Cryptojacking, in which an attacker takes over an organization’s servers to mine for cryptocurrency, is nothing new but Trend Micro has noticed that cybercriminals are increasingly targeting Alibaba’s cloud infrastructure to mine for Monero as it is untraceable.
Alibaba Elastic Computing Service (ECS) instances are of particular value to cybercriminals since they have an auto scaling feature that allows the service to automatically adjust computing resources based on the volume of user requests according to a new report from the cybersecurity firm. Although this feature is provided to Alibaba’s customers at no additional cost, the increase in resource usage ultimately leads to additional charges for its customers.
The cryptojacking landscape is shared by multiple threat actors including Kinsing and TeamTNT though their code shares common characteristics such as the ability to remove competing actors who are also mining for cryptocurrency and to disable security features found on the victim machine.
Targeting Alibaba ECS instances
Alibaba ECS instances come with a preinstalled security agent which cybercriminals often try to immediately disable after gaining access to a customer’s server.
During its recent investigation, Trend Micro found a specific code in the malware used by the attackers to create firewall rules to drop incoming packets from IP ranges belonging to internal Alibaba zones and regions. At the same time, the default Alibaba ECS instance provides root access which makes it much easier for cybercriminals to use its cloud servers for cryptojacking.
With the highest possible privilege already available upon compromise, an attacker can deploy advanced payloads such as kernel module rootkits and achieve persistence on a victim’s Alibaba ECS instance. This could be one of the reasons cybercriminals have begun to specifically target the Chinese company’s cloud computing service over competitors such as AWS or Microsoft Azure.
For organizations using Alibaba Cloud, Trend Micro recommends that they practice a shared responsibility model where CSPs and users have a responsibility to ensure the security configurations of workloads, projects and environments, customize the security features of cloud projects and workloads and follow the principle of least privilege where the number of users with the highest access privileges are limited.