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#infosec VPS and #Cloud servers used for brute force attacks and #botnets against #WinServ and #MSExchange

Syspeace - intrusion prevention for Windows servers

Syspeace website

Is your VPS used for brute force attacks?

or I could also have called this post “Do you know whom your VPS is hacking today?”

A trend that has surfaced over the years is to simply hire computer power inte the Cloud in various forms and shapes. The basic idea is to get rid of the hardware and maintenance för servers and have someone else take care of it. Also known as Infrastructure aa a Service or IaaS

The problem is often though that even if you use a hosted VPS you still have to manage it. This is something that a lot of users and companies tend to forget or neglect.

What you’ve basically done is simply get rid of the hardware hassle but you still have to take care of the Windows patching and manage security issues as with any Windows serevr (or Linux för that matter) .

There aren’t that many Cloyd services out there that actually will also manage the security and management aspects of your VPS and you really need to think these things through.

The resaon for this post is that for some time now, a VPS located at a Swedish Cloud Service provider has been trying to brute force its way into quite a few different servers with #Syspeace installed on them.
The attacks, targeted aginst RDP / Terminal Servers servers, Exchange Server and Sharepoint Servers in this case, have been blocked, traced and reported automatically but the big question is whether whoever owns/hires this VPS is actually even aware of what is going on ? Or if it’s hired especially for this purpose? This is actuallt impossible to know.

In this specific case this VPS has been going on and on for a while and it has targeted at least 5 different customers of mine with Syspeace installed and about 12 servers at least.
All attacks have been succesfully blocked, tracked and reported and eventually this VPS will end up in the Syspeace Global Blacklist (GBL) and propagated to all other Syspeace installations around the world and it will be blacklisted for all of them, thus securing them preemptively from any brute force / dictionary attacks from this VPS.

Most likely the Cloud Service Provider doesn’t know what’s going on since it’s not their responsibility really. Maybe the user / customer hirong the VPS does this on pyrpose or they have no idea that the VPS has been compromised and is used for this hacking activity. I juyt donät knoew. All I know is that it has been cinducting a lot of dicitionary attacks lately.

What I’m driving at is that if you decide to start using a hosted VPS, you still have the responsibility to manage it as any other server really.
You need to have it correctly patched, have an antivirus on it, make sure all security settings are correct and you need to monitor activity on it.

You should also ask your Cloud Service provider for intrusion prevention from Syspeace since you basically have no idea what all of the other customers VPS are really doing in your shared network since you hae no control over them.

Most Cloud Service Provers could inplement Syspeace in their various Applications portals or have a Syspeace installed in their prepared images for customers. If your providers hasn’t implemented Syspeace yet, you can simply download it yourself from /free-download/download-plus-getting-started-with-syspeace/

Your “neighbors” at the Cloud Service could be trying to brute force they way into your VPS and you’d probably wouldn’t have a clue if you haven’t turned on logging and installed a brute foce prevention software for Windows servers.

By Juha Jurvanen @ JufCorp

#Infosec When and where is Syspeace useful for intrusion prevention ?

In what scenarios Syspeace is useful for preventing brute force attacks? Do I need it if I’ve only got a Windows workstation?

Syspeace - intrusion prevention for Windows servers

Syspeace website

Syspeace is an intrusion prevention software mainly targeted for Windows Servers, SBS Server, RDS TS Servers, RDWeb, Sharepoint Servers, SQL Server, Exchange, Sharepoint, Citrix and so on but it will also run on Windows 7 and above for home use.

To have a real use for Syspeace these conditions need to be met

1. You need to have enabled remote access to your server / workstation.

2. You need to have set up some kind of portforwarding in your external firewall to your server / workstation. If you are for instance on a standard broadband connection and you haven’t done anything with the default rules in your boradband modem, your workstation is probably not reachable from the Internet thus making a Syspeace installation quite unecessary and waste of RAM and COPU for you, minimal of course but still. There is no need to have software installed in any computer environment that actually doesn’t do anything for you. It’s a waste of resources.  

3.The same goes for servers although in a server environment you might want to have Syspeace installed to monitor and handle internal brute force attacks since Syspeace works just as efficently whetheter the attack is externla or internal. It will even block a workstation trying to connect to netowrk shares via the command prompt using “net use * \servernamesharename” command. Have a look at his entry for instance http://syspeace.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/syspeace-for-internal-brute-force-protection-on-windows-servers/

4. There could be a scenario where you have for instance your own hosted WorPress Blog that is reachable from the Internet . Please refer to http://syspeace.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/syspeace-for-protecting-wordpress-from-brute-force-attacks/ for an idea on brute force prevention for WordPress Blogs.

