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Weak Cyber Hygiene Practices Behind Successful Cloud Attacks
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently issued an alert detailing the weak cyber hygiene practices behind successful cyberattacks against various organizations’ cloud environments.
In the alert "Strengthening Security Configurations to Defend Against Attackers Targeting Cloud Services," CISA said that based on data derived exclusively from several of its incident response engagements, it’s aware of several recent successful cyberattacks against various organizations’ cloud environments.
“Despite the use of security tools, affected organizations typically had weak cyber hygiene practices that allowed threat actors to conduct successful attacks,” CISA said.
Weak Cyber Hygiene Practices
According to CISA, successful cyberattacks against various organizations’ cloud environments frequently occur when victim organizations’ allowed employees to work from home and used a mixture of personal devices and corporate laptops to access organizations’ cloud environments.
Here are some of the weak cyber hygiene practices behind successful cyberattacks against various organizations’ cloud environments based on CISA’s alert:
CISA said threat actors are using phishing emails to harvest credentials for users’ cloud service accounts. In phishing emails, threat actors weaponize the traditional emails for cyberattacks.
These phishing emails, CISA said, contain malicious links that appear on a first glance as legitimate links to file hosting service account login. Login details entered on these malicious links were then stolen by threat actors and used to login to victims’ legitimate file hosting service accounts. From these hijacked legitimate file hosting service accounts, threat actors then sent emails from the victims’ accounts to steal login details for other accounts within the organization, CISA said.
Open Port 80
The CISA alert found that threat actors are exploiting open port 80. According to the agency, open port 80 was exploited even though an organization’s terminal server was located within a firewall.
Due to remote work posture, CISA said the terminal server was configured with port 80 open to allow remote employees to access it, leaving the organization’s network vulnerable.
The agency added that this open port 80 was exploited by launching brute force attacks. In brute force attacks, threat actors use the trial-and-error method to guess the correct username and password combination.
MFA Bypass via Pass-the-Cookie Attack
According to CISA, threat actors successfully signed into a cloud account with proper multi-factor authentication (MFA). “In this case, CISA believes the threat actors may have used browser cookies to defeat MFA with a ‘pass-the-cookie’ attack,” the agency said.
Authentication cookies are commonly used by cloud-based services to avoid frequently asking users to re-enter their credentials. Cookies are often valid for an extended period of time, even when the cloud-based service isn’t actively used.
“After the cookie is obtained through Steal Web Session Cookie, the adversary may then import the cookie into a browser they control and is then able to use the site or application as the user for as long as the session cookie is active,” MITRE said. “Once logged into the site, an adversary can access sensitive information, read email, or perform actions that the victim account has permissions to perform.”
Taking Advantage of Keyword Search Rule and Email Forwarding Rule
After gaining access into victims’ cloud service accounts, CISA said threat actors take advantage of keyword search rule and email forwarding rule.
Keyword search and email forwarding are two features found in many cloud service accounts. These features can be applied manually or automatically. While these two features are handy, these two pose a security risk due to the potential disclosure of information.
According to CISA, threat actors modified existing automated keyword search rules to search victims’ email messages for several finance-related keywords. The agency added that threat actors modified existing automated email forwarding rules and forward the emails to the threat actors’ accounts.
Mitigating Measures to Strengthen Cloud Security Practices
Here are some of the recommended mitigating measures to strengthen cloud security practices:
Phishing Scams Education
Train employees about phishing emails by making them aware how these emails are being delivered.
Secure Over-all Network from Open Port 80
One way to mitigate the adverse effect of an open port 80 is by implementing network segmentation. In network segmentation, your organization’s network is divided into sub-networks so that in case one sub-network is compromised the other sub-networks won’t be affected.
Mitigating Measures Against Pass-the-Cookie Attacks
Mitigating measures against pass-the-cookie attacks includes MFA that uses the target login domain as part of the negotiation protocol. Software configuration is another mitigating measure against pass-the-cookie attacks. In software configuration, browsers are configured to regularly delete persistent cookies.
Mitigating Measures Against Exploitation of Keyword Search Rule and Email Forwarding Rule
Mitigating measures against exploitation of keyword search rule and email forwarding rule include routinely reviewing these rules for any signs of malicious changes.
In the case of Microsoft 365, outbound spam filter policies are available to control automatic forwarding to external recipients. One of the available outbound spam filter policies is the “Off” option which disables automatic external forwarding and will result in a non-delivery report to the sender.
Implement Zero Trust Security Strategy
Zero Trust assumes that no one should be trusted by default within and outside the network. Zero trust security strategy includes the principle of least privilege and the principle of explicit verification.
In implementing the principle of least privilege, right access at the right time is only given to those who need it. Explicit verification, meanwhile, includes MFA that requires users using new devices and from new locations to respond to an MFA challenge.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP