Crypto Locker Down, but NOT Out

So, the US govt and law enforcement claim to have managed the disruption of crypto locker. And officials are either touting it as a total victory or a more realistic slowdown of the criminals leveraging the malware and bot-nets.

Even as the govt was touting their takedown, threat intelligence companies around the world (including MSI), were already noticing that the attackers were mutating, adapting and re-building a new platform to continue their attacks. The attackers involved aren’t likely to stay down for long, especially given how lucrative the crypto locker malware has been. Many estimates exist for the number of infections, and the amount of payments received, but most of them are, in a word, staggering. With that much money on the line, you can expect a return of the nastiness and you can expect it rather quickly.

Takedowns are effective for short term management of specific threats, and they make great PR, but they do little, in most cases, to actually turn the tide. The criminals, who often escape prosecution or real penalties, usually just re-focus and rebuild. 

This is just another reminder that even older malware remains a profit center. Mutations, variants and enhancements can turn old problems like Zeus, back into new problems. Expect that with crypto locker and its ilk. This is not a problem that is likely to go away soon and not a problem that a simple takedown can solve.

Spend Your First Hour Back the Right Way – Go Malware Hunting!

So, you’ve been out of the office for a quick holiday break or vacation. Now you face a mountain of emails and whole ton of back-logged tasks. Trust me, put them aside for one hour.

Instead of smashing through emails and working trouble tickets, spend an hour and take a look around your environment – go hunting – target malware, bots and backdoors. At a macro level, not a micro level. Were there an abnormal number of trouble tickets, outbound connections, AV alerts, IDS and log entries while you were gone? What does egress look like during that period? Were there any abnormal net flows, DNS anomalies or network issues that would indicate scans, probes or tampering on a larger scale?

Spend an hour and look for high level issues before you dig into the micro. Read some logs. See what might be getting lost in your return to work overwhelm. It is not all that uncommon for attackers to use holidays and vacations as windows of opportunity to do their nasty business.

Don’t fall victim to the expected overwhelm. Instead, use it as a lens to look for items or areas that correlate to deeper concerns. You might just find that hour invested to be the one that makes (or breaks) your career in infosec.

Good luck and happy hunting!

PS – Thanks to Lee C. for the quick edits on 7/4/14.

Things You Need to Know about Bot Net Attacks

Bot nets are one of the most common forms of compromise on the Internet today. Bot networks grew out of the explosion of home and user systems and the common availability of high speed Internet connections. Basically, they are little more than systems that attackers have compromised and put under their control that use some type of mechanism to get new tasks or commands and report their results.

Mostly, bot infected computers are home systems that attackers often use for scanning other systems, sending spam or performing other illicit activities. Often, the controller of the bot systems will rent or sell the bot services to others. No matter if they use the systems themselves, or sell their services – usually the master is after one thing, MONEY.

That’s right. They make money from the illicit use of YOUR system, if it belongs to a bot network. They use your hardware and your bandwidth, and they receive the returns. Even worse, if your system would be used in a serious crime, there may be criminal and civil penalties for YOU. While case law continues to grow on this, it appears there may be some capability for some victims of the bot net to come back at you for failing to adequately protect your system – which ultimately caused them damage.

So, the big question is – how do home users protect themselves from bot infections and the other issues associated with them? Primarily, they do by following this advice:

  1. Ensure that your computer has a firewall and anti-virus at all times. Make sure the firewall is engaged and that the anti-virus software is up to date.
  2. Keep your computer current on patches. Turn on the auto-update capabilities of the operating system and make sure you patch your applications if they have available update mechanisms as well. This is a lot like safe sex in that failure to be safe even once can have long term implications on your security.
  3. Consider using a browser that is somewhat hardened or hardening your browser. There are a ton of browsers out there, and a ton of tools for hardening the common ones. Check them out and make sure your browsing tools are protecting you against attack. Don’t use default installs of IE or FireFox – configure them for higher protections, if at all possible.
  4. Consider other security tools and mechanisms. You need spyware tools and other security mechanisms if you travel. Spend some time reading about mobile security and apply what you can to your life.
  5. If in doubt, rebuild your system. THIS IS CRITICAL – there are simply some things that can be done to a computer that impact the long term security of it. If you have doubts about your system’s security – rebuild it and protect it from the start. If you know you have an infection or problem – backup your critical data and rebuild. It is much easier than most other solutions.

Take these steps and some basic vigilance and apply them to your computing experience. Bot nets will continue to be a primary threat to Internet users, but being smart about them and aware of the defenses makes you less likely to be a victim.