5. In server envirenments you might have Syspeace installed not only for intrusion prevention but also to have a good reporting on various user login activity that can be viewed and exported in the Access Reports Section.

6. If you’re using mainly Cloud Services or a managed VPS ,the intrusion prevention should be handled by your Cloud Service Provider . Here’s an older blog post on how to have verify how your provider handles hacking attacks : http://syspeace.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/securing-cloud-services-from-dictionary-attacks-hack-yourself/

There is a fully functional, free 30 day trial for download at /free-download/download-plus-getting-started-with-syspeace/ .
Give it a try and have your Windows Server instantly protected from dictionary attacks and brute force attacks. The installtion is small, quick and very easu to set up. You’re up & running in 5 minutes and there’s no need to chnage your current infrasctructure, invest in specific and usually expensive hardware or hire external consultants.

By Juha Jurvanen @ JufCorp

Various brute force prevention methods for Windows servers – pros and cons

Intro on brute force prevention tactics and some misconceptions

Protection from brute force attempts on Windows servers has always been a nightmare and would continue to be so if not .. Yes, I admit, I will come up with a solution further down.

Most system administrators with selfrespect start off with the best of intentions to actually keep track of brute force attempts but eventually give up because of the sheer number of attacks that occur daily.

Others, unfortunately, believe that a firewall takes care of the problem which it doesn’t or that an account lockout policy is the answer. Neither of them is and I’ll show you why.

The firewall approach:

Think about it. What does a firewall actually do ? The role of the firewall is to block traffic on unwanted ports and to drop portscans and variuos SYN FLOOD attacks. That’s about it. A firewall is basically a harsch doorman deciding who gets in to speak with the guys on the inside and who doesn’t.

If an attacker actually connects on a valid port , the traffic is redirected/port forwarded to the server in question let’s say the webmail interface of a Microsoft Exchange Server or a Microsoft Windows Terminal Server or a Citrix Server. Once the attacker is there, the actual logon request is handled by the server,not the firewall. The logon process is managed by the Windows Authentication process (which in turn may be validated against Active Directoy or a local user database using SAM). The firewall is already out of the picture really since it has no connection with the Windws server apart from  the TCP connection and keeping it alive really. They don’t communicate the result of the logon process between eachother.

Also, a changing of from standard ports won’t help you much, will it ? The logon process is still managed by the Windows Server although you will get rid a of a lot of portscans and “lazy background, script kiddie attempts” if you’re using non standard ports. Basically you get rid of the script kiddies but the problem isn’t solved, the traffic is still redirected/port forwarded to the server that does the actual authentication.

Using for instance a Remote Desktop Gateway won’t handle the problem either. Using a RDP Gateway minimizes the attack surface, yes, but it is still reachable and the user logons still have to be validated. The problem is with any server that services logon request basically, regardless of on what ports and how they get there. That is Microsoft Windows server, Exchange Server, Citrix, Sharepoint, CRM , Terminal server and so on . The list can probably go on and on.

There’s also the risk of stuff stops working each time you apply some updates or patches to your Windows Servers if you start changing standard ports or standard configurations. It’s happened to me a few times and it’s not that amusing to be honest when you’ve got 1000 users not being able to log in beacuse you’ve just done your job and patched the servers to keep peolpe datas safe. Trust me, that’s not a good Monday morning.

The VPN approach:

Yes. That’s a safer approach but also here we do have some issues. First of all, it’s not that easy to keep track of VPN certificates, to set all of it up and manage all the licensing costs (that can be quite significant really ) and (sometimes costly) hardware you need to have in place. Historically there has also always been performance issues with most VPN solutions since all traffic is directed through one or a few VPN servers / connectors. Some of them also charge you for the bandwidth you want it to be able to use for VPN connections or charge you for the number of simultaneous VPN connections, A VPN solution can be quite costly as an initial investment and taking into account all of the administration involved in it.

You also probably won’t be demanding your users to have a VPN connection to the Microsoft Exchange OWA etiher snce the whole idea of the OWA i that it’s supposed to easy to reach from anywhere. I know there are some companies actually requiring VPN even for OWA and that’s just fine I guess but the more we’re moving our data and applications to cloud services, this hassle with different VPNs and stuff will eventually be fading into the dark corners of the Internet (that’s my personal belief anyways). The thing is that your users don’t want to be tied down by complicated VPN clients and stuff, users nowdays are used “stuff just working” and it has to be easy and intuititive for them. The days of the “System Administrators from Hell” implementing all kinds of complex solutions to keep stuff secure and forcing users to having very specific and complex ways of accessing data are over. They were good times, good times but they’re over. Deal with it.

