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SANS NewsBites is a semiweekly high-level executive summary of the most important news articles that have been published on computer security during the last week. Each news item is very briefly summarized and includes a reference on the web for detailed information, if possible.

Spend five minutes per week to keep up with the high-level perspective of all the latest security news. New issues are delivered free every Tuesday and Friday.

Volume XXI - Issue #58

July 26, 2019

Ransomware Hits Electric Power Provider and 3 Louisiana School Districts; VPN Flaws Affect Widely Used Products


SANS NewsBites                July 26, 2019                Vol. 21, Num. 058




  Ransomware Attack Hits Electric Power Provider in Johannesburg

  Three Louisiana School Districts Suffer Ransomware Infections, Governor Declares State of Emergency

  VPN Flaws Affect Widely Used Products



  BlueKeep Exploit Instructions Posted Online; Exploit Included in Company's Pen-Test Toolkit

  Vulnerability in VLC Module

  Prison Sentence for Man Who Hacked iCloud Accounts

  Google Bans Dark Matter Certificates

  NSA to Create Cybersecurity Directorate to Improve Cyber Defense

  Man Arrested for Allegedly Trying to Launder Cryptocurrency Obtained Through Narcotics Trafficking

  Facebook to Pay $5 Billion Penalty





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--Ransomware Attack Hits Electric Power Provider in Johannesburg

(July 25, 2019)

A ransomware attack that hit systems at City Power, a pre-paid electric power company in Johannesburg, South Africa, has left some residents there without electricity. The attack has affected City Power's database, internal networks, website, and web apps. City Power is owned by the city of Johannesburg.  

Read more in:

News24: Joburg prepaid electricity users left in the dark as City Power crippled by computer virus

ZDNet: Ransomware incident leaves some Johannesburg residents without electricity

Dark Reading: Johannesburg Ransomware Attack Leaves Residents in the Dark

The Register: South Africans shivering after ransomware infection knackers power grid for Johannesburg


--Three Louisiana School Districts Suffer Ransomware Infections, Governor Declares State of Emergency

(July 25, 2019)

Louisiana's governor has declared a state of emergency after three school districts there were hit with ransomware attacks. The declaration makes certain state resources, the Louisiana National Guard and the Office of Technology Services, available to the affected school districts. This is believed to be just the second time a US governor has declared a state of emergency related to a cyberattack. In early 2018, Colorado's governor declared a state of emergency when systems at the Colorado Department of Transportation were infected with ransomware.

[Editor Comments]

[Honan] Today is the 3rd anniversary of the launch of the No More Ransom initiative by Europol. In the past three years NoMoreRansom has helped over 200,000 victims, prevented criminals from earning US$108,000,000 and covers over 100 ransomware families.

Read more in:

Louisiana: State of Emergency - Cybersecurity Incident

Statescoop: Louisiana declares emergency over cyberattacks targeting schools

SC Magazine: Louisiana declares state of emergency after cyberattacks hit three school districts

ZDNet: Louisiana governor declares state emergency after local ransomware outbreak


 --VPN Flaws Affect Widely Used Products

(July 23, 2019)

Critical flaws in popular virtual private networks (VPNs) could be exploited to gain access to corporate networks and steal data. The flaws are easily remotely exploitable; they affect VPNs from Palo Alto Networks, Pulse Secure, and Fortinet. All three have released advisories and updates to address the issues. Devcore researchers plan to discuss their findings about the flaws at the Black Hat security conference next month.

[Editor Comments]

[Pescatore] This is a good reminder about the importance of a complete and accurate software inventory. Patches for this vulnerability have been out for a while but often tools or components like VPN software are overlooked.

[Neely] While the patches have been out for a bit, scans found many devices online still running the vulnerable code. Make sure that your boundary protections, including VPN, Firewalls, IDS/IPS are in your maintenance schedule with priority for updates. You may need to acquire non-production units to satisfy regression testing requirements.

Read more in:

TechCrunch: Flaws in widely used corporate VPNs put company secrets at risk

ZDNet: Critical flaw in Palo Alto VPN solution impacts Uber, other enterprises may be at risk

NIST: CVE-2019-11510 Detail

Palo Alto: Advisory (CVE-2019-1579)

Fortiguard: FortiOS system file leak through SSL VPN via specially crafted HTTP resource requests

Pulse Secure: SA44101 - 2019-04: Out-of-Cycle Advisory: Multiple vulnerabilities resolved in Pulse Connect Secure / Pulse Policy Secure 9.0RX

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--BlueKeep Exploit Instructions Posted Online; Exploit Included in Company's Pen-Test Toolkit

(July 22, 24, & 25, 2019)

Information posted to Github offers directions for exploiting the BlueKeep vulnerability, and a US security company says it is including a BlueKeep exploit in its pen-testing toolkit. Several weeks ago, cybersecurity firm BitSight estimated that more than 800,000 Windows machines had yet to be patched against BlueKeep. The issue affects Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Server 2003, and Server 2008. Microsoft released patches in mid-May.

