Supernova malware actors masqueraded as remote workers to access breached network
Members of an advanced persistent threat (APT) group, masquerading as teleworking employees with legitimate credentials, accessed a US organization’s network and planted a backdoor called Supernova on its SolarWinds Orion server for conducting reconnaissance, domain mapping, and data theft.
The attackers had access to the network for nearly one year, from March 2020 to February 2021, before they were discovered and blocked, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said Thursday in a report summarizing the findings of its investigation into the incident.
The report is the latest involving SolarWinds and its Orion network management server technology. However, the Supernova tool and the APT group behind it are separate from the group that used legitimate Orion software updates to distribute malware dubbed Sunburst to 18,000 organizations around the world. Last week the US government formally attributed that widely reported attack — described by many as one of the most sophisticated ever — to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, SVR.
CISA’s malware analysis report, which includes indicators of compromise and mitigation recommendations, did not attribute the Supernova attack to any specific group or country. However, others such as Secureworks that have investigated similar intrusions lately have ascribed Supernova and its operators to Spiral, a believed China-based threat group. Only a small handful of organizations are known to have been infected with Supernova, so far at least.
In its report, CISA describes the incident as likely beginning last March when the attackers connected to the unnamed US entity’s network via a Pulse Secure virtual private network (VPN) appliance. CISA’s investigation showed the attackers used three residential IP addresses to access the VPN appliance. They authenticated to it using valid user accounts, none of which were protected by multifactor authentication. CISA said it has not been able to determine how the attackers obtained the credentials. The VPN access allowed the attackers to masquerade as legitimate remote employees of the organization.
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