The IDS/IPS approach:

Using a centralized IDS/IPS This is a more efficient method, yes. The downside is, most of these systems require you to change your infrastructure and get specific, costly hardware, licenses and costly consultants to get it up and running. And someone needs to monitor it, take care of it and so on. There are parllells to the VPN approach here although an IDS/IPS does a while lot more such as examines all the network traffic, examines it for malicious code and so on. I’m not sure actually if an IDS/IPS can communicate with the Windows Server Authentication Process so I’ll actually won’t say anything about that. I would presume they can, otherwise I fail to see the point (from the brute force logon prespective, that is) and you’d still need to handle the logon attempt on the Windows server.

The Account Lockout Policy approach:

The acccount lockout method is also flawed due to the fact that an attacker can quite easily cause a DOS (Denial of Service) simply by hammering your server with invalid logon request but with valid usernames, thus rendering the accounts unusable for the valid users. Basically, all he (or she)  needs to know is the user logon name and in many system , it’s not tha hard to guess (try the companynameusername or the mail address for the user since it’s quite often also a valid logon name if you have a look at the properties of the user in Active Directory Users and Group snap-in)

The Cloud Computing approach

We are shifting  more and more of our data and applications into various Cloud Services (like it or not but, it’s a fact and you know it). This way we do get rid of some of these problems on our own servers and hopefully, your Cloud Service provider actually has a plan for these scenarios and has the necessary surveillance software and systems in place. If you’re using a Cloud Computing platform based on Windows Servers, you should actually ask your provider how they handle brute force attempts on their servers. Most likely they will give you one or more of the scenarios described above and, as I’ve showed you, they are not adequate to handle the task at hand. They’re just not up for the job. Feel free to ask your own provider and see what answer you get. My guess is .. mumbo jumbo but basically , they don’t have anything in place really, more or less.
You could even try logging into you own account with your own username but the wrong password loads of times and see what happens. Will it be locked out? Will your machine be locked out? How does your Cloud Srvice Provider respond and are you informed in any way that an intrsuion attempt has been made using your account ? How many times can anypne try to access your account without you being notifed of it? And from where are they trying to get to your data and why?
Personally I know of only one Cloud Service Provider that has also taken these questions into account and that’s Red Cloud IT in Sweden.

Is there a solution then?

Yeah. I told you so in the beginning and even if choose not to use what I suggest, I highly recommend that you start thinking about these things properly because these problem will accelerate in the future. Just take a look at all the hacktivism witj DDOS attacks,going on out there. It’s just a start because the Internet is still young.

First of all, and this is extremely important you realize, , it doesn’t matter if you hosting your own servers or if you’re using VPS (Virtual Private Servers) hosted somewhere else or even if you’re a Cloud Service Provider. The basic principal stands: if you are providing any kind of service to users using the Windows Authentication mechanism you should be reading this and hopefully my point has come across.

If you’re having brute force attacks on your Windows systems today and I’m pretty sure you do (just turn on logon auditing and I’m sure you’ll see you have more than you actually thought you did, *for some odd reason this is NOT turned on by defaut in Windows*) there’s a few things you should be doing (that I’m guessing you’re not beacuse you’re not a cyborg and you need to sleep, meet your friends and family and actually be doing something productive during your work hours). On the other hand, if you are doing all of these things I’m guessing you have quite a large IT staff with a lot of time on their hands. Good for you. Call me and I’ll apply for a position.

First of all. Block the attack.

You need the attack to stop! Instantly. This is of course your first priority That’s basically blocking it in the firewall, either in the local Windows firewall or the external one, it’s actually up to you which way is the easiest one. The reason is that you don’t want to be wasting CPU and RAM and bandwidth on these people (or botnets)  and of course, you don’t want them to actually succeed in logging on (should you have a lousy password policy in place ) or even them disguising a real intrusion attempt behind a DDOS attack to fill your logfiles and hide themselves in there. (Yes, it’s not an uncommon method). There’s also quite a few reports of DDOS attacks being used to disguise the actual reason for it which is to find out what security measures are in places for future reference. The “know your enemy principal”.

