CISA Releases Directive on Reducing the Significant Risk of Known Exploited Vulnerabilities

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 22-01, Reducing the Significant Risk of Known Exploited Vulnerabilities, to drive urgent and prioritized remediation of vulnerabilities that are being actively exploited by adversaries. The Directive establishes a CISA-managed catalog of known exploited vulnerabilities and requires federal civilian agencies to remediate such vulnerabilities within specific timeframes.

CISA issued BOD 22-01 to drive federal agencies to mitigate actively exploited vulnerabilities on their networks, sending a clear message to all organizations across the country to focus patching on the subset of vulnerabilities that are causing harm now, and enable CISA to drive continuous prioritization of vulnerabilities based on our understanding of adversary activity. The Directive applies to all software and hardware found on federal information systems, including those managed on agency premises or hosted by third parties on an agency’s behalf. With this Directive, CISA is imposing the first government-wide requirements to remediate vulnerabilities affecting both internet-facing and non-internet facing assets.

“Every day, our adversaries are using known vulnerabilities to target federal agencies. As the operational lead for federal cybersecurity, we are using our directive authority to drive cybersecurity efforts toward mitigation of those specific vulnerabilities that we know to be actively used by malicious cyber actors,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly. “The Directive lays out clear requirements for federal civilian agencies to take immediate action to improve their vulnerability management practices and dramatically reduce their exposure to cyber attacks. While this Directive applies to federal civilian agencies, we know that organizations across the country, including critical infrastructure entities, are targeted using these same vulnerabilities. It is therefore critical that every organization adopt this Directive and prioritize mitigation of vulnerabilities listed in CISA’s public catalog.”

With over 18,000 vulnerabilities identified in 2020 alone, organizations in the public and private sector find it challenging to prioritize limited resources toward remediating the vulnerabilities that are most likely to result in a damaging intrusion. This Directive addresses this challenge by driving mitigations of those vulnerabilities that are being actively exploited to compromise federal agencies and American businesses, building upon existing methods widely used to prioritize vulnerabilities by many organizations today.

This Directive applies to federal civilian agencies however, CISA strongly recommends that private businesses and state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) governments prioritize mitigation of vulnerabilities listed in CISA’s public catalog and sign up to receive notifications when new vulnerabilities are added.

CISA Releases New Tool to Help Organizations Guard Against Insider Threats

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has released an Insider Risk Mitigation Self-Assessment Tool, which assists public and private sector organizations in assessing their vulnerability to an insider threat. By answering a series of questions, users receive feedback they can use to gauge their risk posture. The tool will also help users further understand the nature of insider threats and take steps to create their own prevention and mitigation programs.

“While security efforts often focus on external threats, often the biggest threat can be found inside the organization,” said CISA Executive Assistant Director for Infrastructure Security David Mussington. “CISA urges all our partners, especially small and medium businesses who may have limited resources, to use this new tool to develop a plan to guard against insider threats. Taking some small steps today can make a big difference in preventing or mitigating the consequences of an insider threat in the future.”

Insider threats can pose serious risk to any organization because of the institutional knowledge and trust placed in the hands of the perpetrator. Insider threats can come from current or former employees, contractors, or others with inside knowledge, and the consequences can include compromised sensitive information, damaged organizational reputation, lost revenue, stolen intellectual property, reduced market share, and even physical harm to people. CISA has a number of tools, training, and information on an array of threats public and private sector organizations face, including insider threats.

CISA and FBI observe the increased use of Conti ransomware

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have observed the increased use of Conti ransomware in more than 400 attacks on U.S. and international organizations. (See FBI Flash: Conti Ransomware Attacks Impact Healthcare and First Responder Networks.) In typical Conti ransomware attacks, malicious cyber actors steal files, encrypt servers and workstations, and demand a ransom payment.

To secure systems against Conti ransomware, CISA, FBI, and the National Security Agency (NSA) recommend implementing the mitigation measures described in this Advisory, which include requiring multi-factor authentication (MFA), implementing network segmentation, and keeping operating systems and software up to date.

Technical Details

While Conti is considered a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model ransomware variant, there is variation in its structure that differentiates it from a typical affiliate model. It is likely that Conti developers pay the deployers of the ransomware a wage rather than a percentage of the proceeds used by affiliate cyber actors and receives a share of the proceeds from a successful attack.

Conti actors often gain initial access to networks through:

- Spearphishing campaigns using tailored emails that contain malicious attachments or malicious links;
- Malicious Word attachments often contain embedded scripts that can be used to download or drop other malware—such as TrickBot and IcedID, and/or Cobalt Strike—to assist with lateral movement and later stages of the attack life cycle with the eventual goal of deploying Conti ransomware.
- Stolen or weak Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) credentials
- Phone calls;
- Fake software promoted via search engine optimization;
- Common vulnerabilities in external assets.

In the execution phase, actors run a getuid payload before using a more aggressive payload to reduce the risk of triggering antivirus engines. CISA and FBI have observed Conti actors using Router Scan, a penetration testing tool, to maliciously scan for and brute force routers, cameras, and network-attached storage devices with web interfaces. Additionally, actors use Kerberos attacks to attempt to get the Admin hash to conduct brute force attacks.

Conti actors are known to exploit legitimate remote monitoring and management software and remote desktop software as backdoors to maintain persistence on victim networks. The actors use tools already available on the victim network—and, as needed, add additional tools, such as Windows Sysinternals and Mimikatz—to obtain users’ hashes and clear-text credentials, which enable the actors to escalate privileges within a domain and perform other post-exploitation and lateral movement tasks. In some cases, the actors also use TrickBot malware to carry out post-exploitation tasks.

According to a recently leaked threat actor “playbook,” Conti actors also exploit vulnerabilities in unpatched assets, such as the following, to escalate privileges and move laterally across a victim’s network.

UK and US cyber security leaders meet to discuss shared threats and opportunities

National Cyber Security Centre CEO and Director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency met in London.

Top cyber security officials from the UK and US affirmed their commitment to tackling ransomware in their first official face-to-face engagement.

Lindy Cameron, CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre – a part of GCHQ – met with Jen Easterly, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to discuss their organisations’ priorities, including combatting ransomware.

During their bi-lateral meeting in London they reflected on the impact of ransomware attacks this year and the need for industry collaboration to complement government’s operational efforts against ransomware.

NCSC Chief Executive Lindy Cameron said:

“It was a pleasure to host Director Easterly for our first in-person bi-lateral meeting to discuss the critical issues in cyber security today.

“Ransomware is a serious and growing security threat that cuts across borders, and it is important for us to maintain a continuing dialogue with our closest ally to tackle it.”

The issue of gender diversity was also on the agenda, with both agreeing that more needed to be done to remove barriers to entry into the profession for women and girls.

They discussed the NCSC’s CyberFirst Girls Competition, which aims to get more girls interested in cyber through fun but challenging team events for teenagers, and CISA’s ongoing commitment to expanding opportunities for young women and girls to pursue careers in cyber security and technology and closing the gender gap that exists in these fields.

The two leaders also discussed government collaboration with industry, including the NCSC’s Industry 100 scheme and CISA’s Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative.

The Industry 100 scheme has integrated public and private sector talent in the UK to pool their knowledge to tackle key cyber security issues. The Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative has similarly bought American public and private sector entities together to unify crisis action planning and defend against threats to U.S. critical infrastructure.

CISA Announces Renewal of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) announced the extension of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Task Force to July 31, 2023.
The Task Force, chaired by CISA and the Information Technology (IT) and Communications Sector Coordinating Councils, is a public-private partnership composed of a diverse range of representatives from large and small private sector organizations charged with identifying challenges and devising workable solutions and recommendations for managing risks to the global ICT supply chain.
In January, the Task Force was extended for six months, allowing for continued progress by its working groups (WGs) and the launch of three new WG efforts to develop products, tools, and analysis to enhance ICT supply chain resilience. As a result, the latest Threat Scenarios Report (Version 3) and newly created ICT Supply Chain Resource Library are now available for use.
Under the newly signed charter,  the Task Force will continue and conclude ongoing efforts such as the release of two additional products, which includes a report focused on liability protections for the private sector when sharing supply chain risk information, and a guide that will help small and medium-sized businesses better understand and manage their ICT SCRM needs to mitigate the effects in the event of a cyber incident. The Task Force will also continue to explore means for building partnerships, develop new resources, and collectively enhance ICT supply chain resilience.
“As recent events have shown, the need for safe and secure ICT supply chains is critical to our American way of life,” said Bob Kolasky, CISA Assistant Director and Task Force Co-Chair. “Securing our nation’s supply chains requires a team approach, with all of us playing an essential role in addressing its unique challenges. Renewing the charter for two years will ensure the Task Force has the support and flexibility needed to address critical supply chain issues and build a collective defense from future supply chain threats.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the already complex and pervasive threats to the global ICT supply chains, making the Task Force’s mission as essential as ever to U.S. economic and national security,” said John Miller, Senior Vice President of Policy and General Counsel at the Information Technology Industry Council and Co-Chair of the Task Force. “By leveraging premier public and private sector expertise, the Task Force has been able to advance actionable solutions on challenging issues to better mitigate supply chain risks. We are pleased the extension of the Task Force’s charter clears the way for its critical mission to move ahead, and we look forward to continuing to help lead this important partnership on behalf of the entire tech industry.”
“The global supply chain faces unprecedented threats strained by the pandemic and unceasing attacks by cyber criminals and nation-states. Government and private industry working separately on these challenges won’t be nearly as successful as a dedicated, integrated partnership that coordinates supply chain activity across the entire government and various industry sectors,” said Robert Mayer, Senior Vice President of Cybersecurity and Innovation at USTelecom, and Task Force Co-Chair. “That’s what the Task force is all about, and where our ability to rapidly convene and engage industry experts on COVID supply chain disruptions, White House Executive Orders, and mitigation from the Solar Winds hack has been so impactful. As we enter the third year, we’re committed to developing products and tools, including for small and medium-sized businesses in the ICT ecosystem, to build a stronger and more resilient supply chain.”

UK and allies publish advice to fix global cyber vulnerabilities

Advice on countering the most publicly known—and often dated—software vulnerabilities has been published for private and public sector organisations worldwide.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have published a joint advisory highlighting 30 vulnerabilities routinely exploited by cyber actors in 2020 and those being exploited in 2021.
In 2021, malicious cyber actors continued to target vulnerabilities in perimeter-type devices. Today’s advisory lists the vendors, products, and CVEs, and recommends that organisations prioritise patching those listed.
NCSC Director for Operations, Paul Chichester, said:
“We are committed to working with allies to raise awareness of global cyber weaknesses – and present easily actionable solutions to mitigate them.
“The advisory published today puts the power in every organisation’s hands to fix the most common vulnerabilities, such as unpatched VPN gateway devices.
“Working with our international partners, we will continue to raise awareness of the threats posed by those that seek to cause harm."
As well as alerting organisations to the threat, this advisory directs public and private sector partners to the support and resources available to mitigate and remediate these vulnerabilities.
Guidance for organisations on how to protect themselves in cyberspace can be found on the NCSC website. Our 10 Steps to Cyber Security collection provides a summary of advice for security and technical professionals.
On the mitigation of vulnerabilities, network defenders are encouraged to familiarise themselves with guidance on establishing an effective vulnerability management process. Elsewhere, the NCSC’s Early Warning Service also provides vulnerability and open port alerts.
CISA Executive Assistant Director for Cybersecurity, Eric Goldstein, said:
“Organisations that apply the best practices of cyber security, such as patching, can reduce their risk to cyber actors exploiting known vulnerabilities in their networks.
“Collaboration is a crucial part of CISA’s work and today we partnered with ACSC, NCSC and FBI to highlight cyber vulnerabilities that public and private organisations should prioritise for patching to minimise risk of being exploited by malicious actors.”
FBI Cyber Assistant Director, Bryan Vorndran, said:
“The FBI remains committed to sharing information with public and private organisations in an effort to prevent malicious cyber actors from exploiting vulnerabilities.
“We firmly believe that coordination and collaboration with our federal and private sector partners will ensure a safer cyber environment to decrease the opportunity for these actors to succeed.”
Head of the ACSC, Abigail Bradshaw CSC, said:
“This guidance will be valuable for enabling network defenders and organisations to lift collective defences against cyber threats.
“This advisory complements our advice available through cyber.gov.au and underscores the determination of the ACSC and our partner agencies to collaboratively combat malicious cyber activity.”

