Over the same weekend America celebrated its independence, Kaseya, an IT solutions developer for managed service providers (MSPs) and enterprise clients, announced it had become the victim of a cyberattack. But this wasn’t your garden variety ransomware assault. Those days appear to be behind us now.
Once again striking the now-endangered supply chain, cybercriminals leveraged a vulnerability in Kaseya’s VSA software against multiple MSPs and their hundreds of small business customers. Where SolarWinds had only recently gained infamy as the country’s largest supply chain attack, Kaseya is eerily reminiscent—and likely not to be the last.
Kaseya ransomware attack: The new normal
On July 2, MSP solutions provider Kaseya started receiving reports of “suspicious things happening” with its VSA software program, a remote-monitoring and management tool for networks and endpoints. Within an hour, the company had shut down its VSA service.
Kaseya CEO Fred Voccola said that less than 0.1 percent of its roughly 40,000 clients were affected by the breach. However, as a provider of technology to MSPs, which in turn provide services to other companies, Kaseya is at the center of a wider software supply chain. Current estimates are that about 1,500 businesses were impacted downstream.
So how did cybercriminals pull off their attack within an attack? This was no ordinary, broad ransomware campaign sweeping up any enterprise fish it might catch in its net. The attack on VSA customers was delivered through an automatic, malicious update of the platform, which pushed the REvil ransomware variant, also known as Sodinokibi.
In order to access the VSA platform and the MSPs using it, cybercriminals first had to breach Kaseya itself. They did so by exploiting a known vulnerability in Kaseya software that the company was actively working to correct. Kaseya had thankfully already rolled out patches to its SaaS VSA clients. But before on-premise customers could receive their fix, threat actors made their move.
During the attack, cybercriminals shut off administrative access to VSA and disabled several protections within Microsoft Defender. If clients didn’t take their VSA servers offline, they were served the malicious update. And if they didn’t have another security vendor layered on top of Defender, they were treated with a ransom note and all of their files were encrypted. Customers of Malwarebytes were shielded from this attack — and, with features such as tamper protection and uninstall protection enabled, any future such attacks.
On July 4, the criminals behind REvil staked claim to the attack and demanded $70 million from Kaseya in return for a universal key, later amended to $50 million. They asserted that more than a million systems were impacted, yet their key could restore all in less than an hour — both controversial and dubious allegations, at best. Still, there’s no doubt they pulled off one of the largest ransomware attacks in history.
In fact, you know you’ve “made it” as a cybercriminal when your attack is used as bait for other phishing scams. In the wake of Kaseya, Malwarebytes researchers discovered opportunistic carrion fish had launched a malspam campaign to exploit companies eagerly awaiting the VSA patch so they could bring the platform back online. The email contained both a malicious link and attachments that dropped the Cobalt Strike RAT.
By July 12, Kaseya had released its patches, disclosed its vulnerabilities, and brought the majority of its VSA servers back online. However, the company remained mum on whether or not it would pay the ransom. The REvil affiliates behind the attack could go around Kaseya to negotiate with each of the 1,500 businesses affected. However, threat actors may be wary of creating thousands of “paper trails” on the Bitcoin blockchain now that law enforcement have trained their eye on cryptocurrency as a means of attribution.
Unfortunately, these more aggressive efforts by authorities don’t appear to be slowing or scaling down cyberattacks — at least, not yet. Assaults against organizations have increased steadily in frequency, volume, and sophistication over the last five years — from exploiting vulnerabilities to breach a single enterprise to using such vulnerabilities to gain administrative access to software used by tens of thousands of companies and their millions of customers.
These cascading attacks on supply chain software like SolarWinds and Kaseya are two data points in a greater, more worrying trend: Organizations are increasingly dependent on Internet-connected remote administration tools, and those tools are rife with flaws. Threat actors are aware of both, and we can expect them to continue to target and exploit those flaws, all while creating chaos in the supply chain, disrupting operations, and raking in the Bitcoin.
Security administrators can no longer look away from a problem that impacts the very tools they rely on to do their jobs. They must identify and ensure all known vulnerabilities for software products used in their organization are patched as soon as possible, and vet new software with an eagle eye. Consistent testing, communicating with employees and customers, and updating IT tools and servers — as well as implementing multiple layers of security — is the type of vigilance required to stave off massive breaches. And even then, it’s no failsafe unless the rest of the security community steps up to meet the challenge of cascading cyberattacks.
We need more security researchers and security-conscious developers to devote time and effort to combatting today’s vulnerabilities and preventing future, similarly-flawed products from entering the market. Software engineers must take greater care with borrowing outdated code from online repositories without testing for errors, such as weak encryption or default passwords. Vendors should also invite third-party reviewers to analyze source code created in-house before providing clients with a software bill of materials itemizing components and vulnerabilities.
The cooperation doesn’t stop there. Countries should better incentivize independent security research so analysts aren’t afraid to report their findings. Bug bounty programs are well and fine, but often their payments aren’t substantial enough to subvert dealings on the gray or black market. This $10 million reward offered by the US government for information leading to the identification or location of a nation-state threat actor is a healthy start, though.
What’s clear is that individuals — and even well-stacked IT departments — can no longer be solely responsible for their own cyber protection. To truly combat these increasingly sophisticated cascading attacks in the future, it will require an institutional shift in thinking that brings the top security minds together in lockstep.
We’ll need international cooperation and aggressive action from government and law enforcement. 360-degree security up and down the supply chain, branching out to fourth- and fifth-tier parties. Smart and secure development of Internet-connected software, as well as layers of security to stop breakthrough breaches. And a collective awareness by all that cybercrime has evolved and we can no longer turn the other cheek.
To learn more about the technical details of the Kaseya attack, check out this blog from Malwarebytes Labs: https://blog.malwarebytes.com/cybercrime/2021/07/shutdown-kaseya-vsa-servers-now-amidst-cascading-revil-attack-against-msps-clients/