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Organized attacks on cloud native infrastructure, software supply chain increasing 

Israeli cyber company Aqua Security on Monday released a new threat report by its cybersecurity research team that reveals a growing, organized and increasingly sophisticated pattern of attacks on cloud native infrastructure. While most attacks were aimed at abusing public cloud computer resources for cryptocurrency mining, the methods used open the door for higher-value targets that leverage security gaps in container software supply chains and runtime environments.

The report provides a detailed account of attacks observed during a full year of detailed observation and tracing. It was said to be the first such report to outline the precise, systematic methods used to attack container infrastructure, and to highlight supply chain attacks as an emerging threat.

The 70-page report provides trends and observed categories of attacks but also explains the specific progression of several attack vectors, from the originating malicious images to the specific evasion techniques, malicious payloads, and propagation attempts. The detailed analysis of the attacks was made possible using Aqua’s Dynamic Threat Analysis (DTA) tool, which was announced by Aqua earlier this year. Aqua DTA runs suspicious images as sandboxed containers to safely observe and trace their behavior, and is integrated into Aqua’s full-lifecycle solution to prevent such images from ever making it into production environments, Aqua said.

The research found that container images in public registries are being poisoned with Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs) that cannot be detected using static scanning, and spring into action only when the container is running. 

In addition, sophisticated evasion techniques are being used to hide attacks and make them more persistent. This includes the use of images that seem innocuous, disabling other malware, delaying before downloading payloads into the running container, using 64-bit encoding to obfuscate malware, and more.

Also, the volume of attacks has dramatically increased since the beginning of the year, suggesting that there is organized infrastructure and systematic targeting behind these attacks. More than 16,000 individual attacks were tracked back to multiple locations across the globe.

The main motivation of the malicious actors has been to hijack cloud compute resources to mine for cryptocurrency, but Aqua’s research team, Team Nautilus, has seen evidence that other objectives, such as establishing DDoS infrastructure, were also attempted, the company said. According to Aqua, Team Nautilus is the world’s only research team purely dedicated to cloud native cybersecurity.  

“The attacks we observed are a significant step up in attacks targeting cloud native infrastructure. We expect a further increase in sophistication, the use of evasion techniques and diversity of the attack vectors and objectives, since the widespread the use of cloud native technologies makes them a more lucrative target for bad actors,” noted Idan Revivo, head of Team Nautilus. “Security teams are advised to take the appropriate measures both in their pipelines as well as runtime environments, to detect and intercept such attempts.”

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