Second. Trace the attack. From where did it come?

Second , you need to find out from where the attack originated and what username was used. This is because you want to know if it is a competitor trying to hack you and access your corporate data or if you find yourself in the interesting position of your own username trying to login from sunny Brazil and you’re just not in Brazil (although you’d love to be) . You’re in Chicago looking at winter. Somethng’s up.
You also want to see if it’s a former employee trying to log on and so on .. This is stuff you need to know and keep track of since there may be legal issues involved further down the line.

Points one and two , you want to be handled in real time. There’s no use for you to find out two days after the attack that something actually happened. You want it stopped, reported and handled as it happens.

The legal stuff.

Third, you need to decide what to do with your information. Should it be handed over to the legal departement, your boss, the police or is it just “nothing” and can be discarded ?

So. “What would you suggest as a solution then” ? 

The easiest and most cost efficient way to handle brute force attacks on Windows server is to have an automated sysem to block, track and report each attack and that’s where Syspeace comes into play.

Syspeace is a locally installed Windows service, thus using a minimum of system resources,  that monitors the server for unwanted logon attempts and blocks the intruders in real time in the local firewall based on the rules you’ve set up. For instance “if this IP address has failed logging on 20 times during the last 30 minutes then block it completely for 5 hours and send me an email about it”

This means that you can for instance set up a blocking rule that is you “Account lockout policy – 1” in your rules and that way simply blocking the bruteforce attack but not locking your users accounts and causing them unecesseray disruption.

Since Syspeace monitors the Windows Authentication logon oprocess, it doesn’t matter what firewall your using or what ports you’re using, the monitoring and blocking is done where the actual login attempts is made and therefore caught and handled automatically.

Once the intruders IP address is blocked, it’s blocked on ALL ports from that server which means that if you have other services also running on it (like FTP or well.. anyhting really) those ports and services are also protected instantly from the attacker. Not giving them the chance to find other ways of gaining access to that server through exploits.

A few other features in Syspeace

A few other nice features with Syspeace is for instance the GBL (Global BlackLlist) where every Syspeace installation around the world , reports each attack to a databse where they are examined and weighed and , if deemed “meneace to Internet and all of mankind” the database is then propagated to all other Syspeace installations. In this way, you’re preemptively protected when the bad guys come knocking on your door. So far , there has been over 200 000 brute force attcks blocked by Syspeace worldwide (and that’s just since mid July 2012) and some of them have made it to the GBL. Lucky them.
Of course there are white lists and stuff, giving you the ability to have your customers or internal users keep hammering you servers all day long if they (and you) want  without being blocked out.

There’s also the Attack Cintrol section that gives you the ability to sort out information about successful and failed logons, findind the ones that are trying to stay under the radar, viewing reports.
You get daily and weekly reports email to you and each attack is also mailed to you with detailed but easy to understand information from where the attack originated including country, what username was used and how many times they actually tried to hack or overload you. This gives you the ability to quickly see of it’s something you should be taking care of or just carry on with your working day and leave it be with a smile on your face.

The GUI is easy to use (and there’s an even easier coming up in the next version) so there’s no need to hire costly consultants to be up & running or start using various scripts and change parameters in them to suite you needs and hope for the best and hope they don’t hang your servers.

Syspeace also protects the Microsoft Exchange Server Connectors from being attacked.

There is a Windows 2003 version coming out and there will be more features added as we go. The roadmap and to-do list is ..well.. extensive to put it mildly.

The licensing is not steep, I’d even dare say cheap and it’s extremely flexible.

As an example. If you buy yourself a new server today (evereybody loves new toys ) , you install Syspeace on it and then you get yourself a second server in 4 months. You can easily align the licensing renewal dates for both servers , not having to keep track of licensing renewals scattered over the entire year. If you’re up for , you could even byt yourslef just a one months license. Or a week. I’s up to you and what needs you have.

Download a free trial and see for yourself.
We know it works and so does all of the people around the world who are already running it.

Syspeace – let the silence do the talking

Syspeace logo

Syspeace – bruteforce prevention for Windows servers

 

Blog post written by Juha Jurvanen
Senior IT consultant in backup, IT securiy, server operations and cloud

Today we reached over +200 000 blocked brute force attempts on Windows servers worldwide – Syspeace

Syspeace  helps Windows administrators handle the gruesome tasks of tracking, blocking and reporting brute force attacks on Windows servers.

