Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Operations

10/21/2019
04:00 PM
50%
50%

Avast Foils Another CCleaner Attack

'Abiss' attackers used an older VPN profile to get into Avast's network and targeted its CCleaner utility.

Two years after cyber-espionage actors infected the CCleaner utility with malware designed to infiltrated certain companies, Avast's security team has foiled a second attack targeting the widely used system-maintenance program.

The company detected signs of the attack on Sept. 23, when suspicious network behavior tipped off its security team. The attackers gained access through compromised VPN credentials that used an old profile not requiring two-factor authentication. The attackers were able to compromise two separate accounts and access the internal network, Avast said in a statement on its site today.

The attack failed to advance beyond the early stages, says Jaya Baloo, Avast's chief information security officer, who started on Oct. 1 as the investigation kicked off.

"The worst-case scenario was that they could try to do what they did before: Get code-signing keys, be able to push out malware, and send [malicious code] using valid updates," she says. "So we looked for that, but we didn't find it. We assumed nothing and looked at all the old versions of stuff we released in the last six months. ... We checked and rechecked."

The incident could have ended much worse, as it did two years ago. In July 2017, attackers managed to infiltrate the network of Piriform, maker of CCleaner, following Avast's acquisition of the company, and pushed out malware-infected updates to 2.27 million users. The company was not a target of opportunity. The attackers pushed secondary infections to just 20 victims machines, targeting companies including Microsoft, Google, Sony, Cisco, and Akamai.

"From the insights we have gathered so far, it is clear that this was an extremely sophisticated attempt against us that had the intention to leave no traces of the intruder or their purpose, and that the actor was progressing with exceptional caution in order to not be detected," Avast stated in the most recent blog post. "We do not know if this was the same actor as before and it is likely we will never know for sure, so we have named this attempt 'Abiss'."

After initially detecting the suspicious access on Sept. 23, the company found a second user account had also been used by the attackers. Tracking back the history of suspicious activity, the company found the first attempts by the attacker to infiltrate the system dated back to May 14.

The company then tracked the known compromised user accounts. While the original user account did not have administrative access, the attackers used a privilege-escalation exploit to gain greater permissions on the network, Avast stated. The attacker was able to replicate the Active Directory, a step toward attempting to retrieve additional credentials, but did not advance further, the company said.

The attack required that Baloo jump in with both feet into her new role. While she was hired earlier in the summer, she still had not left her previous job and was traveling when she got the call.

"The first order of business was to .... figure out where the bathroom is and examine all those logs," she says.

As part of its response, Avast collaborated with the Czech intelligence agency, known as the Security Information Service (BIS), the cybersecurity section of the local Czech police, and a third-party incident response and forensics team.

Avast has a very technical team, who had learned a great deal from the attack two years ago, Baloo says. Yet there are still lessons to be learned from this time around.

The first is to better analyze the data the company is collecting. The initial alert had been detected by the company, but was deemed a false positive — not a threat. While many companies can cut out noisy data sources, Avast needs to analyze as much data possible because that is the company's business, she says.

"This is really challenging, especially in a company whose business it is to look for the bad guys," she says. "You have a lot of data, and so you have two different extremes — having a lot of data but not using it or being crippled by the immense amount of data you are getting.

The company also needs to better segment its permissions, which is difficult because everyone in the company is quite technical and wants to do as much on his or her own as possible, she says.

"The people are capable and have hands-on credibility, so they have a lot of leeway to ask for a lot of privileges on the network because they can handle it," Baloo says. "But nothing is better for security than segmentation, isolation, and asking people to jump through a few more hoops before giving them access to the crown jewels."

Related Content:

This free, all-day online conference offers a look at the latest tools, strategies, and best practices for protecting your organization’s most sensitive data. Click for more information and, to register, here.

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 5/28/2020
The Problem with Artificial Intelligence in Security
Dr. Leila Powell, Lead Security Data Scientist, Panaseer,  5/26/2020
10 iOS Security Tips to Lock Down Your iPhone
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  5/22/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
How Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs Work (and Why Some Don't)
This Tech Digest takes a look at the vital role cybersecurity incident response (IR) plays in managing cyber-risk within organizations. Download the Tech Digest today to find out how well-planned IR programs can detect intrusions, contain breaches, and help an organization restore normal operations.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-13173
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-28
Initialization of the pcoip_credential_provider in Teradici PCoIP Standard Agent for Windows and PCoIP Graphics Agent for Windows versions 19.11.1 and earlier creates an insecure named pipe, which allows an attacker to intercept sensitive information or possibly elevate privileges via pre-installing...
CVE-2019-6342
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-28
An access bypass vulnerability exists when the experimental Workspaces module in Drupal 8 core is enabled. This can be mitigated by disabling the Workspaces module. It does not affect any release other than Drupal 8.7.4.
CVE-2020-11082
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-28
In Kaminari before 1.2.1, there is a vulnerability that would allow an attacker to inject arbitrary code into pages with pagination links. This has been fixed in 1.2.1.
CVE-2020-5357
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-28
Dell Dock Firmware Update Utilities for Dell Client Consumer and Commercial docking stations contain an Arbitrary File Overwrite vulnerability. The vulnerability is limited to the Dell Dock Firmware Update Utilities during the time window while being executed by an administrator. During this time wi...
CVE-2020-13660
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-28
CMS Made Simple through 2.2.14 allows XSS via a crafted File Picker profile name.