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Jan 25, 2017

2016 in Review: Top Cyber Security Trends in Japan

Hi, this is Misaki Kimura from Watch and Warning Group.

Another new year has come and gone, and as I look back over about the significant security trends that took place in 2016, it is needless to mention that security threat landscape is ever evolving and increasingly complex. As a basis for what we can prepare for 2017, I’d like to review security headlines in 2016 by referring to the activities carried out in Japan, to look into the expectations to come.

Increase in DDoS built by botnets such as Mirai

Large-scale botnets leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) devices to launch massive DDoS attacks, became a prominent topic worldwide. The Mirai botnet, which was responsible for the series of attacks in recent months, including the DDoS attacks against American journalist’s website “Krebs on Security”, and DNS provider “Dyn”, had brought a huge impact. The word “Mirai” is a Japanese word for “future”, and just as it is interpreted, since the release of Mirai source code last September, it has called a lot of concerns of what poorly secured IoT devices may bring in the future.

In response to this, a technical alert (in Japanese) was released on Japan Vulnerability Notes (JVN) to promote IoT device owners/users in Japan to secure their devices, and organizations were encouraged to place countermeasures towards DDoS attacks. In addition, JPCERT/CC has announced a security alert for awareness raising, and the Information-technology Promotion Agency, Japan (IPA) has also announced an alert (in Japanese) respectively.

Security guidelines concerning IoT were also published from multiple organizations during last year. “IoT Security Guide for Consumers (ver1.0)” (in Japanese) that is intended for readers such as IoT device developers and consumers to take precautions towards IoT devices was published from the Japan Network Security Association (JNSA). Furthermore, “IoT Security Guideline ver1.0” (in Japanese) was announced from the IoT Acceleration Consortium’s IoT Security Working Group, organized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC).

Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) becomes increasingly sophisticated

Since the Japan Pension Service hack in 2015 that led to 1.25 million cases of personal data leak, the Japanese public has been paying attention to targeted attacks than ever before. These types of attacks continued to evolve constantly by developing new tactics, techniques and procedures. Particularly in 2016, we have been observing attacks concerning to malware known as Daserf [1], Asurex [2], Sysget (aka HelloBridge, ZACOM) [3] and Elirks (aka KLURP) [4]. Though the attribution for each malware may differ, a common attack vector is observed - malware infections are attempted by convincing the user to open attachments of spear phishing emails or watering hole attacks.

Amongst all, what specifically grabbed our attention was Daserf. Not only different C2 servers were used for each targeted organization, but the C2 server for each infected device within the organization was also individual. Due to this multiplicity, blacklisting the URLs and IP addresses of C2 servers were no more an effective measure, allowing the threat actors to remain undetected for a long duration of time.

On the other hand, Elirks was also unique in terms of retrieving its C2 server’s IP address – it obtains the IP address by accessing to pre-determined microblog service or SNS. This behavior is deemed to avoid the detection of security products and to flexibly switch the C2 server specified in the content of articles posted on those legitimate services by rewriting the code in it.

In accordance to this situation, at JPCERT/CC, we released a document on “Initial Procedures and Response Guideline for Countering Advanced Persistent Threat” (in Japanese) and also “Report on the Research into Evidence of Attack Tool Execution for Incident Investigation” (released in Japanese, English version will be coming out by the end of first half of 2017 (Title is tentative)). The former aims to enhance effective incident response procedures to deal with APT by providing knowledge on how to detect, analyze and contain the attacks, while the latter aims to promote efficient investigation upon an incident by providing information on actual attack tools used by threat actors and evidence left in log files when executing those tools.

Attack cases on financial theft continues to take place

According to the report (in Japanese) released by the National Police Agency (NPA), financial loss caused by illegal money transfer using Internet banking services that occurred in the first half of 2016 has been greatly reduced both in number of victims and the amount of financial loss of credit unions and corporate accounts. To be more specific, the damage amount in the first half of 2016 was 898 million Japanese yen, which decreased from the second half of 2015 (1.53 billion Japanese yen). However, in terms of personal accounts, the number of victims and amount of financial loss were witnessed at the same level as 2015 on average.

In 2016, Online Banking Trojans that steal IDs and passwords were attached to Japanese written spam emails and sent to Japanese users. Notorious Banking Trojans that were causing damages overseas such as Ursnif (aka: Gozi, Snifula) [5], Shiotob (aka: URLZONE, Bebloh) [6] and KRBANKER [7] (in Japanese), were also beginning to target online users in Japan.

In addition, ransomware continued to keep prevalent this year as well. Based on the report (in Japanese) from TrendMicro, Japanese organizations infected with ransomware in the first half of the year reached to 1,740, which was 7 times higher compared with the same time of 2015. Regarding the amount of financial loss itself, it has become the most significant security threat amongst all to Internet users.

Lastly, one more to note - 2016 was the year for JPCERT/CC to celebrate its 20th anniversary. As long as JPCERT/CC represents as the coordination center for cyber security incidents in Japan, we will continue to endeavor to create cyber space a safer place for all through cooperation and coordination with various partners around the globe. We would like to convey our gratitude for your support and cooperation, and would like to continuously devote the utmost effort in our activities.

Thank you for reading.

- Misaki Kimura


[1] http://www.lac.co.jp/security/report/pdf/cgview_vol2_en.pdf

[2] http://blog.jpcert.or.jp/2016/06/asruex-malware-infecting-through-shortcut-files.html

[3] https://www.fireeye.com/content/dam/fireeye-www/global/en/current-threats/pdfs/wp-operation-quantum-entanglement.pdf

[4] http://researchcenter.paloaltonetworks.com/2016/06/unit42-tracking-elirks-variants-in-japan-similarities-to-previous-attacks/

[5] http://blog.trendmicro.com/trendlabs-security-intelligence/ursnif-the-multifaceted-malware/

[6] http://blog.trendmicro.com/trendlabs-security-intelligence/bebloh-expands-japan-latest-spam-attack/

[7] http://blog.trendmicro.co.jp/archives/13683