Welcome to this week’s edition of the Threat Source newsletter.
Last week, the Biden administration released its formal roadmap for its national cybersecurity initiative meant to encourage greater investment in cybersecurity and strengthen the U.S.’s critical infrastructure security (and more).
The roadmap goes a long way toward actualizing a plan the administration released earlier this year and sets tangible goals and programs to put many of these initiatives into action. But because nothing ever moves quickly in government, this roadmap and the associated plan are already hitting a few roadblocks.
First, there’s the ever-present partisan politics. Republican state lawmakers are backing a legal challenge in the court systems to block an Environmental Protection Administration rule that asked local water systems to evaluate their current cybersecurity systems and protections while conducting sanitation surveys. To me, simply asking critical infrastructure to consider these factors as part of their normal processes seems like a non-issue, but the U.S. Appeals Court has put a hold on this rule for the time being (though it didn’t give a precise reason at the time of its ruling).
If lawmakers are going to hash these types of regulations in court every time something new pops up, we’ll never reach the point of these rules actually being implemented.
Two leading Republican members of the U.S. House came out hours after the Biden administration released the roadmap, saying they would use their respective House panels to, “exercise strict oversight on CISA’s efforts” to implement many of the policies outlined.
Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall, cybersecurity should be something our lawmakers can all agree on.
Say these arguments extend through the 2024 election — what happens if control of the White House or Congress switches between parties? And then that changes again in 2026? Change is slow, so none of these initiatives are going to be implemented overnight.
If our government can’t come to any sort of agreement about the importance of cybersecurity, and how to encourage stronger public-private partnerships to reach the country’s goals, this is just going to be another partisan issue that’s held up by legal challenges, budget negotiations, hearings and verbal discourse. And by the time that all subsides, the people in charge of outlining and implementing these cybersecurity goals could have very well changed.
So, forgive me if I’m coming off as a bit skeptical that anything in this roadmap will end up passing any mile markers.
The one big thing
Our researchers recently discovered a threat actor conducting several campaigns against government entities, military organizations and civilian users in Ukraine and Poland. Our recent reporting states that these operations are very likely aimed at stealing information and gaining persistent remote access. The activity we analyzed occurred as early as April 2022 and as recently as earlier this month, demonstrating the persistent nature of the threat actor. The final payloads include the AgentTesla remote access trojan (RAT), Cobalt Strike beacons and njRAT.
Why do I care?
If you’re a user in Ukraine or Poland, especially someone working in the government or military sectors, this is a clear-cut example of a spam campaign targeting this population. For those who fall outside of that demographic, it’s interesting that this group is still relying on the user enabling macros in Office, since Microsoft disabled those by default earlier this year. These are also highly targeted emails with (relatively speaking) convincing lures, so whoever is behind these is not to be ignored.
So now what?
There are multiple Cisco Secure protections in place to defend against the types of spam used in these campaigns. Other Snort rules and detection content can prevent the execution of the malware used as the final payload. Our researchers have also published examples of the types of lure images and documents used in the initial phishing emails so users can know what to be on the lookout for.
Top security headlines of the week
Chinese state-sponsored actors reportedly accessed email accounts belonging to several U.S.-based organizations and federal government agencies, including the State Department. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a detailed timeline on the campaign, stating that an investigation from Microsoft revealed that “advanced persistent threat (APT) actors accessed and exfiltrated unclassified Exchange Online Outlook data” after users reported suspicious activities in their Microsoft 365 cloud environment. While the full scope of the hack is still under investigation, reports indicate that the actors were primarily trying to steal sensitive information. While CISA or Microsoft have yet to disclose any specific vulnerabilities the actors exploited, the CISA report does say that the APT used a Microsoft account consumer key to forge tokens and impersonate targeted users. “Microsoft remediated the issue by first blocking tokens issued with the acquired key and then replacing the key to prevent continued misuse,” the report states. (CISA, CNN)
Popular tax preparation software companies are under fire from lawmakers for allegedly sharing personal information with social media sites, including Google and Meta. Several Democratic lawmakers released a report last week that accused TaxAct, H&R Block and TaxSlayer of embedding Meta and Google’s tracking pixels on their sites, potentially violating U.S. law and sharing taxpayers’ information with those companies. The report says the data was kept anonymous, but the companies could “easily” use the information to identify individuals or create targeted advertising for them. The report has also renewed calls for the Internal Revenue Service to offer its own, free online tax filing service for U.S. consumers. (Vox, USA Today)
Apple had to roll back and then re-release a security update that addressed an actively exploited vulnerability in WebKit. Apple initially released a Rapid Security Response patch for iPhones and iPads on July 11 to fix CVE-2023-37450, a remote code execution vulnerability in the WebKit browser engine that Safari and other web browsers use. However, users reported that the fix was causing Safari to not connect correctly to major websites like Facebook, Instagram and Zoom, leading Apple to pull back the patch. Since then, Apple released a new fix for iOS, iPadOS and macOS that reliably fixes the vulnerability again. Though few details are currently available about CVE-2023-37450, Apple indicated it had been exploited in the wild and could be triggered by a vulnerable browser processing specially crafted web content. (Forbes, Gizmodo)
Can’t get enough Talos?
- Vulnerability Roundup: Memory corruption vulnerability in Microsoft Edge; MilesightVPN and router could be taken over
- Malicious Microsoft Drivers Could Number in the Thousands: Cisco Talos
- New Threat Actor Launches Cyber-attacks on Ukraine and Poland
- Uncovering weaknesses in Apple macOS and VMWare vCenter: 12 vulnerabilities in RPC implementation
- The Need to Know: Why are there so many malware-as-a-service offerings?
- Implementing an ISO-compliant threat intelligence program
- Talos Takes Ep. #147: The dangers of "Mercenary" groups and the spyware they create
Upcoming events where you can find Talos
BlackHat (Aug. 5 - 10)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Grace Hopper Celebration (Sept. 26 - 29)
Caitlin Huey, Susan Paskey and Alexis Merritt present a "Level Up Lab" titled "Don’t Fail Knowledge Checks: Accelerating Incident Response with Threat Intelligence." Participate in several fast-paced activities that emphasize the importance of threat intelligence in security incident investigations. Attendees will act as incident responders investigating a simulated incident that unfolds throughout this session. Periodic checkpoints will include discussions that highlight how incident response and threat intelligence complement each other during an active security investigation.
“Most prevalent malware files” is taking a break this week for maintenance.