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New strategies for cloud-native attacks - Aqua Security

By Zach Thompson
Mon 2 May 2022

New research from Aqua Security reveals attackers are using more sophisticated techniques to target cloud-native environments.

Through its threat research team, Nautilus, Aqua Security has published research showing that adversaries are adopting new ways to carry out attacks, utilising multiple attack components and focusing their efforts on Kubernetes and the software supply chain.

Aqua Security says the ‘2022 Cloud Native Threat Report: Tracking Software Supply Chain and Kubernetes Attacks and Techniques' offers insights into trends and crucial information for practitioners about the cloud-native threat landscape.

The research showed that adversaries are using new tactics, techniques and procedures to intentionally target cloud-native environments and that cryptominers are increasingly the most common malware threat.

Team Nautilus also found that the use of backdoors, rootkits and credential stealers has increased, indicating the adversaries' interests are greater than just cryptomining.

Backdoors allow threat actors to access systems remotely and are used to establish persistence in the compromised environment. The research showed that 54% of attacks included this strategy, compared to 45% in 2020.

Furthermore, the researchers analysed malicious container images and found that 51% of these contained worms, up from 41% in 2020.

Worms provide attackers with the means to broaden the scope of their attack without much additional effort.

Moreover, the research found threat actors also included CI/CD and Kubernetes environments as targets, and in 2021, 19% of the malicious container images analysed targeted Kubernetes, such as kubelets and API servers, an increase of 9% from the previous year.

"These findings underscore the reality that cloud native environments now represent a target for attackers, and that the techniques are always evolving," Aqua's Team Nautilus threat intelligence and data analyst lead Assaf Morag says.

"The broad attack surface of a Kubernetes cluster is attractive for threat actors, and then once they are in, they are looking for low-hanging fruit."

The report also found that the proportion and variety of observed attacks targeting Kubernetes has increased, including wider adoption of the weaponisation of Kubernetes UI tools.

Further, supply chain attacks represent 14.3% of the particular sample of images from public image libraries, showing that these attacks continue to be an effective method of attacking cloud-native environment.

The Log4j zero-day vulnerability was also immediately exploited in the wild. Team Nautilus detected multiple malicious techniques, including known malware, fileless execution, reverse shell executions, and files downloaded and executed from memory, all emphasising the need for runtime protection.

Researchers observed honeypot attacks by TeamTNT after the group announced its retirement in December 2021. However, no new tactics have been in use, so it is unclear if the group is still in operation or if the ongoing attacks originated from automated attack infrastructure. Regardless, enterprise teams should continue preventative measures against these threats.

Aqua Security says Team Nautilus utilised honeypots to investigate attacks in the wild, with images and packages from public registries and repositories examined to study supply chain attacks against cloud-native applications. These included DockerHub, NPM and Python Package Index.

In addition, Team Nautilus used Aqua Security's Dynamic Threat Analysis (DTA) offering to analyse each attack.

Aqua Security says Aqua DTA is an industry-first offering, allowing users to dynamically assess container image behaviours through a container sandbox solution to ascertain whether they have hidden malware, giving organisations the ability to recognise and mitigate attacks that stat malware scanners are unable to detect.

"The key takeaway from this report is that attackers are highly active, more than ever before, and more frequently targeting vulnerabilities in applications, open source and cloud technology," Morag says.

"Security practitioners, developers and DevOps teams must seek out security solutions that are purpose-built for cloud-native. Implementing proactive and preventative security measures will allow for stronger security and ultimately protect environments."

To ensure the security of cloud environments, Aqua Security's Team Nautilus recommends implementing runtime security measures, a layered approach to Kubernetes security and scanning in development.

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