromised QNAP Devices

Despite the fact that the Shellshock bug was disclosed last fall, it appears that a wide variety of systems are still falling victim to the exploit.  For example, in the last 30 days, our HoneyPoint Internet Threat Monitoring Environment has observed attacks from almost 1,000 compromised QNAP devices.  If you have QNAP devices deployed, please be sure to check for the indicators of a compromised system.  If your device has not been affected, be sure to patch it immediately.

Once compromised via the Shellshock bug, the QNAP system downloads a payload that contains a shell script designed specifically for QNAP devices.  The script acts as a dropper and downloads additional malicious components prior to installing the worm and making a variety of changes to the system.  These changes include: adding a user account, changing the device’s DNS server to, creating an SSH server on port 26 and downloading/installing a patch from QNAP against the Shellshock bug.

The map below shows the locations of compromised QNAP systems that we observed to be scanning for other unpatched QNAP systems.  If you have any questions regarding this exploit, feel free to contact us by emailing info <at>

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The Devil You Think You Know: Risks from Third Party Infrastructure

All modern information infrastructure tends to be an amalgam of stuff you built, other people’s stuff you know you use, and hidden stuff that you are unwittingly dependent on ( yours or someone else’s).

This blog entry is about part of that middle ground – on-premise services that you pay for and are integral to your operation but are in fact built and managed by a third party with whom you have a contractual relationship.

It’s based on my actual experience of late.

Here’s the nut: Any vendor who has a presence within your infrastructure that they manage may have connectivity into that infrastructure that you are unaware of.

The vendor’s infrastructure and yours may effectively be one thing.

The example:

Unplanned Connectivity

The company knew that the vendor had used the provided contractor VPN access at one time.  They had used it to set up their equipment initially.  What they did not know was that part of that set-up routinely involved the establishment of outbound site-to-site VPN tunnels from the vendor’s equipment to the vendor’s datacenter.  Those connections were built at boot time and maintained.  Vendor staff used that VPN access to get to their equipment and, if needed, from their equipment to the company equipment that they provided services for.  There was no company-accessible audit trail.  No log.

Under these conditions, the vendor and the company infrastructure are effectively one.  A compromise of the vendor is a compromise of the company.

What to do?

  • doveryai no proveryai:   It’s an old saw at this point, but always true.   “Trust, but verify”.  That trust may not just be of the vendor.  It may be of your own upper management who engineered the deal.  That can be a tough,  particularly if you are calling into question arrangements that have already been made.   But you didn’t choose this career because it was easy.   Read the doc, ask the questions, get the answers in writing.
  • Egress Filtering: You should control what traffic leaves your enterprise. Strict egress filtering rules would have denied that outbound VPN connection described above.  A daily report of such denies would alert staff to the attempt – and start the necessary round of questions.
  • Monitor your outbound traffic:  Know what’s normal.  You should be generating daily reports from your network logs and from all other intermediary devices (e.g. proxies) about outbound communication sessions – particularly ones of long duration and consistent external IP address targets.  Know what radiates out!
  • Watch your VPN logs:  The vendor stopped using company VPN once it was no longer needed.  VPN access logs would have recorded that cessation. That was an anomaly that should have been called out.  The implication is the company VPN logs were not being analyzed and reported on.  You need to know what normal traffic is for your front door.

Finally: There was nothing intentionally malicious about the vendor’s actions in the example cited.  The vendor techs were just doing their job.

It’s your job to question theirs.



How I leveraged HoneyPoint during Corporate Acquisitions

Throughout my career, I have worked for organizations that have purchased and integrated 4 companies.  The acquired companies ranged from an organization with revenues of less than $3 million per year to a publicly traded company with annualized revenues of almost $1 billion.  While the acquisitions all carried their own set of challenges, they remain among the highlights of my career.

When I pictured corporate acquisitions, I always envisioned purchasing the next big startup or buying out your leading competitor.  I didn’t realize that a majority of corporate acquisitions are an attempt to leverage existing infrastructure and shared services to turn a failing company into a profitable organization.  When I was informed that my company was about to purchase another organization, I instantly realized I was going to be working with a lot of old hardware, disgruntled employees and vulnerable systems.  Fortunately, I was able to leverage HoneyPoint to address several the aforementioned challenges.

Completing an acquisition can be overwhelming at times.  It’s important to take a step back and look at systems from a bird’s-eye view.  I always found it extremely helpful to deploy HoneyPoint Agent at the start of an acquisition.  I worked diligently to create an Agent deployment that mimicked the infrastructure of the acquired company.  This allowed me to have a centralized view of their network from one HoneyPoint console.  On more than one occasion, HoneyPoint Agent helped me to identify infected machines on the network of a recently acquired company.

Having worked for a company that has been acquired on two separate occasions, I always empathize with the employees of an acquired organization.  While it can be a scary time, it can also be looked at as an opportunity to demonstrate your talent to a new company.  I have met several talented IT Professionals throughout the 4 acquisitions that I have had the privilege of completing.  I was frequently amazed at their ability keep a critical infrastructure running on a nonexistent budget.  Unfortunately, for every talented and cooperative professional, I have encountered a few disgruntled employees.

