WEB HOSTING PROVIDER TO MAJOR SPORTS LEAGUES, MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT COMPANIES BREACHED BY ALPHALEON

This real-life case study will contain some info, but not all – to protect individuals’ personally identifiable information – as well as our intelligence collection sources – with our goal of highlighting the importance of having visibility into your supply chain cyber risks. In the beginning of April 2016 SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts uncovered a breach into web hosting provider Invision Power Services, whose customers include some professional sports leagues as well as major media and entertainment companies.

The actor, going by the name AlphaLeon, is associated with both the AlphaBot and Thanatos trojans – early strains of these pieces of malware appear to date back to early 2015. AlphaLeon has been known to sell access to these trojans on the dark web. While the actor has not been a seller for very long, the group’s experience and presence indicates they have been active in this space for more than five years – including multiple dark web and open web forums.

After discovering information related to the latest activity of this actor, we alerted Invision Power Services (IPS) who had not yet detected this compromise. We worked with them to validate that the actor appeared to have established a presence within the managed hosting environment that Invision Power Services operated via Amazon Web Services (AWS).

It is our understanding that IPS is still working through their own internal investigation into the incident and additional information may be uncovered, but it appears that the initial cause of the compromise was most likely the result of unpatched software. AlphaLeon indicated that this access, which affected multiple high level brands, would allow them to install Exploit Kits with the purpose of infecting users visiting these sites with their trojan. This would grow the group’s botnet further, which would in turn be sold via various underground markets. The trojan appears to be capable of:

  • Stealing banking credentials and bitcoins
  • Gaining (and selling) webcam access
  • Delivering ransomware
  • Sending spam
  • Stealing gaming credentials
  • Distributed Denial of Service

As of the date of this post it does not appear that AlphaLeon has initiated this specific campaign.

This case study highlights three primary things:

  1. This is a classic case of supply chain risk management. Invision Power Services is a supplier to some of the largest brands. These companies entrusted their web hosting provider to perform a reasonable service based on whatever contractual agreements were in place. Even if the impacted companies are not at fault, they still have their own customers and their brand and reputation to protect. If you are going to outsource a service that has cyber risk tied to it, you are outsourcing a portion of your brand and reputation in some way shape or form and you need to keep some eyeballs on that supply chain.
  2. Having a dark web intel capability is an important component of your overall cybersecurity efforts. In this situation, a bad actor was observed in a dark web forum. This source was key to gaining intel that was not available through normal open channels. The dark web is certainly not the only source you should be pulling from in your intel efforts, but it is an important area for which you should have a collection capability.
  3. The intel process works. SurfWatch Labs analysts observed discussions that concerned us, we notified the victim hosting provider, they confirmed the issue and started to react. That is what is supposed to happen.

As you outsource capabilities to other vendors, your cyber risk exposure expands. Make sure you cast a wide net in regards to your intelligence collection capabilities. It is critical to understand this and to keep a watchful eye on not only your internal environment, but that of the vendors you do business with.

Author: Adam Meyer

Adam Meyer has served in leadership positions in the defense, technology, and critical infrastructure sectors for more than 15 years. Prior to joining SurfWatch Labs, Mr. Meyer was the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, one of the largest public transportation systems in the United States. Preceding his role as a CISO, Mr. Meyer served as the Director of Information Assurance and Command IA Program Manager for the Naval Air Warfare Center, Naval Air Systems Command one of the Navy's premier engineering and acquisition commands.

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