DHS Cyber Warriors Issue Warning About Massive Hacking Campaign, Disclose They've Been Hacked A Day Later

from the holy-shit-this-is-bad dept

Welp. Everything is compromised. Again.

Reuters was the first to report suspected Russian hackers had gained access to hundreds of SolarWinds customers, including US government agencies.

Hackers believed to be working for Russia have been monitoring internal email traffic at the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments, according to people familiar with the matter, adding they feared the hacks uncovered so far may be the tip of the iceberg.

[...]

The cyber spies are believed to have gotten in by surreptitiously tampering with updates released by IT company SolarWinds, which serves government customers across the executive branch, the military, and the intelligence services, according to two people familiar with the matter. The trick - often referred to as a “supply chain attack” - works by hiding malicious code in the body of legitimate software updates provided to targets by third parties.

A full report by FireEye (which was also a victim of this hacking) details the process used to gain illicit access, which involved leveraging bogus signed components crafted by the hackers and distributed by an unaware SolarWinds. The widespread hacking campaign may have begun as early as March of this year. That it was only discovered now means the fallout from this will continue for months to come.

Here's how the backdoor works, according to FireEye:

SolarWinds.Orion.Core.BusinessLayer.dll is a SolarWinds digitally-signed component of the Orion software framework that contains a backdoor that communicates via HTTP to third party servers. We are tracking the trojanized version of this SolarWinds Orion plug-in as SUNBURST.

After an initial dormant period of up to two weeks, it retrieves and executes commands, called “Jobs”, that include the ability to transfer files, execute files, profile the system, reboot the machine, and disable system services. The malware masquerades its network traffic as the Orion Improvement Program (OIP) protocol and stores reconnaissance results within legitimate plugin configuration files allowing it to blend in with legitimate SolarWinds activity. The backdoor uses multiple obfuscated blocklists to identify forensic and anti-virus tools running as processes, services, and drivers.

SolarWinds boasts over 300,000 customers, including 425 Fortune 500 companies, all ten of the top ten telcos, the Pentagon, State Department, NSA, DOJ, and the White House. Its long list of customers (which now returns a 404 error) all but ensures every passing hour will add another victim to the list.

According to SolarWinds' post-attack-discovery SEC filing, it believes only a small percentage of its customers are affected. But even a fraction of its users is still a gobsmacking number of potential victims.

On December 13, 2020, SolarWinds delivered a communication to approximately 33,000 Orion product customers that were active maintenance customers during and after the Relevant Period. SolarWinds currently believes the actual number of customers that may have had an installation of the Orion products that contained this vulnerability to be fewer than 18,000.

The attack is serious and widespread enough that the DHS's cybersecurity arm has issued a warning -- one that says the only proven way to mitigate damage at this point is to disconnect affected hardware from the internet and pull the plug on Orion software. The CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) Emergency Directive says this is a persistent threat -- one not easily patched away.

CISA has determined that this exploitation of SolarWinds products poses an unacceptable risk to Federal Civilian Executive Branch agencies and requires emergency action. This determination is based on:

  • Current exploitation of affected products and their widespread use to monitor traffic on major federal network systems;

  • High potential for a compromise of agency information systems;

  • Grave impact of a successful compromise.

CISA understands that the vendor is working to provide updated software patches. However, agencies must wait until CISA provides further guidance before using any forthcoming patches to reinstall the SolarWinds Orion software in their enterprise.

The directive goes on to mandate reporting on infected systems and for affected agencies to assume the system remains compromised until CISA gives the all-clear. Unfortunately, this grave warning comes from an agency that is also compromised. CISA issued the directive on December 13. Here's what was reported in the early hours of December 14:

US officials suspect that Russian-linked hackers were behind the recent data breach of multiple federal agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture and Commerce, but are continuing to investigate the incident, multiple sources told CNN Monday.

CNN learned Monday that DHS' cyber arm, which is tasked with helping safeguard the nation from attacks by malicious foreign actors, is among at least three US government agencies compromised in the hack.

In addition to CISA, government officials also suspect breaches at the US Postal Service and the Department of Agriculture. And the Defense Department is in the process of assessing its own exposure, if any. If any of its components have been breached, it has yet to be publicly reported.

The Russian government is denying involvement, but the evidence seems to point to "Cozy Bear," the offensive hacking wing of Russia's intelligence services. Unfortunately, SolarWinds' dominance in the network management field made it that much easier for the attack to scale. And with CISA compromised, the government's attempts to mitigate damage will be slowed as its own cybersecurity wing attempts to rid itself of a persistent threat.

