The Danger of Management Access

First we had the Solarwinds hack, and now we have a Kaseya ransomware epidemic. It seems the criminals are moving up the stack. We used to see physical attacks on tapes and keyboards, then we saw OS level attacks. Now we seem to be getting to the management layer for software that is used to help us run systems at scale. Since we often require some level of privileged access for monitoring and management systems, this is scary. I certainly wish that we didn’t require admin access for monitoring, but unfortunately platforms sometimes do.

Many of us depend on some standardization and some sort of software to ensure we can manage systems at scale. I don’t know about the OS world, but in the SQL Server world, there are relatively few vendors that provide software for managing systems. If one of these were compromised in some way, this could be very bad for many database administrators. Fortunately, many of us know how to air gap backups and ensure that we are prepared for disasters.

Or we should. If you don’t know how to do this, you ought to be learning right away. Review backup plans, ensure you can rebuild systems, test restores, and brush up all your recovery skills. Be ready for whatever a criminal might throw at you, including having gotten ransomware into some of your backups.

This attack seems to have taken advantage of a zero day, or very early, vulnerability that was discovered by a Dutch security research firm. The firm looks into management software, especially admin interfaces, specifically because they are worried about the lack of security in many products. In this case, Kaseya builds tools that allow admins to distribute software to other systems on the network. In this case, criminals used the management software to distribute ransomware.

The updates from the Kaseya are less than stellar, and if I were a customer, I’d be rather upset. They seem to keep setting unrealistic plans to restore service and then constantly revise them across a few days, all the while with customers that are likely stressed and overworked. I’d also be upset in that they claim only a few of their thousands of customers are affected, but they neglect to admit that some of those customers affected as Managed Service Providers, who themselves have thousands of customers using this software.

There are some technical  details in this piece, in case you want to check your own systems. If you think you have multiple pieces of software that might protect you, read the article. This deployment shuts off some other products, like Microsoft Defender.

I feel bad for many people here. IT staff at affected companies that have likely been incredibly stressed and overworked recently. The consumers of some affected customers, like those that might shop in the Swedish grocer, Coop, who shut down more than 400 stores. I don’t know the state of grocery shopping in Sweden, but this might dramatically impact many people that just want to buy food for their families.

Ransomware continues to surprise and worry me. Large profile hacks keep coming, affecting lots of people. Often these are because of previously undiscovered software vulnerabilities or simple mistakes made by privileged users. I hope that at some point insurers and governments start to put more pressure on companies that make widely used software to ensure they are adhering to best practices and have detailed security practices in place to ensure their code is constantly checked for issues, and that they have detailed plans for responding to and patching customers when there are issues. Because, they likely will have an issue at some point.

Steve Jones

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