As you’ve probably seen by now, Talos released our 2023 Year in Review report last week. It’s an extremely comprehensive look at the top threats, attacker trends and malware families from the past year with never-before-seen Cisco Talos telemetry. 

We have podcasts, long-form videos and even Reddit AMAs to keep you covered and make it easy to digest our major takeaways from the report. Or, just kick back with a cup of coffee and read the full report — your choice! 

With this being the last Threat Source newsletter of the calendar year, I figured I’d do a Year in Review of my own. I don’t have the data or first-hand research to back any of these statements up, this is purely just vibes-based or things I’ve discovered about myself and my cybersecurity habits over the past year, so while you may not be able to deploy any of these things on your firewall, I hope they serve as good advice to anyone thinking about the security landscape heading into the new year. 

  • Do as I say, not as I do. Before my daughter was born, I wrote in this newsletter about how I was skeptical about posting her face online and entering her personal data into various platforms while she’s so young and unable to even understand what a phone is. As soon as she was old enough to smile, I folded quickly. I’ll admit that I’ve posted her face all over Instagram, supplied her information to Gerber to enter her into the annual Gerber Baby competition (she came up short behind Maddie, apparently) and given personal information to who knows what sites while I was randomly trying to get answers to my first-time parent questions at 2 a.m. when she was getting her first tooth. None of these things are particularly smart in the long run, but as an unbiased observer, I can confidently say her cuteness on the internet only makes it a better place. 
  • Just assume your passwords are going to get out there. Several major password management services were hit with data breaches this year. And there were countless headlines about how brute-forcing password guesses led to others. The basic idea of a password manager is that your login information is inherently safer than just using the same password repeatedly, writing them down on a physical sheet of paper, or just hoping you remember each time you log in. At this point, I think it’s just safe to say that passwords are not your safest option. Passkeys and a passwordless approach to security are becoming increasingly popular, so where you can enroll in that, do it. Or if a traditional username and password combination is your only option, change that password as often as you can and make sure you have multi-factor authentication enabled to whatever password management service you use.  
  • It’s time to get off Twitter. Or X, whatever you want to call it. This platform has fully jumped the shark at this point and is rife with misinformation. The company has completely torn down any internal teams it has dedicated to fighting fake news or scams and searching for literally anything will surface misleading information, outright lies or offensive content. I miss the days when I could go to Twitter and search for a topic to get updates on a particular news item. I’m writing this on Dec. 13, and in the “Trending” sidebar on Twitter, I saw that “#cyberattack” was trending. Naturally, I wanted to see if there was an event going on I should be aware of, for obvious reasons. Instead, my results in the “Top” section included some word salad about the Bank of England targeting its own country’s critical infrastructure, a nonsensical clip from commentator Dan Bongino about woke leftists showing a cyber pandemic in a new movie, and a shocking amount of conspiracy theories about said new movie “Leave the World Behind.” It reminds me of the Michael Bluth line from “Arrested Development” when he grabs the bag out of the fridge that says, “Dead Dove DO NOT EAT.” 
  • Don’t ever assume a threat is gone forever. Over the past year, many major threat actors and malware operators that were once thought removed showed they could find a way back. The story of the FBI’s takedown of the Qakbot botnet was a major headline in August, and anyone who read the basic coverage would have thought, “Cool, don’t need to worry about those guys anymore!” However, subsequent research from Talos and other security firms found that remnants of Qakbot are still around, specifically services dedicated to sending spam. Trickbot, a major threat actor known for big game hunting, recently switched up its tactics and is actively targeting organizations in Ukraine, despite its developer being arrested and pleading guilty to several U.S. federal charges. And Emotet, which is known for its various stops-and-starts, is relatively quiet right now but was briefly active again earlier this year. This is not to say that these law enforcement server takedowns and arrests aren’t working — anything we can do to make the bad guys’ lives harder is a win in the end — but it’s continued proof that we can never really count any threat out.  

The one big thing 

Cisco Talos recently discovered a new campaign conducted by the Lazarus Group we’re calling “Operation Blacksmith,” employing at least three new DLang-based malware families, two of which are remote access trojans (RATs), where one of these uses Telegram bots and channels as a medium of command and control (C2) communications. Our latest findings indicate a definitive shift in the tactics of the infamous North Korean state-sponsored actor. 

Why do I care? 

This particular activity can be attributed to Andariel, a spinoff of the Lazarus Group. They’re actively exploiting the Log4shell vulnerability in Log4j, which is virtually everywhere. The hope is that most people have patched since the ubiquitous vulnerability was discovered in late 2021, but telemetry indicates there are many vulnerable instances still out there. Once infected, Andariel looks to install other malware loaders on the targeted machines and executes remote code that allows them to learn about the details of the system.  

