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Top Cloud Security Threat: Unauthorized Cryptocurrency Mining
Google's Cybersecurity Action Team recently published a report naming unauthorized cryptocurrency mining, also known as cryptojacking, as the top threat to Google Cloud Platform.
What Is Cryptocurrency Mining?
Cryptocurrency mining refers to the process of creating a new coin. Aside from creating new coins, cryptocurrency mining also refers to validating cryptocurrency transactions.
In many countries, cryptocurrency mining is legal. With the rise of cryptocurrency prices, malicious actors are stealing computing resources such as cloud resources from Google Cloud Platform. The skyrocketing value of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin has prompted threat actors to shift their focus from stealing data to stealing compute power in organizations’ public cloud environments.
Aside from mining Bitcoin, threat actors also mine other cryptocurrencies that are particularly developed to evade transaction tracing.
According to Google's Cybersecurity Action Team, out of 50 recently compromised Google Cloud Platform instances, 86% were used to perform cryptocurrency mining.
Unauthorized cryptocurrency mining, specifically, cloud resources is nothing new. In February 2018, RedLock reported that Tesla was once a victim of unauthorized cryptocurrency mining.
“The hackers had infiltrated Tesla’s Kubernetes console which was not password protected,” RedLock said. “Within one Kubernetes pod, access credentials were exposed to Tesla’s AWS environment which contained an Amazon S3 (Amazon Simple Storage Service) bucket that had sensitive data such as telemetry.”
Google's Cybersecurity Action Team, meanwhile, said that compromised Google Cloud Platform instances were compromised through the following:
Google's Cybersecurity Action Team also found that in 58% of situations, the cryptocurrency mining software was downloaded to the system within 22 seconds of being compromised.
“This suggests that the initial attacks and subsequent downloads were scripted events not requiring human intervention,” Google's Cybersecurity Action Team said. “The ability to manually intervene in these situations to prevent exploitation is nearly impossible..”
Threat actors easily find vulnerable internet-facing applications and exposed cloud accounts through the process called scanning.
Google's Cybersecurity Action Team reported that the shortest amount of time between deploying a vulnerable Cloud instance exposed to the internet and its compromise was as little as 30 minutes, with 40% of instances, the time to compromise was under eight hours.
“This suggests that the public IP address space is routinely scanned for vulnerable Cloud instances,” Google's Cybersecurity Action Team said.
An earlier study conducted by researchers from Palo Alto Networks' Unit 42 found that vulnerable internet-exposed applications are compromised in just 24 hours. Between July 2021 and August 2021, Unit 42 researchers set up 320 honeypots (network-attached computers purposely set up to lure threat actors) to verify how fast threat actors compromise four vulnerable internet-exposed applications. These four apps were purposely configured with weak passwords.
Palo Alto Networks' Unit 42 researchers found that 80% of the 320 honeypots were compromised in just 24 hours and all of the honeypots were compromised within a week. For these honeypots, Palo Alto Networks' Unit 42 researchers applied firewall policies to block IPs from known network scanners.
Unit 42 researchers found that applying firewall policies to block IPs from known network scanners doesn’t work as 85% of the attacker IPs were observed only on a single day. The researchers identified a daily average of 75,000 unique scanner IP addresses globally.
According to Google's Cybersecurity Action Team, Google Cloud customers with non-secure Cloud instances will likely be detected and attacked in a relatively short period of time. “Given that most instances were used for cryptocurrency mining rather than exfiltration of data, Google analysts concluded the Google Cloud IP address range was scanned rather than particular Google Cloud customers being targeted,” Google Team said.
Unauthorized Cryptocurrency Mining Risk Mitigation
Unauthorized cryptocurrency mining of cloud resources is bad for business. Cryptocurrency mining is resource-intensive. With unauthorized cryptocurrency mining, threat actors earn money while your organization unknowingly ends up paying the rented cloud computing bill.
In the case of unauthorized cryptocurrency mining done on your organization’s internet-exposed networks, negative impacts include the substantial increase in electrical consumption and an increase in the wear and tear on the hardware.
Here are some of the cybersecurity best practices to protect your organization’s internet-exposed networks and cloud accounts:
Monitor cloud configurations, network traffic, and suspicious user behavior via automated solutions. It’s important to have automated solutions. As shown by Google's Cybersecurity Action Team’s report, cryptocurrency mining software is downloaded to the system within 22 seconds of being compromised, making human intervention impossible.
Contact us today to assess your cybersecurity posture and mitigate the risks.
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Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP