CISA Call with Critical Infrastructure Partners on Potential Russian Cyberattacks Against the US

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency convened a three-hour call with over 13,000 industry stakeholders to provide an update on the potential for Russian cyberattacks against the U.S. homeland and answer questions from a range of stakeholders across the nation.

As President Biden noted, evolving intelligence indicates that the Russian Government is exploring options to conduct potential cyberattacks against the United States. CISA echoed the President’s warning on the call and reinforced the urgent need for all organizations, large and small, to act now to protect themselves against malicious cyber activity.

On the three-hour call, CISA Director Jen Easterly, Deputy Executive Assistant Director for Cybersecurity Matt Hartman, and Tonya Ugoretz, Deputy Assistant Director for the FBI’s cyber division, encouraged organizations of all sizes to have their Shields Up to cyber threats and take proactive measures now to mitigate risk to their networks. They encouraged those on the line to visit CISA.gov/Shields-Up to take action to protect their organizations and themselves and urged all critical infrastructure providers to implement the mitigation guidelines enumerated on CISA.gov/Shields-Up, including:

- Mandate the use of multi-factor authentication on your systems to make it harder for attackers to get onto your system;
- Update the software on your computers and devices to continuously look for and mitigate threats;
- Back up your data and ensure you have offline backups beyond the reach of malicious actors;
- Run exercises and drill your emergency plans so that you are prepared to respond quickly to minimize the impact of any attack;
- Encrypt your data;
- Sign up for CISA’s free cyber hygiene services; and
- Educate your employees to common tactics that attackers will use over email or through websites, and encourage them to report if their computers or phones have shown unusual behavior, such as unusual crashes or operating very slowly.

Director Easterly urged all organizations, regardless of size, to contact CISA immediately if they believe they may have been impacted by a cyber incident. When cyber incidents are reported quickly, CISA can use the information to render assistance and help prevent other organizations and entities from falling victim to a similar attack.

The event built on a series of briefings that CISA has been convening since late 2021 with U.S. Government and private sector stakeholders at both classified and unclassified levels. This outreach was provided to Federal Civilian Executive Branch Agencies, Sector Risk Management Agencies, private sector partners, state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments, and international partners. To date, CISA has hosted or participated in more than 90 engagements reaching tens of thousands of partners.

CISA and FBI Publish Advisory to Protect Organizations from Destructive Malware Used in Ukraine

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a joint Cybersecurity Advisory today providing an overview of destructive malware that has been used to target organizations in Ukraine as well as guidance on how organizations can detect and protect their networks. The joint Advisory, “Destructive Malware Targeting Organizations in Ukraine,” provides information on WhisperGate and HermeticWiper malware, both used to target organizations in Ukraine.

Destructive malware can present a direct threat to an organization’s daily operations, impacting the availability of critical assets and data. While there is no specific, credible threat to the United States at this time, all organizations should assess and bolster their cybersecurity. Some immediate actions that can be taken to strengthen cyber posture include:

- Enable multifactor authentication;
- Set antivirus and antimalware programs to conduct regular scans;
- Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing emails from reaching end users;
- Update software; and
- Filter network traffic.

“In the wake of continued denial of service and destructive malware attacks affecting Ukraine and other countries in the region, CISA has been working hand-in-hand with our partners to identify and rapidly share information about malware that could threaten the operations of critical infrastructure here in the U.S.,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly. “Our public and private sector partners in the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC), international computer emergency readiness team (CERT) partners, and our long-time friends at the FBI are all working together to help organizations reduce their cyber risk.”

"The FBI alongside our federal partners continues to see malicious cyber activity that is targeting our critical infrastructure sector," said FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran. "We are striving to disrupt and diminish these threats, however we cannot do this alone, we continue to share information with our public and private sector partners and encourage them to report any suspicious activity. We ask that organizations continue to shore up their systems to prevent any increased impediment in the event of an incident."

Executives and leaders are encouraged to review the advisory, assess their environment for atypical channels for malware delivery and/or propagation through their systems, implement common strategies, and ensure appropriate contingency planning and preparation in the event of a cyberattack.

CISA has updated the Shields Up webpage to include new services and resources, recommendations for corporate leaders and chief executive officers, and actions to protect critical assets. Additionally, CISA has created a new Shields Up Technical Guidance webpage that details other malicious cyber activity affecting Ukraine. The webpage includes technical resources from partners to assist organizations against these threats.

CISA Urges Organizations to Implement Immediate Cybersecurity Measures to Protect Against Potential Threats

In response to recent malicious cyber incidents in Ukraine—including the defacement of government websites and the presence of potentially destructive malware on Ukrainian systems—CISA has published CISA Insights: Implement Cybersecurity Measures Now to Protect Against Potential Critical Threats. The CISA Insights strongly urges leaders and network defenders to be on alert for malicious cyber activity and provides a checklist of concrete actions that every organization—regardless of sector or size—can take immediately to:

- Reduce the likelihood of a damaging cyber intrusion,
- Detect a potential intrusion,
- Ensure the organization is prepared to respond if an intrusion occurs, and
- Maximize the organization’s resilience to a destructive cyber incident.

CISA urges senior leaders and network defenders to review the CISA Insights and implement the cybersecurity measures on the checklist.

CISA Issue Apache Log4j Vulnerability Guidance

CISA and its partners, through the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative, are responding to active, widespread exploitation of a critical remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability (CVE-2021-44228) in Apache’s Log4j software library, versions 2.0-beta9 to 2.14.1, known as "Log4Shell" and "Logjam." Log4j is very broadly used in a variety of consumer and enterprise services, websites, and applications—as well as in operational technology products—to log security and performance information. An unauthenticated remote actor could exploit this vulnerability to take control of an affected system.

Apache released Log4j version 2.15.0 in a security update to address the CVE-2021-44228 vulnerability. However, in order for the vulnerability to be remediated in products and services that use affected versions of Log4j, the maintainers of those products and services must implement this security update. Users of such products and services should refer to the vendors of these products/services for security updates. Given the severity of the vulnerability and the likelihood of an increase in exploitation by sophisticated cyber threat actors, CISA urges vendors and users to take the following actions.

Vendors
Immediately identify, mitigate, and patch affected products using Log4j.
Inform your end users of products that contain this vulnerability and strongly urge them to prioritize software updates.
Affected Organizations
In addition to the immediate actions—to (1) enumerate external-facing devices that have Log4j, (2) ensure your SOC actions alerts on these devices, and (3) install a WAF with rules that automatically update—as noted in the box above, review CISA's upcoming GitHub repository

for a list of affected vendor information and apply software updates as soon as they are available. See Actions for Organizations Running Products with Log4j below for additional guidance. Note: CISA has added CVE-2021-44228 to the Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog, which was created according to Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 22-01: Reducing the Significant Risk of Known Exploited Vulnerabilities. In accordance with BOD 22-01, federal civilian executive branch agencies must mitigate CVE-2021-44228 by December 24, 2021.

Technical Details

This RCE vulnerability—affecting Apache’s Log4j library, versions 2.0-beta9 to 2.14.1—exists in the action the Java Naming and Directory Interface (JNDI) takes to resolve variables. According to the CVE-2021-44228 listing, affected versions of Log4j contain JNDI features—such as message lookup substitution—that "do not protect against adversary-controlled LDAP [Lightweight Directory Access Protocol] and other JNDI related endpoints."

An adversary can exploit this vulnerability by submitting a specially crafted request to a vulnerable system that causes that system to execute arbitrary code. The request allows the adversary to take full control over the system. The adversary can then steal information, launch ransomware, or conduct other malicious activity.
Actions for Organizations Running Products with Log4j

CISA recommends affected entities:

Review Apache’s Log4j Security Vulnerabilities page for additional information and, if appropriate, apply the provided workaround:
In releases >=2.10, this behavior can be mitigated by setting either the system property log4j2.formatMsgNoLookups or the environment variable LOG4J_FORMAT_MSG_NO_LOOKUPS to true.
For releases from 2.7 through 2.14.1 all PatternLayout patterns can be modified to specify the message converter as %m{nolookups} instead of just %m.
For releases from 2.0-beta9 to 2.7, the only mitigation is to remove the JndiLookup class from the classpath: zip -q -d log4j-core-*.jar org/apache/logging/log4j/core/lookup/JndiLookup.class.
Apply available patches immediately. See CISA's upcoming GitHub repository for known affected products and patch information.

Prioritize patching, starting with mission critical systems, internet-facing systems, and networked servers. Then prioritize patching other affected information technology and operational technology assets.
Until patches are applied, set log4j2.formatMsgNoLookups to true by adding -Dlog4j2.formatMsgNoLookups=True to the Java Virtual Machine command for starting your application. Note: this may impact the behavior of a system’s logging if it relies on Lookups for message formatting. Additionally, this mitigation will only work for versions 2.10 and above.
As stated above, BOD 22-01 directs federal civilian agencies to mitigate CVE-2021-44228 by December 24, 2021, as part of the Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog.

Conduct a security review to determine if there is a security concern or compromise. The log files for any services using affected Log4j versions will contain user-controlled strings.
Consider reporting compromises immediately to CISA and the FBI.
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CISA Should Assess the Effectiveness of its Actions to Support the Communications Sector

The Communications Sector is an integral component of the U.S. economy and faces serious physical, cyber-related, and human threats that could affect the operations of local, regional, and national level networks, according to the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and sector stakeholders.

The communications sector—comprising mostly private broadcast, cable, satellite, wireless, and wired systems and networks—is vital to national security.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency supports the security and resilience of this sector, primarily through incident management and information-sharing activities. For instance, the agency coordinates federal activities during severe weather events, and manages cybersecurity programs.

However, the agency has not assessed the effectiveness of its programs and services to support this sector. We recommended that it do so.

In addition, CISA determined that the Communications Sector depends on other critical infrastructure sectors—in particular, the Energy, Information Technology, and Transportation Systems Sectors—and that damage, disruption, or destruction to any one of these sectors could severely impact the operations of the Communications Sector.

CISA primarily supports the Communications Sector through incident management and information-sharing activities, such as coordinating federal activities to support the sector during severe weather events and managing cybersecurity programs, but has not assessed the effectiveness of these actions. For example, CISA has not determined which types of infrastructure owners and operators (e.g., large or small telecommunications service providers) may benefit most from CISA's cybersecurity programs and services or may be underrepresented participants in its information-sharing activities and services. By assessing the effectiveness of its programs and services, CISA would be better positioned to identify its highest priorities.

CISA has also not updated the 2015 Communications Sector-Specific Plan, even though DHS guidance recommends that such plans be updated every 4 years. As a result, the current 2015 plan lacks information on new and emerging threats to the Communications Sector, such as security threats to the communications technology supply chain, and disruptions to position, navigation, and timing services. Developing and issuing an updated plan would enable CISA to set goals, objectives, and priorities that address threats and risks to the sector, and help meet its sector risk management agency responsibilities.

GAO is making three recommendations to CISA, including that CISA assess the effectiveness of its support to the Communications Sector, and revise its Communications Sector-Specific Plan. The Department of Homeland Security concurred with the recommendations. The Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission did not provide comments on the draft report.

The Director of CISA should assess the effectiveness of CISA's programs and services to support the Communications Sector, including developing and implementing metrics and analyzing feedback received from owners and operators, to determine the usefulness and relevance of its activities to support sector security and resilience. (Recommendation 1)

The Director of CISA should complete a capability assessment for Emergency Support Function #2, such as establishing requirements, maintaining a list of current capabilities, and conducting a capability gap analysis to identify if and where other resources may be needed. (Recommendation 2)

The Director of CISA, in coordination with public and private Communications Sector stakeholders, should produce a revised Communications Sector-Specific Plan, to include goals, objectives, and priorities that address new and emerging threats and risks to the Communications Sector and that are in alignment with sector risk management agency responsibilities. (Recommendation 3)

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.”
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