[Editor Comments]

[Murray/Paller] There is something about the weeks leading up DefCon that turns security researchers into digital terrorists.

Read more in:

The Register: With more hints dropped online on how to exploit BlueKeep, you've patched that Windows RDP flaw, right?

Ars Technica: Chances of destructive BlueKeep exploit rise with new explainer posted online

ZDNet: US company selling weaponized BlueKeep exploit


--Vulnerability in Third-Party Library Was Fixed in VLC 16 Months Ago

(July 23 & 24, 2019)

A critical heap buffer overflow flaw that was initially reported to affect VideoLAN's VLC media player actually affects a third-party library. VLC developers say that their product is not vulnerable and that that "the issue is in a 3rd party library, called libebml, which was fixed more than 16 months ago. VLC since version 3.0.3 has the correct version shipped."

Read more in:

Twitter: VideoLAN: VLC in not vulnerable

Bleeping Computer: Keep Calm, Carry On. VLC Not Affected by Critical Vulnerability

The Register: Dodgy vids can hijack PCs via VLC security flaw, US, Germany warn. Software's makers not app-y with that claim

--Prison Sentence for Man Who Hacked iCloud Accounts

(July 18, 19, & 23, 2019)

A US District Court Judge in Georgia sentenced Kwamaine Jerell Ford to 37 months in prison for breaking into Apple accounts that belonged to well-known professional athletes and rappers. Ford spent more than US $300,000 using financial information he obtained from the accounts. He was convicted in charges of computer fraud and aggravated identity theft.  

Read more in:

SC Magazine: Georgia man sentenced to prison for hacking iClouds of athletes and musicians

The Register: In the cooler for the next three years: Hacker of iCloud accounts used by athletes and rappers

Justice: Georgia man who hacked professional athletes and musicians sentenced to prison


--Google Bans Dark Matter Certificates

(July 23, 2019)

Google has joined Mozilla in banning DarkMatter root certificates. Mozilla banned the certificates from Firefox at the beginning of July, citing concerns that DarkMatter might abuse the privilege of being on the Firefox certificate whitelist. DarkMatter is a cybersecurity vendor based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The organization has reportedly carried out surveillance operations targeting journalists, governments, and human rights activists.   

Read more in:

ZDNet: Google bans DarkMatter certificates from Chrome and Android


--NSA to Create Cybersecurity Directorate to Improve Cyber Defense

(July 23, 2019)

The US National Security Agency (NSAA) will establish a cybersecurity directorate later this year. The creation of the directorate will allow the NSA to share information obtained by signals intelligence with other government agencies and with private sector organizations. The directorate is scheduled to become operational on October 1, 2019.  (Please note that the WSJ story is behind a paywall.)

[Editor Comments]

[Neely] The initiative includes reorganization of their web pages to create a one-stop-shop for vulnerability information, uploading malware samples to VirtusTotal, and posting their own research and threat warnings. They expect to incorporate lessons learned from other agencies' efforts and from the private sector.

Read more in:

WSJ: NSA Forms Cybersecurity Directorate Under More Assertive U.S. Effort (paywall)

Cyberscoop: NSA to establish new Cybersecurity Directorate to boost defense


--Man Arrested for Allegedly Trying to Launder Cryptocurrency Obtained Through Narcotics Trafficking

(July 18 & 23, 2019)

US federal authorities have arrested an Ohio man for allegedly attempting to launder US $19 million in cryptocurrency that he earned from drug deals on the now defunct Silk Road dark web market. Haney has ben charged with one count of concealment money laundering and one count of engaging in a financial transaction in criminally derived property. Haney allegedly moved the bitcoin proceeds to a cryptocurrency exchange and claimed that he obtained the funds through cryptomining. However, authorities say they can trace the blockchain transactions back to the Silk Road. When Haney converted the cryptocurrency to cash, federal agents seized the funds and arrested him.


[Editor Comments]

[Neely] This points out the risk of the intersection of cryptocurrency and traditional currency when reporting the source of funds. The conversion to cash was a visible transaction which allegedly allowed DHS to trace the Bitcoin blockchain back to its origin. Kudos to DHS for developing this capability, and a reminder of the importance of good operational security.  


Read more in:

Justice: U.S. Attorney Announces Arrest And Money Laundering Charges Against Dark Web Narcotics Trafficker

Justice: United States of America v. Hugh Brian Haney (PDF)

CNBC: This Ohio man is accused of trying to launder $19 million of bitcoin from the dark web

Yahoo: Silk Road drug dealer caught allegedly trying to wash $19 million bitcoin


--Facebook to Pay $5 Billion Penalty

(July 24 & 25, 2019)

At a press conference on Wednesday, July 24, the US Federal Trade Commission announced that Facebook will pay a $5 billion penalty for violating consumer privacy. The FTC does not find anyone personally responsible for the violations, nor does it impose significant changes to the way Facebook collects data.  

