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How to Protect Your Business From APT Malware?

Businesses must protect themselves from the most advanced malware attacks by organized threat groups nicknamed by many cybersecurity vendors as APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats). Malicious programs and software propagated by APT groups are designed to break into computer systems and steal data. APT malware can be difficult to detect and often go undetected for long periods. Hackers often use it to gain access to confidential information.

How would security personnel know whether the organization has been attacked by an APT group? 

Multiple signatures and behavioral changes indicate that organizational network infrastructure has possibly become a victim of an APT malware attack. Some of the common indications are as follows: –

  1. Unexplained or sudden changes in the behavior of computer systems or networks.
  2. Unauthorized access to or use of computer systems or networks.
  3. Unexpected or unexplained emails, attachments, or websites.
  4. Use of malicious software, such as viruses, worms, or Trojan horses.
  5. Suspicious or unauthorized network traffic or communications.
  6. Unusual patterns in file downloads or access.
  7. Changes in system configurations or settings.
  8. Suspicious or unauthorized use of privileged accounts.
  9. Tampering with or destruction of computer systems or data.
  10. The appearance of phishing or other social engineering attacks.

Advice for Security personnel to mitigate APT malware attacks

The most important thing is to have a plan before the attack. Security professionals need to have a plan for responding to the attack, recovering business-critical data, and preventing future attacks. SOCs (Security Operations Centers) should also have a backup and disaster recovery plan. All mission-critical data must be backed up regularly. There must be a plan in place to recover the corporate data if the primary systems or servers are damaged or destroyed. Security personnel is advised to follow the below-mentioned mitigation steps if the APT malware has infected the network systems of an organization:

  1. Disconnect all the corporate devices from the internet.
  2. Reboot those devices in safe mode.
  3. Run an anti-virus scan.
  4. Remove any infected files detected.
  5. Restart corporate devices in normal operating mode.
  6. Connect the devices to the internet.
  7. Run an anti-virus scan again.
  8. Remove any infected files detected.
  9. Now, restart the devices in safe mode.
  10. Run an anti-virus scan again.
  11. Remove any infected files detected.

How to proactively protect businesses and prevent APT malware attacks? 

Businesses can follow several best practices to protect themselves from APT malware. One of the most important steps is to install up-to-date security software on all devices and to make sure that all software is regularly updated. Businesses should also create strong passwords and use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. It is also important to be aware of phishing attacks and to never open emails or attachments from unknown sources. Finally, businesses should regularly back up their data. Here are a few tips to help security professionals protect the business from APT malware:

  1. Keep the software solutions and applications up to date. The software upgrades must be regularly checked to ensure the software is patched to recently disclosed vulnerabilities. The operating systems and other security solutions must be upgraded to the officially supported maintenance version offered by the vendor.
  2. Deploying a network and a web application firewall can help protect your business from network-based malware attacks by blocking unwanted and malicious traffic.
  3. Using strong and unique passwords and credentials are of utmost importance and a basic security best practice. Employees are advised never to use the same credentials for multiple accounts.
  4. Ensuring employee and staff cyber security awareness and education programs help the employees become aware of the risks of APT malware. They must be trained to thwart such attacks.
  5. Back up data in DR (Disaster Recovery) servers that are off-site and located across different regions in the world. This can help protect corporate data in the event of data loss or a malware attack.

Cybersecurity strategies for business leaders

There are many ways in which businesses can protect themselves from APT malware. One of the best ways to prevent an APT attack is to have a comprehensive security plan in place. This security plan should include measures such as firewalls, anti-virus software, intrusion detection systems, and email security. Businesses should also keep their software up to date. Out-of-date software is more vulnerable to attack. Employees should also be educated about APT attacks. They should be aware of the signs of an attack and know what to do if they think they are being targeted. Businesses should also have an incident response plan in place. If they are attacked, they will need to know how to respond. This plan should include steps to take to secure the network and how to investigate the attack. Following the Defense-in-Depth approach, the security leadership can also take steps to proactively protect the network infrastructure from future cyberattacks. Leaders are advised to stay calm if they are hit by an APT malware attack. Attackers or cyber criminals take the advantage of unnecessary panic. Stay calm and take the necessary steps to recover the system and protect the data.

Centex Technologies provide cybersecurity and computer networking solutions. You can contact Centex Technologies at Killeen (254) 213 – 4740, Dallas (972) 375 – 9654, Atlanta (404) 994 – 5074, and Austin (512) 956 – 5454.

Stages of Malware Lifecycle

PDF Version: Stages-of-Malware-Lifecycle

Malware: Types, Detection & Prevention

The word ‘Malware’ is derived from the amalgamation of words malicious and software. It is a type of software that is particularly designed with the sole purpose of harming a target computer system by stealing data or causing disruption. In order to stay protected against malware, companies need to use specific anti-malware programs. But before choosing the correct anti-malware system, it is imperative to know about different types of malware.

Following are some common malware types:

  • Virus: A computer virus is malicious code that has the ability to copy itself and spread to other files and folders. The code attaches itself to legitimate executable programs resent in the target system and launch when the program is executed. Some of the harmful functions performed by viruses are modifying or corrupting files, copying data, disrupting software functions, etc. As the virus is self-replicating, it is difficult to completely remove the virus completely.
  • Worms: Worms are self-replicating and infect computers through vulnerabilities in the operating systems. Most worms are designed to consume lot of bandwidth and overload the servers. However, small number of worms can modify the existing files. Worms are used by the hackers to deliver payloads in target systems which are then launched to steal data, corrupt files, etc.
  • Bot: An internet bot is an application designed to perform automatic functions. Hackers can engineer bots to infect computers and perform large scale DDOS attacks. The bots are programmed to infect multiple computer systems and form a botnet to over-flood the server with a large number of requests. Bots are also used to cause inconveniences like spamming and repetitively showing certain advertisements.
  • Ransomware: Ransomware is a malicious software that completely locks the infected system until the user pays a ransom. Ransomware spreads like a worm across a network and has the ability to infect the network of an organization within hours. Some ransomware software do not lock the entire system, but encrypt critical data files. The users are asked to pay a ransom in exchange of decryption key.
  • Spyware: It is a software that lies undetected in the target system. It’s purpose is to collect information on user activity and send it to the hacker’s server. This is done by monitoring usage, logging keystrokes, stealing user passwords, etc.
  • Trojans: A Trojan is a malicious software that is designed to appear as a common, harmless attachment or downloadable file that may not be detected as harmful by the antivirus system. However, once downloaded, the software executes itself and causes damage such as stealing data, erasing or modifying files, altering system configuration, etc.

