Trellix Report finds a rise in threats targeting critical infrastructure

Christiaan Beek, Lead Scientist and Principal Engineer, Trellix Threat Labs

Trellix, a cybersecurity firm delivering the future of extended detection and response (XDR), released its Threat Labs Report: April 2022, auditing cybercriminal behaviour in the last six months. Key findings from the report include individual consumers being the No. 1 target of cybercriminals, closely followed by the healthcare vertical. Additionally, the transportation, shipping, manufacturing and information tech industries showed a sharp increase in threats.

“We’re at a critical juncture and observing hostile behaviour across an ever-expanding attack surface,” said Christiaan Beek, Lead Scientist and Principal Engineer, Trellix Threat Labs.

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

What were the key findings of Trellix’s research?

Threats to Critical Infrastructure

Q4 2021 saw increased cyberactivity targeting sectors essential to the function of society:

  • Transportation and shipping were the target of 27% of all advanced persistent threat (APT) — activity by adversarial and stealthy actors — detections.
  • Healthcare was the second most targeted sector, bearing 12% of total detections.
  • From Q3 to Q4 2021 threats to manufacturing increased 100%, and threats to information technology increased 36%.
  • 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 cyberattacks. It found many critical infrastructure providers have not implemented cybersecurity best practices despite high-profile breaches.

Threats to Ukraine

Trellix Threat Labs has been investigating wiper malware and other cyberthreats towards Ukraine. Wipers render devices useless by destroying memory critical to how they 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.

Today’s 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. For more background on cyber activity targeting Ukraine, visit the Trellix Threat Center and Threat Labs Blog.

Tactics, Techniques & Procedures

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 traveling 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 defense 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:

  • Cobalt Strike ranked highest among tools used by APT groups in Q4 2021 which represented 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

The report found a 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 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.

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 will continue to be the motive for nearly half of state-backed cyberattacks.

Q4 2021 Threat Activity

  • Ransomware Families; Lockbit (21%) was the most common ransomware family detected in Q4 2021, a 21% increase from Q3, then Cuba (18%), and Conti (16%).
  • Ransomware Arrests; REvil/Sodinokibi, the top Ransomware Family detected in Q3 2021, didn’t rank among most common detections in Q4 due to Law Enforcement interventions.
  • Ransomware Increase; Substantial increases in ransomware activity were observed in Italy (793%), the Netherlands (318%), and Switzerland (173%) in Q4 2021. India (70%) and the United Kingdom (47%) also experienced notable increases compared to Q3.
  • Malware Families; RedLine Stealer (20%), Raccoon Stealer (17%), Remcos RAT (12%), LokiBot (12%), and Formbook (12%) amounted to 75% of malware families in Q4 2021.