Alibaba ECS instances targeted in new cryptojacking campaign

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Hackers have been found attacking Alibaba Cloud Elastic Computing Service (ECS) instances to mine Monero cryptocurrency in a new cryptojacking campaign.

Security researchers at Trend Micro discovered cyber criminals disabling security features in cloud instances so that they could mine for cryptocurrency.

ECS instances come with a preinstalled security agent that hackers try to uninstall it upon compromise. Researchers said specific code in the malware created firewall rules to drop incoming packets from IP ranges belonging to internal Alibaba zones and regions.

These default Alibaba ECS instances also provide root access. The problem here is these instances lack the different privilege levels found in other cloud providers. This means hackers who gain login credentials to access a target instance can do so via SSH without mounting an escalation of privilege attack beforehand.

“In this situation, the threat actor has the highest possible privilege upon compromise, including vulnerability exploitation, any misconfiguration issue, weak credentials or data leakage,” said researchers.

This enables advanced payloads, such as kernel module rootkits and achieving persistence via running system services to be deployed. “Given this feature, it comes as no surprise that multiple threat actors target Alibaba Cloud ECS simply by inserting a code snippet for removing software found only in Alibaba ECS,” they added.


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Researchers said that when cryptojacking malware is running inside Alibaba ECS, the security agent installed will send a notification of a malicious script running. It is then up to the user to prevent ongoing infection and malicious activities. Researchers said it is always the responsibility of the user to prevent this infection from happening in the first place.

“Despite detection, the security agent fails to clean the running compromise and gets disabled,” they added. “Looking at another malware sample shows that the security agent was also uninstalled before it could trigger an alert for compromise.”

Once compromised, the malware installs an XMRig to mine for Monero.

Researchers said it was important to note that Alibaba ECS has an auto-scaling feature to automatically adjust computing resources based on the volume of user requests. This means hackers can also scale up cryptomining and with users bearing the costs.

“By the time the billing arrives to the unwitting organization or user, the cryptominer has likely already incurred additional costs. Additionally, the legitimate subscribers have to manually remove the infection to clean the infrastructure of the compromise,” warned researchers.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.