HoneyPoint has several great features that can help identify a disgruntled employee.  For example, I was able to place documents throughout our network that would log an alert to my HoneyPoint console each time they were opened.  This would have allowed me to easily identify any disgruntled employee that was searching a file server for confidential information.  Deploying these trojanized documents throughout our network taught me a valuable lesson about HoneyPoint…it should be considered a good thing when a deployment does not generate any alerts.  In this instance, it meant that I did not identify any employees that were digging through our file shares for confidential information.

Unfortunately, I have been a part of acquisitions where the IT staff of the acquired organization were not retained.  While it was purely a business decision, the layoffs posed a serious risk of creating disgruntled employees.  This could lead an employee of the acquired company to attempt to cause harm to systems owned and operated by the acquiring organization.  During each acquisition, I deployed HoneyPoint Agents that mimicked the Infrastructure of my company.  This allowed me to identify any instance of an individual attempting to scan systems that were owned by the parent organization.  While I did not catch any individuals in the act, I was able to rest assured knowing that I had the capability to do so.

I highly recommend leveraging HoneyPoint during your next M&A.  It will help you address several of the challenges that are associated with the M&A process.  If you have any questions about HoneyPoint and how it can help your organization, please contact us at info <at>

Cyber-Civic Responsibility

More and more we are a folk who expect others to protect us from society’s ills and to take care of our dirty work for us. We have police and courts to protect us from violence and larceny. We take it as certain that someone will pick up our garbage, keep our electricity flowing and make sure that our water is clean. And rightly so! After all, isn’t that why we elect officials? Isn’t that why we pay all those fees and taxes that hit us from every side? Life is so complex now that no one has the mental and emotional resources to think and care about every little thing that affects us. We have to draw the line somewhere just to cope and remain sane.

Unfortunately, most of us have put information security and the unrestricted use of our delightful new cyber-toys on the wrong side of that line. We dismissively expect the ISPs, the software developers, the anti-virus personnel, the government, and who knows all else to keep our information secure for us. And they try their best. The problem is that “they” simply can’t do it. Although computer use seems like old and well established technology to many of us, it is really in its infancy and is expanding explosively in unexpected directions. None of the regulations, devices or software packages designed to secure networked computers really work well or for long. They are always too limited, too weak and too late.

The only thing that really has a chance of working is if we all start taking responsibility for our own share of the problem. We need to change our complacent attitudes and realize that it is our civic duty to become actively involved in this concern. It won’t be easy or pleasant. We will need to keep ourselves well-schooled on the subject. We will need to endure security procedures that make computer use a little less convenient and free. And we will need to keep close tabs on the regulators and manufacturers and demand that effective security becomes an integral part of the system. Remember, our place in the world and even our physical safety depends on it! Isn’t that worth a little of our time and patience?

This post by John Davis.

Network Segmentation: A Best Practice We Should All be Using

It would be nice to be able to say that we are winning the war; that network security efforts are slowly getting the better of the bad guys. But I cant do that. Despite all the money being thrown at security tools and hosted services, the cyber-thugs are improving their game at a faster rate than we are. The ten worst known cyber security breaches of this century have all taken place since 2008, and 2013 and 2014 are notorious for their information security incidents.

I think there are a multitude of reasons for this state of affairs to exist. One is confusion, indecisiveness and slow reaction times among regulatory bodies and standards providers. Another is the check the boxcompliance mentality that exists both in government agencies and in the private sector. A third is simply the insane rate of innovation in the information technology realm. There are many more. But despite the reasons, one thing is clear: we have to stop rigidly complying with baseline standards and move into the more flexible and effective world of best practices. And today the best practice I want to touch on is network segmentation.

In our business we see a lot of computer networks that are just flat. There is little or no network segmentation and anyone on the inside can pretty much see everything. I cant begin to tell you how easy this kind of setup makes it for us during penetration testing success is virtually assured! And its amazing how even just basic network segmentation can slow us down or stop us all together.

A good reason to start with network segmentation is that you can go at in easy stages. Maybe you can begin by segmenting off a separate development or test network. Those are pretty basic and can give your networking team some valuable experience for more difficult efforts to come. Then you can ensure that user spaceis separated from server space. Doing just that much can have an amazing effect – it really helps to thwart successful cyber-attacks.

As the team gains confidence in their abilities, they can move onto the next step: real enclaving of the network. This is anything but a trivial effort, and it requires detailed knowledge of the various functions of the different business departments and how information moves into and out of each one of them (a task made very much easier if the company has a good business continuity program and business impact analysis in place). But in the long run these efforts will be well worth the trouble. It is very difficult indeed to gain access to or exfiltrate information from a well enclaved network especially from the Internet.

This blog post by John Davis.

