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Attacks on critical infrastructure continue - Trellix report

By Catherine Knowles
Wed 27 Apr 2022

Individual consumers are the number one target of cyber criminals, closely followed by the healthcare vertical. In addition, the transportation, shipping, manufacturing and information technology industries have experienced a sharp increase in threats.

This is according to Trellix’s Threat Labs Report: April 2022, which examines cyber criminal behaviour over the last six months.

Trellix Threat Labs lead scientist and principal engineer Christiaan Beek says, “We’re at a critical juncture in cybersecurity and observing increasingly hostile behaviour across an ever-expanding attack surface. Our world has fundamentally changed.

"The fourth quarter signalled the shift out of a two-year pandemic which cyber criminals used for profit and saw the Log4Shell vulnerability impact hundreds of millions of devices, only to continue cyber momentum in the new year where we’ve seen an escalation of international cyber activity.”

Attacks on critical infrastructure

According to Trellix, Q4 2021 saw increased cyber activity targeting sectors essential to the function of society.

Transportation and shipping were the target of 27% of all advanced persistent threat (APT); healthcare was the second most targeted sector, bearing 12% of total detections; and from Q3 to Q4 2021 threats to manufacturing increased 100%, and threats to information technology increased 36%.

Of Trellix customers, the transportation sector was targeted in 62% of all observed detections in Q4 2021

Earlier this month, Trellix released a global Cyber Readiness Report investigating how critical infrastructure providers are preparing for cyber attacks. It found many critical infrastructure providers have not implemented cybersecurity best practices despite high-profile breaches.

Threats to Ukraine

Another key focus of the report was the threats to Ukraine. 

Trellix Threat Labs has been investigating wiper malware and other cyberthreats targeting the country. Wipers render devices within targeted organisations useless by destroying the memory critical to how the devices operate.

Trellix analysis of the Whispergate and HermeticWiper malware used before and during the invasion of Ukraine details the similarities and differences of the two strains used to destabilise Ukrainian IT systems by destroying the communications within the country.

The company's latest report lists threat actors targeting Ukraine, including Actinium APT, Gamaredon APT, Nobelium APT (also known as APT29), UAC-0056 and Shuckworm APT. Of all APT activity Trellix observed in Q4 2021, APT29 accounted for 30% of the detections.

The report details recommendations for organisations seeking to proactively protect their environment from tactics these actors use.

Tactics, techniques and procedures

When it comes to tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), Trellix observed the continued use of Living off the Land (LotL) methods, where criminals use existing software and controls native to a device to execute an attack.

Windows Command Shell (CMD) (53%) and PowerShell (44%) were the most-frequently used NativeOS Binaries, and Remote Services (36%) was the most-used Administrative Tool in Q4 2021.

Trellix Threat Labs recently found LotL techniques deployed by DarkHotel, a suspected South Korean APT group, using Excel files to successfully infiltrate luxury hotels and glean information on prominent guests travelling for work and conferences.

Earlier this year, Trellix Threat Labs also identified a multi-stage espionage attack on a prime minister’s office to surveille high-ranking government officials and defence sector business executives.

This campaign featured the use of Microsoft’s OneDrive as a Command and Control (C2) server and Excel to gain access to victim environments.

Other methods and techniques gaining traction among cyber adversaries in recent months include the following:

  • Cobalt Strike ranked highest among tools used by APT groups in Q4 2021, a 95% increase from Q3.
  • Obfuscated files or information, followed by credentials from web browsers, and file and directory discovery were the techniques observed most in Q4 2021.
  • Malware was used most often in reported incidents in Q4 2021, accounting for 46% of total incidents and increasing 15% from Q3 2021.

Threats to Individuals

Notably, the report found a significant (73%) increase in cyber incidents targeting individuals and positioned people as the top attack sector in Q4 2021.

This includes threats executed through social media, mobile devices and other services where consumers store data and credentials.

For example, in Q4 2021 Facebook discovered spyware campaigns targeting users around the world and another criminal group leveraged Joker malware to target Android users globally.

These attacks are typically politically motivated to follow a person’s interactions and contacts.

This follows the release of In the Crosshairs: Organisations and Nation-State Cyber Threats, a report from Trellix and the Center for Strategic and International Studies which found access to consumer data was and likely will continue to be the motive for nearly half of state-backed cyber attacks.

Q4 2021 threat activity

Ransomware families: Lockbit (21%) was the most prevalent ransomware family detected in Q4 2021, a 21% increase from Q3, followed by Cuba (18%), and Conti (16%).

Ransomware arrests: REvil/Sodinokibi, the top ransomware family detected in Q3 2021, did not rank among most prevalent detections in Q4 due to global law enforcement interventions.

Malware families: RedLine Stealer (20%), Raccoon Stealer (17%), Remcos RAT (12%), LokiBot (12%), and Formbook (12%) amounted to almost 75% of malware families observed in Q4 2021.

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