[Editor Comments]

[Pescatore] A lot of the political and press reaction was that the fine was too low, because it is "only" about 8% of Facebook's revenue run rate. That is twice as much as the European GDPR compliance regime allows and is definitely a board-level attention getter. It is also not the end of the impact on Facebook, and other tech companies, as both the political and market forces in the US are starting to move more towards requiring the "opt-in/informed consent" model that Europe has long used, vs. the "trick the user into not opting-out" model long in use in the US.

[Neely] The focus here is on changes to privacy data gathering and consent processes rather than the amount of the fine. As privacy legislation continues to evolve, active rather than passive consent, with the right to rescind, must become SOP.

Read more in:

Ars Technica: FTC fines Facebook $5 billion, imposes new privacy oversight

ZDNet: FTC hits Facebook with record $5 billion fine for user privacy violations

SC Magazine: FTC levies historic fine on Facebook for privacy violations

FTC: FTC Imposes $5 Billion Penalty and Sweeping New Privacy Restrictions on Facebook



TLS Configuration

May People Be Considered As IOC?

When Users Attack: Users and Admins Thwarting Security Controls

Apple Updates Everything

QNAP/Synology Update Security Advise

Darkmatter Intermediate Certificate Trust Removed From Google Chrome!topic/

Johannesburg Power Outages Due To Ransomware

Elasticsearch Vulnerabilities used to install DDoS Bot

VLC not Vulnerable to libebml Vulnerability

New Bluekeep Writeup

Immunity's Canvas Now Includes BlueKeep Exploit

Cryptominer With BlueKeep Scanner


The Editorial Board of SANS NewsBites


John Pescatore was Vice President at Gartner Inc. for fourteen years. He became a director of the SANS Institute in 2013. He has worked in computer and network security since 1978 including time at the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service.

Shawn Henry is president of CrowdStrike Services. He retired as FBI Executive Assistant Director responsible for all criminal and cyber programs and investigations worldwide, as well as international operations and the FBI's critical incident response.

Suzanne Vautrinot was Commander of the 24th Air Force (AF Cyber) and now sits on the board of directors of Wells Fargo and several other major organizations.

Ed Skoudis is co-founder of CounterHack, the nation's top producer of cyber ranges, simulations, and competitive challenges, now used from high schools to the Air Force. He is also author and lead instructor of the SANS Hacker Exploits and Incident Handling course, and Penetration Testing course.

Michael Assante was Vice President and Chief Security Officer at NERC, led a key control systems group at Idaho National Labs, and was American Electric Power's CSO. He now leads the global cyber skills development program at SANS for power, oil & gas and other critical infrastructure industries.

Mark Weatherford is Chief Cybersecurity Strategist at vArmour and the former Deputy Under Secretary of Cybersecurity at the US Department of Homeland Security.

Stephen Northcutt teaches advanced courses in cyber security management; he founded the GIAC certification and was the founding President of STI, the premier skills-based cyber security graduate school,

Dr. Johannes Ullrich is Chief Technology Officer of the Internet Storm Center and Dean of the Faculty of the graduate school at the SANS Technology Institute.

William Hugh Murray is an executive consultant and trainer in Information Assurance and Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Lee Neely is a Senior Cyber Analyst at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, SANS Analyst and Mentor. He has worked in computer security since 1989.

Rob Lee is the SANS Institute's top forensics instructor and director of the digital forensics and incident response research and education program at SANS (

Tom Liston is member of the Cyber Network Defense team at UAE-based Dark Matter. He is a Handler for the SANS Institute's Internet Storm Center and co-author of the book Counter Hack Reloaded.

Jake Williams is a SANS course author and the founder of Rendition Infosec, with experience securing DoD, healthcare, and ICS environments.

Dr. Eric Cole is an instructor, author and fellow with The SANS Institute. He has written five books, including Insider Threat and he is a founder with Secure Anchor Consulting.

Mason Brown is one of a very small number of people in the information security field who have held a top management position in a Fortune 50 company (Alcoa). He leads SANS' efforts to raise the bar in cybersecurity education around the world.

David Hoelzer is the director of research & principal examiner for Enclave Forensics and a senior fellow with the SANS Technology Institute.

Gal Shpantzer is a trusted advisor to CSOs of large corporations, technology startups, Ivy League universities and non-profits specializing in critical infrastructure protection. Gal created the Security Outliers project in 2009, focusing on the role of culture in risk management outcomes and contributes to the Infosec Burnout project.

Alan Paller is director of research at the SANS Institute.

Brian Honan is an independent security consultant based in Dublin, Ireland.

David Turley is SANS operations manager and serves as production manager and final editor on SANS NewsBites.

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