Through the use of the GBL (Global BlackList) Syspeace users are preemptively protected from brute force attacks so to be honest, the number could actually be higher than 200 000 so far since the attackers once reported into the GBL are alreday blocked and thus not reported again into Syspeace.

Syspeace monitors incorrect login attempts on Windows servers, Exchange Servers, Citrix Server, Terminal Servers, Exchange OWA, Terminal Server RDWEB and more

Download a free trial of Syspeace and see for yourself how easily you can prevent intrusion attempts on your Windows server and cut your costs on administration. Installation and configuration within minutes. After installation and starting up the Syspeace service you are instantly protected..

And no additional assembly required.

No need for new and specialized hardware with runaway licensing costs,no need changing all of your infrastructure to implement a new IDS/IPS system and no costly security consultants. It’s just that easy.

Syspeace – let the silence do the talking

Syspeace - Brute force protection for Windows servers

Syspeace logo

 

175 000 + brute force attacks on Windows automatically blocked so far by Syspeace

We had a look at the number the other day and since July 15:th we’ve successfully helped system administrators avoid over 175 000 brute force attempts on Windows servers world wide.

One of the key features in Syspeace is the GBL (Global Blacklist) that automatically analyzes and weighs every attack on every Syspeace installation and distributes the ones deemed too recurring to all other installations , thus making each Syspeace protected preemptively when the attacker comes to visit.

Syspeace is designed to automatically block, trace and report the brute force attack , thus giving system administrators less headache with all of the manual steps that has to be done for each attack. This means lower costs for administration and security work.

We thought it might be worth mentioning .

Download your own free 30 day trial at /downloads.aspx

Cheers

 

Juha Jurvanen and the Syspeace team

 

 

New Syspeace 1.1.30 with brand new analysis feature released

Hi, Everyone.
As always we are trying to come up with new ideas and implement stuff we’ve had in our roadmap for a long time now.

Today we’ve released a new version of Syspeace with a few new features.

The major news is that there’s now a new feature in the Attack Control Section for further analysis.

The analysis section enables you to create reports on specific IP addresses, usernames or domain or do the reversed, i.e. find out all of the ones who are NOT a specific IP address, domain or username. Or sort out the ones with successful logins or only the ones with failed logins.

As a side note , we’re also happy to tell you that we’ve so far, since July 15th, have helped you guys block 73 000 + brute force attempts, gathered them, classified them, added some of them to the GBL that we introduced in 1.1.10 and thus helped you to be preemptively defended by getting this distrubited to all of the other Syspeace installations around the world.

ABOUT OLDER VERSIONS

Those of you still running an older version (prior to  1.20) we would highly recommend you had a look at the newer versions and the stuff we’ve put in there.

Here’s a list of what we’ve been up to so far:

Date Version Updates
19/9 1.1.30 Upgraded the Attack control: improved search and added analysis of login statistics.
11/9 1.1.23 Fixed bug where new installations would have problems with the reporting feature.
10/9 1.1.22 Updated registration process in GUI.
4/9 1.1.21 Fixed e-mail bug.
3/9 1.1.20 Added daily and weekly reporting.
7/8 1.1.10 Added global blacklist.
29/7 1.1.5 Fixed SMTP to work with Gmail.
15/7 1.1.0 First version! Basic functionality for securing a server from unauthorized login-attempts.

To download the newest version for trial or purchas pleas visit Syspeace download page

As we’ve stated earlier, the older version will run until 2012-12-31 but maybe you would be interested in the new features we’ve added?

For anyone running 1.20 + we’d highly recommend upgrading if you have the possibility and since we’ve also taken care some minor bugs in the Global Black list function.

 

ABOUT THE FUTURE OF SYSPEACE AND OUR ROADMAP

Our roadmap for the nearest future is to start looking more closely into a Windows 2003 version since it’s been frequently asked by you guys.

While on the subject of our roadmap!

We’ve decided to start using Uservoice to gather you inputs, ideas and feature requests.

You’re all welcome to join us and share your ideas  in there.

The ones that gets the highest rating and scores will of course get a faster pace in our roadmap since our goal is to make Syspeace something that helps everyone to make their everyday Windows server administration easier and more secure

Have a look at the Uservoice site at http://syspeace.uservoice.com

Of course, you’re always welcome to mail us also as you’ve done before. We’re here and we love getting your feedback.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this and have a peaceful, brute force-free day!

 Cheers
Juha Jurvanen & The Syspeace team
Syspeace - brute force protection for Windows servers

Syspeace – brute force protection for Windows servers