NSA, CISA release Kubernetes Hardening Guidance

The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a Cybersecurity Technical Report, “Kubernetes Hardening Guidance,”. This report details threats to Kubernetes environments and provides configuration guidance to minimize risk.
Kubernetes is an open source system that automates the deployment, scaling, and management of applications run in containers. Kubernetes clusters are often hosted in a cloud environment, and provide increased flexibility from traditional software platforms.
Kubernetes is commonly targeted for three reasons: data theft, computational power theft, or denial of service. Data theft is traditionally the primary motivation; however, cyber actors may attempt to use Kubernetes to harness a network’s underlying infrastructure for computational power for purposes such as cryptocurrency mining.
The report details recommendations to harden Kubernetes systems. Primary actions include the scanning of containers and Pods for vulnerabilities or misconfigurations, running containers and Pods with the least privileges possible, and using network separation, firewalls, strong authentication, and log auditing.
To ensure the security of applications, system administrators should follow the guidance in the Cybersecurity Technical Report and keep up to date with patches, updates, and upgrades to minimize risk. NSA and CISA also recommend periodic reviews of Kubernetes settings and vulnerability scans to ensure appropriate risks are accounted for and security patches are applied.
NSA and CISA’s guidance focuses on security challenges and recommends system administrators harden their environments where possible. NSA is releasing this guidance as part of our mission to support the Department of Defense, the Defense Industrial Base, and National Security Systems.

Biden Administration Announces Further Actions to Protect U.S. Critical Infrastructure

The Biden Administration continues to take steps to safeguard U.S. critical infrastructure from growing, persistent, and sophisticated cyber threats. Recent high-profile attacks on critical infrastructure around the world, including the ransomware attacks on the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods in the United States, demonstrate that significant cyber vulnerabilities exist across U.S. critical infrastructure, which is largely owned and operated by the private sector.
Currently, federal cybersecurity regulation in the United States is sectoral. It has a patchwork of sector-specific statutes that have been adopted piecemeal, as data security threats in particular sectors have gained public attention. Given the evolving threat faced today, it must consider new approaches, both voluntary and mandatory. It is critical infrastructure owners and operators responsibility to follow voluntary guidance as well as mandatory requirements in order to ensure that the critical services the American people rely on are protected from cyber threats.
President Biden has signed a National Security Memorandum (NSM) on “Improving Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Control Systems,” which addresses cybersecurity for critical infrastructure and implements long overdue efforts to meet the threats. The NSM:
- Directs the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in collaboration with other agencies, to develop cybersecurity performance goals for critical infrastructure.
- Formally establishes the President’s Industrial Control System Cybersecurity (ICS) Initiative. The ICS initiative is a voluntary, collaborative effort between the federal government and the critical infrastructure community to facilitate the deployment of technology and systems that provide threat visibility, indicators, detections, and warnings.

NSA, CISA, and FBI detail Chinese State-Sponsored Actions, Mitigations

The National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a Cybersecurity Advisory, Chinese State-Sponsored Cyber Operations: Observed TTPs. This advisory describes over 50 tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors used when targeting U.S. and allied networks, and details mitigations.
Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity poses a major threat to U.S. and allied systems. These actors aggressively target political, economic, military, educational, and critical infrastructure personnel and organizations to access valuable, sensitive data. These cyber operations support China’s long-term economic and military objectives.
One significant tactic detailed in the advisory includes the exploitation of public vulnerabilities within days of their public disclosure, often in major applications, such as Pulse Secure, Apache, F5 Big-IP, and Microsoft products. This advisory provides specific mitigations for detailed tactics and techniques aligned to the recently released, NSA-funded MITRE D3FEND framework.
General mitigations outlined include: prompt patching; enhanced monitoring of network traffic, email, and endpoint systems; and the use of protection capabilities, such as an antivirus and strong authentication, to stop malicious activity.

New StopRansomware.gov website launched

The U.S. Government launched a new website to help public and private organizations defend against the rise in ransomware cases. StopRansomware.gov is a whole-of-government approach that gives one central location for ransomware resources and alerts. We encourage organizations to use this new website to understand the threat of ransomware, mitigate risk, and in the event of an attack, know what steps to take next.
The StopRansomware.gov webpage is an interagency resource that provides our partners and stakeholders with ransomware protection, detection, and response guidance that they can use on a single website. This includes ransomware alerts, reports, and resources from CISA, the FBI, and other federal partners.
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