January 23, 2023 By Jonathan Reed 4 min read

Recently the feds suffered a big hack, not once, but twice.

First, the FBI-run InfraGard program suffered a breach. InfraGard aims to strengthen partnerships with the private sector to share information about cyber and physical threats. That organization experienced a major breach in early December, according to a KrebsOnSecurity report.

Allegedly, the InfraGard database — containing contact information of over 80,000 members — appeared up for sale on a cyber crime forum. Also, the hackers have reportedly been communicating with InfraGard members through the program’s portal. The intruders created a new account under the guise of a financial industry CEO previously vetted by the FBI.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a week later, the Russian hacker group known as Killnet claimed responsibility for breaching the FBI’s database and stealing the personal information of over 10,000 U.S. federal agents.

The InfraGard breach

The FBI’s InfraGard program aims to bring together individuals in the private sector with expertise in cyber and physical security. Their goal is to collaborate and share information about potential threats to the country’s critical infrastructures. The group includes members from utilities, financial, communication, transportation, healthcare and nuclear energy firms.

According to the FBI, InfraGard “provides education, networking and information-sharing on security threats and risks” to these critical infrastructure owners and operators. In response to reports about a potential false account on the InfraGard Portal, the FBI stated that the situation is ongoing but cannot provide further information at this time.

KrebsOnSecurity was actually able to contact the seller of the InfraGard database, who goes by the handle “USDoD.” The hacker is also a member of an infamous cyber crime forum called “Breached.” The actor’s avatar is the seal of the U.S. Department of Defense.

USDoD’s InfraGard sales thread on Breached (Source: KrebsOnSecurity)

A false application

The threat group USDoD revealed that they gained access to the FBI’s InfraGard system by submitting a new account application using the personal information of a CEO at a company that was likely to be granted membership. Apparently, the FBI never contacted the CEO, currently the head of a major U.S. financial corporation, about an InfraGard application. The CEO’s company has a significant influence on the creditworthiness of many Americans.

USDoD submitted the application in November using the CEO’s name and phone number but with a fake email address. Attackers bypassed the multi-factor authentication required by InfraGard by using the fake email account.

The InfraGard website has an API built into several key components allowing members to communicate with each other. This made the user data easily accessible through the API. After the FBI approved their imposter InfraGard membership, USDoD commissioned a friend to write a Python script to retrieve all available user data from the API.

The Killnet data breach

If things weren’t bad enough, they quickly got worse. A week after the InfraGard incident, the Russian cyber gang Killnet announced that they had breached the FBI’s database. Killnet claimed to have obtained the personal information of over 10,000 US federal agents. Similar to previous incidents, this attack appears to have political motivations tied to support for the Kremlin.

The authenticity of the Killnet attack remains unconfirmed. However, the group claims to have obtained sensitive information such as social media passwords and financial details during the breach. As proof, they posted screenshots on Telegram displaying passwords for online shopping accounts, medical ID cards and social media.

Killnet Telegram feed (Source: Hackread.com)

Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, Killnet has carried out a series of operations targeting Western governments and private companies that support Ukraine. These have included DDoS attacks on the website of Prince William and the European Parliament, a claimed hack of Lockheed Martin and DDoS attacks on Lithuanian government websites. Killnet has conducted a total of 76 attacks against countries that support Ukraine since the start of the war.

Was the Killnet attack real?

There is a chance, however, that Killnet is bluffing. In August 2022, Killnet reportedly shared a video on Telegram that claims to depict the PII of Lockheed Martin employees. Killnet often executes DDoS attacks, which it sometimes uses as a smokescreen for data exfiltration.

Louise Ferrett, a threat intelligence analyst at Searchlight Security, said the video contained “what appears to be Lockheed Martin employee names, email addresses and phone numbers, with pictures of people – presumably the employees – overlaid.”

However, Ferret remained skeptical, saying, “Cross-referencing a sample of the data, it does appear that they are or were genuine Lockheed employees, however, that does not necessarily confirm that the company was breached. For example, this could be a rehash of old or open source data in an attempt to undermine the organization and intimidate its employees.”

Lockheed never mentioned the alleged attack directly. Currently, the FBI has made no comment about the Killnet claims of attack against the Bureau in December.

Meanwhile, the attack on InfraGard was verified by the hackers sending a direct note through the platform’s messaging system to an InfraGard member, who is head of security at a major U.S. technology firm. That InfraGard member confirmed receipt of USDoD’s message, as per KrebsOnSecurity.

Multifactor authentication & IAM

In the InfraGard case, malicious actors used a stolen email and phone number to set up a fake account. Using a false email, the actors bypassed the verification process. This is why many organizations require their employees to use a government-issued photo ID when opening an account. Those precautions combine with biometric identity confirmation to further secure verification.

These kinds of attacks highlight the need for advanced techniques to manage access to organizational networks. For example, identity and access management (IAM) ensures that the appropriate individuals or entities are able to utilize the necessary resources without interference, on the devices of their choice, at the times they need to. IAM assigns a unique digital identity to each entity, authenticates their login, authorizes access to specific resources and continuously monitors and manages these identities.

IAM is not only applicable to employees. It also applies to contractors, business partners, remote users, customers and even IoT devices, robots and codes such as APIs and microservices. As organizations increasingly embrace digital transformation and adopt multi-cloud and SaaS solutions, the importance of solutions such as IAM will continue to grow in importance.

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