Home > All, Security Issues, Security News > The evolution of a hack – South Carolina hack analysed by Mandiant

The evolution of a hack – South Carolina hack analysed by Mandiant

November 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

In late October the South Carolina Department of Revenue disclosed that it had been hacked, and 3.6 million social security numbers together with 387,000 bank card details (many unencrypted) were stolen. (My report on Infosecurity Magazine is here.) A law enforcement agency, thought to be the Secret Service, notified the Department and recommended that Mandiant be brought in to clear things up.

Mandiant has now published a Public Incident Response Report, including a step-by-step history of the hack itself. The whole report (it’s really quite short) is worth reading; but the history of the hack should be required reading for all students of security:

  • August 13, 2012: A malicious (phishing) email was sent to multiple Department of Revenue employees. At least one Department of Revenue user clicked on the embedded link, unwittingly executed malware, and became compromised. The malware likely stole the user’s username and password. This theory is based on other facts discovered during the investigation; however, Mandiant was unable to conclusively determine if this is how the user’s credentials were obtained by the attacker.
  • August 27, 2012: The attacker logged into the remote access service (Citrix) using legitimate Department of Revenue user credentials. The credentials used belonged to one of the users who had received and opened the malicious email on August 13, 2012. The attacker used the Citrix portal to log into the user’s workstation and then leveraged the user’s access rights to access other Department of Revenue systems and databases with the user’s credentials.
  • August 29, 2012: The attacker executed utilities designed to obtain user account passwords on six servers.
  • September 1, 2012: The attacker executed a utility to obtain user account passwords for all Windows user accounts. The attacker also installed malicious software (“backdoor”) on one server.
  • September 2, 2012: The attacker interacted with twenty one servers using a compromised account and performed reconnaissance activities. The attacker also authenticated to a web server that handled payment maintenance information for the Department of Revenue, but was not able to accomplish anything malicious.
  • September 3, 2012: The attacker interacted with eight servers using a compromised account and performed reconnaissance activities. The attacker again authenticated to a web server that handled payment maintenance information for the Department of Revenue, but was not able to accomplish anything malicious.
  • September 4, 2012: The attacker interacted with six systems using a compromised account and performed reconnaissance activities.
  • September 5 – 10, 2012: No evidence of attacker activity was identified.
  • September 11, 2012: The attacker interacted with three systems using a compromised account and performed reconnaissance activities.
  • September 12, 2012: The attacker copied database backup files to a staging directory.
  • September 13 and 14, 2012: The attacker compressed the database backup files into fourteen (of the fifteen total) encrypted 7-zip archives. The attacker then moved the 7-zip archives from the database server to another server and sent the data to a system on the Internet. The attacker then deleted the backup files and 7-zip archives.
  • September 15, 2012: The attacker interacted with ten systems using a compromised account and performed reconnaissance activities.
  • September 16, 2012 – October 16, 2012: No evidence of attacker activity was identified.
  • October 17, 2012: The attacker checked connectivity to a server using the backdoor previously installed on September 1, 2012. No evidence of additional activity was discovered.
  • October 19 and 20, 2012: The Department of Revenue executed remediation activities based on short term recommendations provided by Mandiant. The intent of the remediation activities was to remove the attacker’s access to the environment and detect a recompromise.
  • October 21, 2012 – Present: No evidence of related malicious activity post-remediation has been discovered.
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