Detection Of Malware:

Some common signs that indicate presence of malware are:

  • Slowing down of systems
  • Reduced browsing speed
  • Recurrent freezing of systems
  • Modification of files
  • Altered system settings
  • Missing files
  • Random appearance of new files or applications

Prevention Of Malware:

  • Use reliable & authentic anti-virus
  • Conduct regular scans
  • Do not use pirated software
  • Don’t open attachments from unknown sources

For more information on types, detection and prevention of malware, contact Centex Technologies at (254) 213 – 4740.

How Does Fileless Malware Work?

Fileless malware is defined as a type of malicious software that does not rely on virus-laden files to infect a host or victim. In contrast, it makes use of applications that are commonly used to perform legitimate and justified activity for executing malicious code in resident memory of the host. As the software doesn’t create any files, it doesn’t leave any footprints making it difficult to detect and remove.

Key Targets Of Fileless Malware:

The attackers who employ fileless malware tend to gather large amount of information in short span of time. So, they tend to focus the attack on a few key targets. Two systems that form common target are:

  • PowerShell
  • Windows Management Instrumentations

The reasons why attackers choose these systems are:

  • Security technologies trust these utilities
  • Analysts tend to assume that actions of these systems are legitimate
  • These utilities provide complete control over an endpoint
  • Most organizations refrain from shutting down these systems as it will hinder business It or DevOps work

Working Of Fileless Malware:

Following are few scenarios in which fileless malware can use a system’s software, applications and protocols to install and execute malicious activity:

  • Phishing emails, malicious downloads, and links that look legitimate are used as points of entry. Once a user clicks on these links, they load to system’s memory. This enables the hackers to remotely load codes to steal confidential data.
  • Malicious code can be injected into applications that are already installed on the system and trusted by the user. After injecting the code, these applications are hijacked and executed by hackers to carry out malicious activity.
  • Attackers create fake websites that mimic legitimate business pages. When user visits these pages, the websites search for vulnerabilities in Flash plugin. These vulnerabilities are exploited to run malicious code in the browser memory.

Fileless malware is written directly to RAM of the infected system and no changes are made on the hard disk. The malware works in memory and the operations end when the system reboots.

Defending Against Fileless Malware Attacks:

The effective way to defend against fileless malware attacks is to adopt an integrated approach that addresses the entire threat lifecycle. Employing a multi-layer defense protocol enables the user to investigate every phase before, during and after the attack.

For more information on fileless malware and tips on preventing cyber-attacks on computer networks, contact Centex Technologies at (254) 213 – 4740.

What Is CryptoWall Ransomware?

A ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts user files on victim computer or network. The attacker then demands a ransom from the victim in exchange for the decryption key. CryptoWall is a family of such file-encrypting ransomware. It first appeared in early 2014 and has numerous variants including Cryptorbit, CryptoDefense, CryptoWall 2.0, and CryptoWall 3.0. The early variants used RSA public key for file encryption, however, the new versions use AES key for file encryption. The AES key is further encrypted using a public key. This makes it impossible to get the actual key needed to decrypt the files.

Mode Of Infection:

Traditionally, CryptoWall ransomware was distributed via exploit kits. But, now spam emails are also used to infect the victims. The spam email contains RAR attachment that includes a CHM file. When the victim opens the CHM file, it downloads ‘CryptoWall binary’ to the system and copies itself into the %temp% folder.

CHM file – Compiled HTML or CHM file is an interactive html file that is compressed inside a CHM container and may hold other files such as JavaScript, images, etc. inside it.

Execution:

  • The Cryptowall binary downloaded on the system is compressed or encoded. Useless instructions and anti-emulation tricks are deliberately inserted in the coding to break AV engine protection.
  • On execution, it launches a new instance of explorer.exe process.
  • In the next step, the ransomware injects its unpacked CrytoWall binary and executes the injected code.
  • The original process automatically exits itself after launching the injected explorer process.
  • The files are encrypted and the ransomware deletes the volume shadow files using ‘vssadmin.exe’ tool. This makes sure that the encrypted files may not be recovered.
  • The CryptoWall binary is copied to various locations such as %appdata%, %startup%, %rootdrive%, etc. The copies are added to the auto start key to help them stay persistent even after the infected system is rebooted.
  • A new svchost.exe process is launched with user privilege and malicious binary code is injected into it.
  • The ransomware connects to I2P proxies to find live command and control server.
  • The server replies with unique encryption key generated specifically for the target system. The key starts the file encryption thread and drops ransom notes in all directories.
  • Finally, it launches Internet Explorer to display ransom notes and the hollowed svchost process kills itself.

Protection:

  • Keep antivirus up-to-date
  • Back up the files
  • Apply windows update regularly
  • Avoid clicking random emails
  • Disable remote desktop connections
  • Block binaries running from %appdata% and %temp% paths

For more information on Cryptowall ransomware, contact Centex Technologies at (254) 213 – 4740.

 

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