How to Avoid Getting Phished

It’s much easier for an attacker to “hack a human” than “hack a machine”.  This is why complicated attacks against organizations often begin with the end user.  Although e-mails with malicious links or attachments are often dismissed and referred to as “spam”, these messages are often the beginning of a sophisticated hack against a company.  Unfortunately there is no “silver bullet” that can prevent these attacks from taking place.
I recently had the opportunity to give a presentation during one of our client’s all-staff meeting.  Despite the fact that our client’s company resides in a relatively niche market, I was able to discuss several data breaches that took place in their industry within the last year.  Not only did the hacks all take place recently, they were all the direct result of actions taken by an end-user.  A majority of these attacks were caused by an employee opening a malicious e-mail.  I gave our customer the following advice to help them avoid becoming a victim of Phishing e-mails and felt that it was worth sharing on
Verify link URL:  If the e-mail you received contains a link, does the website URL match up with the content of the message?  For example, if the e-mail indicates you are about to visit a website for FedEx, is the address actually  A common tactic used by attackers is to direct a user to a similar URL or IP address.  An example of this would be to direct the user to or FedEx.SE as opposed to the organization’s actual URL.
Verify e-mail address of sender: If the e-mail message you received came from a friend, colleague or vendor, did it actually come from their e-mail address?  It’s worthwhile to take a few extra seconds to ensure that the e-mail actually came from the aforementioned colleague, friend or vendor.  Also, avoid opening e-mails from generic senders such as “Systems Administrator” or “IT Department”.
Exercise caution from messages sent by unknown senders: Be cautious if a message comes from an unknown sender.  Would you provide your checking account number or password to a random person that you saw on the street?  If not, then don’t provide confidential information to unknown senders.
Follow up with a phone call: In the event you receive a message requesting that you validate information or need to reset your password, take some time to follow up with the sender with a phone call.  Trust me, your IT department will be happy to spend a few seconds confirming or denying your request as opposed to dealing with a malware infection.  Also, if your “bank” sends any type of e-mail correspondence requesting that you perform some sort of action, it’s worthwhile to give them a call to confirm their intentions.  Always be sure to use a number that you found from another source outside of the e-mail.
Spot check for spelling/grammar errors: It is extremely common that malicious e-mails contain some sort of spelling mistake or grammatical error.  Spelling mistakes or grammatical errors are great indicators that you have received a malicious e-mail.
Do not open random attachments: If your e-mail messages meets any of the above criteria, DO NOT open the attachment to investigate further.  Typically these attachments or links are the actual mechanism for delivering malware to your machine.
This blog post by Adam Luck.

Young IT Professionals, Cybercrime, Script Kiddies & CyberWarriors, OH MY!

Recently I came across a couple of articles that both centered on the potential roles that young people entering into the IT Security field may face. Some of them, for example, may be lured away from legitimate IT security jobs and into the world of cybercrime. Others may follow the entrepreneurial role and fight cybercrime alongside myself and other professionals.

I suppose such dichotomies have existed in other professions for quite some time. Chemists could enter the commercial or academic world or become underground drug cartel members, ala Breaking Bad. Accountants could build CPA tax practices or help bad guys launder money. Doctors could work in emergency rooms or perform illegal operations to help war lords recover from battle. I suppose it is an age old balancing act.

I am reminded of Gladwell’s Outliers though, in that we are experiencing a certain time window when IT security skills are valuable to both good and bad efforts, and a war for talent may well be waging just beyond the common boundary of society. Gladwell’s position that someone like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates could only emerge within a specific time line of conditions seems to apply here. Have we seen our IT security Bill Gates yet? Maybe, maybe not….

It is certainly an interesting and pivotal time isn’t it? These articles further solidified my resolve to close a set of podcast interviews that I have been working on. In the next couple of months I will be posting podcast interviews with teams of IT and Infosec leaders to discuss their advice to young people just entering our profession. I hope you will join me for them. More importantly, I hope you will help me by sharing them with young people you know who are considering IT security as a career. Together, maybe we can help keep more of the talent on the non-criminal side. Maybe… I can always hope, can’t I? 🙂

Until next time, thanks for reading, and stay safe out there! If you have questions or insights about advice for young security professionals, hit me up on Twitter (@lbhuston). I’ll add them to the questions for the podcast guests or do some email interviews if there is enough interest from the community.

Spike in HITME NTP Probes Following Recent Exploits

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the HITME project, it is a set of deployed HoneyPoints that gather real-world, real-time attacker data from around the world. The sensors gather attack sources, frequency, targeting information, vulnerability patterns, exploits, malware and other crucial event data for the technical team at MSI to analyze. We frequently feed these attack signatures into our vulnerability management service to ensure that our customers are tested against the most current forms of attacks being used on the Internet.
On a monthly basis, we have been taking a step back and looking at our HITME data from a bird’s eye view to find common attack patterns.  Throughout December, we observed a significant increase in attacks against Port 123 (NTP).  This is due to the recent discovery of a vulnerability within NTP.
A majority of the attacks we observed against Port 123 appeared to originate out of the United States of America, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, and China. 
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This vulnerability should be addressed as soon as possible as exploits are publicly available.  All NTP Version 4 releases prior to Version 4.2.8 are vulnerable and need to be updated to Version 4.2.8.  Do not hesitate to contact us at if you require any assistance in responding to this vulnerability.

This blog post by Adam Luck.