So now what? 

Talos’ blog outlines the numerous ways Cisco Secure products have protections in place to defend against Operation Blacksmith and other activities from Lazarus Group. 

Top security headlines of the week 

Hundreds of Windows and Linux devices from a range of manufacturers are vulnerable to a newly discovered attack called “LogoFAIL.” The attack involves an adversary executing malicious firmware during the machines’ boot-up sequences, which means it’s difficult for traditional detection methods to block, or for users to even notice that it’s happening. The researchers who discovered this exploit wrote in their full paper that, once the attacker uses LogoFAIL to execute remote code during the Driver Execution Environment phase, it’s “game over for platform security.” Although there is no indication this type of attack has been used in the wild, it is being tracked through several CVEs. Potentially affected users should update to the latest version of UEFI by updating their firmware, including new patches from AMI, Intel, Insyde, Phoenix and Lenovo. Users can also lock down their machine’s EFI System Partition (ESP) so adversaries can’t access it, which is necessary to carry out LogoFAIL. (ArsTechnica, ZDNet

The U.K. publicly charges Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB, of a yearslong cyber espionage campaign targeting British government officials and other high-profile public citizens. The U.K. Foreign Office said the FSB conducted "sustained unsuccessful attempts to interfere in U.K. political processes” over several years, including stealing information relating to the country’s national elections in 2019. The alleged campaigns involved trying to breach emails belonging to politicians, journalists, activists and academics, and fake social media profiles set up to impersonate the target’s contacts. One MP in British parliament said their emails had been stolen. Several individuals belonging to a group known as Star Blizzard have been sanctioned for their connections to these activities. (BBC, Politico

Several major hardware and software vendors released their last patches of the calendar year this week. Microsoft disclosed four critical vulnerabilities as part of its regular Patch Tuesday, three of which could lead to remote code execution. However, the total number of vulnerabilities included in December’s Patch Tuesday, 33, was the lowest in a single month since December 2019. Meanwhile on Monday, Apple released patches for its major pieces of hardware, disclosing security issues in iPhones, Macs and more. One of the vulnerabilities in macOS, CVE-2023-42914, is a kernel issue with the potential to allow apps to break out of their sandboxes. Additionally, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released an advisory that attackers are actively exploiting a vulnerability in Adobe ColdFusion, which potentially poses a threat to government agencies. CVE-2023-26360 is an improper access control issue that could lead to arbitrary code execution. (Dark Reading, Talos, Security Boulevard

Can’t get enough Talos? 

Upcoming events where you can find Talos 

NIS2 Directive: Why Organizations Must Act Now to Ensure Compliance and Security (Jan. 11, 2024, 10 a.m. GMT) 


The NIS2 Directive is a crucial step toward securing Europe’s critical infrastructure and essential services in an increasingly interconnected world. Organizations must act now to prepare for the new requirements, safeguard their operations, and maintain a robust cybersecurity posture. Gergana Karadzhova-Dangela from Cisco Talos Incident Response and other Cisco experts will talk about how organizations can best prepare for the coming regulations.  

Most prevalent malware files from Talos telemetry over the past week 

SHA 256: 00ab15b194cc1fc8e48e849ca9717c0700ef7ce2265511276f7015d7037d8725 
MD5: d47fa115154927113b05bd3c8a308201  
Typical Filename: mssqlsrv.exe 
Claimed Product: N/A   
Detection Name: Trojan.GenericKD.65065311 

SHA 256: 5e537dee6d7478cba56ebbcc7a695cae2609010a897d766ff578a4260c2ac9cf 
MD5: 2cfc15cb15acc1ff2b2da65c790d7551 
Typical Filename: rcx4d83.tmp 
Claimed Product: N/A   
Detection Name: Win.Dropper.Pykspa::tpd  

SHA 256: 9f1f11a708d393e0a4109ae189bc64f1f3e312653dcf317a2bd406f18ffcc507  
MD5: 2915b3f8b703eb744fc54c81f4a9c67f  
Typical Filename: VID001.exe  
Claimed Product: N/A  
Detection Name: Win.Worm.Coinminer::1201 

SHA 256: 5a6b089b1d2dd66948f24ed2d9464ce61942c19e98922dd77d36427f6cded634 
MD5: 05436c22388ae10b4023b8b721729a33 
Typical Filename: BossMaster.txt 
Claimed Product: N/A 
Detection Name: 

SHA 256: 975517668a3fe020f1dbb1caafde7180fd9216dcbf0ea147675ec287287f86aa 
MD5: 9403425a34e0c78a919681a09e5c16da 
Typical Filename: vincpsarzh.exe 
Claimed Product: N/A 
Detection Name: Win.Dropper.Scar::tpd