Popular third-party chat platforms like Slack, Discord, and Telegram are just a few of the many new productivity applications that are being hijacked by cyber criminals to create command-and-control (C&C) communications infrastructures for their malware campaigns. As corporate web security teams become more aware of traditional malware threats and deploy new security solutions to defend against them, cyber criminals continue to innovate. Now they’ve turned to well-known chat and social media applications as platforms to communicate with their deployed malware.
Hiding in Plain Sight
The appeal of these chat programs for cyber criminals is born from the fact that many of them are free, easy to use, and incorporate application programming interface (API) components that simplify connections between the programs and custom-built applications. It’s this use of APIs that allows hackers to operate undetected on corporate networks. This clever technique enables hackers to entrench their access by camouflaging themselves with normal data flows. Plus, because this malware leverages software platforms and services that are readily available (and free), all hackers need to do in order to stay connected to their growing malware bot farm is set up an account on their chat platform of choice.
Granted, not all software using APIs is susceptible to this type of attack. However, these attacks are a clear demonstration that tools used by project management and software development teams can be compromised in ways that expose their organizations to significant risk. I predict that similar vulnerabilities in productivity services and applications used by corporate technology teams will continue to be exploited—at an even greater rate. In many ways, these attacks mirror what we’ve seen recently targeting core protocols that operate on the Internet.
Know Your Enemy
Luckily, knowing the enemy is half the battle. With this in mind, we can manage these types of threats, and some of the steps I recommend come down to basic cyber hygiene. I highly recommend security professionals deploy an antivirus solution that incorporates anti-malware and firewall services to all endpoints. A solid threat-intelligence service is also vital to educate security staff and business stakeholders on the current threats and threat actors targeting their business.
One final point: it’s a good idea to screen all outbound network traffic in order to verify that it’s going to legitimate destinations. Hopefully, you’ve already deployed these recommended security controls. If you are missing one or more of these elements, it’s time to shore up your web security efforts to protect yourself and your organization.
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