Who came up with the notion that less is more? In terms of data protection, I’m pretty sure that more is more. Sometimes, having more results in a positive outcome (such as more canned foods during a food drive) and sometimes, having more results in a negative outcome (such as more rain in a flood zone).

When it comes to data, more is a good thing, and analysts such as myself become giddier when there are massive amounts of data to play with. With all this data to analyze, my colleagues and I shared some of our thoughts in a research and intelligence paper titled “Shellshock.”

The majority of the attacks source from the well-known search engine Shodan.io probing and cataloging vulnerable systems. This data is often used by attackers to identify vulnerable systems. Who can blame them for wanting to narrow their attack surface? Outside of this activity, we investigated several interesting vectors used to target this vulnerability, including email reconnaissance, perlbot password-grab attempt, perl reverse shell and mayhem malware installer.

During the beginning stages of an incident, security groups spend most of their energy putting out fires and working quickly to research, respond and mitigate the threat. There is no time for us to “ooh” and “aah” at wondrous charts or bask in the beauty of a glorious trend line. When all is said and done (well, sort of — the threat never really goes away), we take a deeper look at the data.

The First 76 Hours

In looking at data protection, we now expect high-profile threats to be exploited almost immediately after the public release of an exploit; Shellshock was no exception. Still, I reserve the right to be surprised by the speed at which attackers jumped all over the vulnerability in GNU Bash.

Within one hour of the public release of an exploit targeting this issue, we observed a significant uptick in activity associated with this threat. This initial spike on Sept. 25 was caused by over 800 events. A much larger spike in activity was witnessed on Sept. 27, with more than 1,200 events reported.

Attacks came in waves from different source IPs and originating countries. Almost as soon as one attack was mitigated by the Internet service provider, another one quickly took its place. Many of the attacks originated from a single Autonomous Systems Number or even a single IP, which is not uncommon in widespread attacks such as this. The clear leader in attacks is the United States, with more than 15,000 recorded attacks (ooh, ahh).

Data Protection in the Face of Rising Attacks

You’ll have to view the paper to “ooh” and “ahh” at the other graphs, but I would like to point out that other notable discoveries include Iceland making our top 10 attacking countries list for the first time. Additionally, while Japan ranked low in the list of attacking countries, it sustained the highest number of attacks from the most countries. The finance and information technology industries experienced spikes in activity throughout the time period analyzed, whereas the targeted activity against the other top industries remained relatively flat.

The Shellshock threat is a good example of a growing trend we’re observing on the attacker front called “attacks that snub malware,” which is often referred to in the industry as “malware-less” attacks. This simply means attackers don’t want to risk malware detection, so they instead exploit existing application functionalities.

This is why it is important for organizations to take a holistic approach to securing their networks. Make sure to monitor your distribution sites and apply updates as they become available for this vulnerability. Many vendors that offer intrusion prevention or intrusion detection systems also now have specific coverage to address this threat and provide assistance with an organization’s data-protection efforts.

More from Software Vulnerabilities

X-Force discovers new vulnerabilities in smart treadmill

7 min read - This research was made possible thanks to contributions from Joshua Merrill. Smart gym equipment is seeing rapid growth in the fitness industry, enabling users to follow customized workouts, stream entertainment on the built-in display, and conveniently track their progress. With the multitude of features available on these internet-connected machines, a group of researchers at IBM X-Force Red considered whether user data was secure and, more importantly, whether there was any risk to the physical safety of users. One of the most…

X-Force releases detection & response framework for managed file transfer software

5 min read - How AI can help defenders scale detection guidance for enterprise software tools If we look back at mass exploitation events that shook the security industry like Log4j, Atlassian, and Microsoft Exchange when these solutions were actively being exploited by attackers, the exploits may have been associated with a different CVE, but the detection and response guidance being released by the various security vendors had many similarities (e.g., Log4shell vs. Log4j2 vs. MOVEit vs. Spring4Shell vs. Microsoft Exchange vs. ProxyShell vs.…

MSMQ QueueJumper (RCE Vulnerability): An in-depth technical analysis

13 min read - The security updates released by Microsoft on April 11, 2023, addressed over 90 individual vulnerabilities. Of particular note was CVE-2023-21554, dubbed QueueJumper, a remote code execution vulnerability affecting the Microsoft Message Queueing (MSMQ) service. MSMQ is an optional Windows component that enables applications to exchange messages via message queues that are reachable both locally and remotely. This analysis was performed in collaboration with the Randori and X-Force Adversary Services teams, by Valentina Palmiotti, Fabius Watson, and Aaron Portnoy. Research motivations…

Topic updates

Get email updates and stay ahead of the latest threats to the security landscape, thought leadership and research.
Subscribe today