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Filed Under: cisa, commerce department, hacking, russia, treasury, vulnerability
Companies: fireeye, solarwinds


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Dec 2020 @ 11:10am

    If you can't secure you own house...

    As bad as this is, and it's really bad, imagine how much worse it could have been had the anti-encryption idiots gotten their way and broken encryption was mandatory. Suddenly hacking a given agency doesn't just give you that agency's information but would also grant you access to countless other platforms and companies via the golden key they want, magnifying the damage enormously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Designerfx (profile), 15 Dec 2020 @ 11:15am

    probably would be good to link their security advisory

    https://www.solarwinds.com/securityadvisory

    For people who are solarwinds users, such as myself. Our install is also cut off from the internet until the patch is released. There's a whole reddit discussion and alternative channels if people look around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Faber Schnidejoch, 15 Dec 2020 @ 11:22am

    Alternate speculation: NSA broke into Dominion, got the goods!

    The company that made the faulty-by-design ballot counting machines by which The Establisment has thus far edged out Trump was perhaps the real target.

    It's reasonable speculation, which for me seems credible because this affected nearly every gov't server with extreme remedy: TAKE OUT the software. -- Perhaps we'll get a more solid "story" later, not necessarily the truth.

    Of course Techdirt sees "Russia" and that's far as you want to go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Faber Schnidejoch, 15 Dec 2020 @ 11:30am

      Re: Alternate speculation: NSA broke into Dominion, got the good

      Clarification: by "edged out" I mean was definitely STOLEN but outcome is still on the edge undecided, regardless of Electoral College vote. The polls were entirely wrong about "the Blue wave", the steal was utterly blatant, the machines corrupt by design, so They are still antsy. -- Yes, I know that all I have is possibly disinfo to stall and weary, but your "side" thought the 2016 election was stolen, and now says this one is perfect! We'll see.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2020 @ 11:49am

        Re: Re: Alternate speculation: NSA broke into Dominion, got the

        Do you have more credible evidence of a "stolen" election than what Trump and his crack(-smoking) team of lawyers have offered to courts?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2020 @ 11:59am

        Re: Re: Alternate speculation: NSA broke into Dominion, got the

        The person trying to steal the election currently resides in the white house. That attempt stated to ramp up with his attack on postal voting.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 15 Dec 2020 @ 1:02pm

        Re: Re: Alternate speculation: NSA broke into Dominion, got the

        FS.
        Can you guess the fault in that?
        That Both parties evaluated the Hardware and software.
        And unless they Paid off the Evaluator(another corp, probably)
        They should have closed and sealed EACH machine. And at the end, checked that nothing has changed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 15 Dec 2020 @ 12:59pm

    Soo.

    All these corps/agencies and such.
    Are leaning on a 3rd party to do WHAT?
    But then they are GIVEN a .DLL, that they DIDNT OPEN AND ANALISE before Installing on Customer computers?

    So we have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd party situation, where NO ONE Evaluated the original data in a REQUIRED PROGRAM?

    This Really sounds like a setup.

    "Orion Platform products monitor the health and performance of your network through ICMP, SNMP, WMI, API, and Syslog communication and data collection."

    Ok, this is interesting. This program is to Monitor hardware and Watch for failure? Also it monitors other small programs that are traps and data transfer?

    God help us. Why are we paying for this IF' this company allows a 3rd party program, that HASNT been checked and evaluated.
    Also, NOW we know the problem with AUTOMATED SECURITY.

    There Should only be 1 way this could work. IF it wasnt Augmenting programs/data(ya, it was a security program), it could stay hidden along time just by reading/copying Data and shipping it out, Probably in small batches.
    Otherwise if DATA changes/erases/added SHOULD created a Log file of what happened. and if this DID happen, and it took THIS LONG? we need better Network People. GET away from the corps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2020 @ 1:17pm

      Re: Soo.

      That's the point of the supply-side attack was to add malicious code to real code, so SolarWinds would sign off on it because it was doing as intended.

      Software is tested and scanned, validated as good. Feds have been running the software for years. Patches come out, are tested again, and as noted by FireEye, the malicious code waits two weeks before activating. Patches are almost never stress tested for that long before going live.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2020 @ 1:41pm

      Re: Soo.

      But then they are GIVEN a .DLL, that they DIDNT OPEN AND ANALISE

      That is the same as demanding that someone open and analyse a .exe file before it is used. A DLL is an executable code file. Also, a two weeks delay before activating the nasty stuff kept it hidden from pre-release testing inside any organization.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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