Advanced Persistent Threat Actors Targeting U.S. Think Tanks

This Advisory takes advantage of the MITRE Adversarial Practices, Tactics, and Common Know-how (ATT&CK®) framework. See the ATT&CK for Business for all referenced risk actor techniques and methods.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Safety Company (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have noticed persistent ongoing cyber intrusions by superior persistent danger (APT) actors concentrating on U.S. feel tanks. This malicious exercise is normally, but not completely, directed at men and women and organizations that aim on worldwide affairs or national safety coverage.[1] The subsequent steerage might help U.S. imagine tanks in acquiring network protection methods to reduce or fast detect these attacks.

APT actors have relied on numerous avenues for preliminary accessibility. These have included small-work abilities this kind of as spearphishing e-mails and 3rd-celebration concept solutions directed at the two corporate and particular accounts, as properly as exploiting susceptible web-struggling with products and remote connection abilities. Increased telework for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded workforce reliance on remote connectivity, affording malicious actors far more possibilities to exploit all those connections and to mix in with enhanced traffic. Attackers may perhaps leverage virtual private networks (VPNs) and other distant get the job done applications to achieve original accessibility or persistence on a victim’s community. When productive, these very low-hard work, superior-reward ways let danger actors to steal sensitive information and facts, receive person credentials, and achieve persistent accessibility to target networks.

Given the value that think tanks can have in shaping U.S. plan, CISA and FBI urge individuals and organizations in the intercontinental affairs and nationwide safety sectors to promptly adopt a heightened condition of consciousness and apply the important actions shown in the Mitigations area of this Advisory.

Simply click listed here for a PDF variation of this report.

CISA and FBI advocate believe tank organizations use the subsequent critical procedures to fortify their safety posture.


  • Carry out a schooling application to familiarize users with pinpointing social engineering procedures and phishing email messages.


  • Log off distant connections when not in use.
  • Be vigilant in opposition to personalized spearphishing attacks concentrating on corporate and particular accounts (such as both equally email and social media accounts).
  • Use different passwords for corporate and personal accounts.
  • Set up antivirus application on individual devices to quickly scan and quarantine suspicious information.
  • Utilize solid multi-component authentication for personalized accounts, if readily available.
  • Exercising warning when:
    • Opening e mail attachments, even if the attachment is predicted and the sender seems to be acknowledged. See Using Warning with Email Attachments.
    • Applying detachable media (e.g., USB thumb drives, external drives, CDs).

IT Team/Cybersecurity Personnel

  • Segment and segregate networks and capabilities.
  • Transform the default username and password of programs and appliances.
  • Employ solid multi-variable authentication for company accounts.
  • Deploy antivirus software on organizational equipment to mechanically scan and quarantine suspicious documents.
  • Implement encryption to info at rest and data in transit.
  • Use e-mail stability appliances to scan and clear away malicious e-mail attachments or inbound links.
  • Keep an eye on essential inner protection equipment and identify anomalous actions. Flag any identified indicators of compromise or menace actor behaviors for immediate response.
  • Companies can put into action mitigations of varying complexity and restrictiveness to reduce the danger posed by threat actors who use Tor (The Onion Router) to carry out malicious functions. See the CISA-FBI Joint Cybersecurity Advisory on Defending From Destructive Cyber Activity Originating from Tor for mitigation options and supplemental data.
  • Prevent exploitation of acknowledged application vulnerabilities by routinely making use of software program patches and upgrades. Foreign cyber menace actors go on to exploit publicly known—and usually dated—software vulnerabilities from wide concentrate on sets, such as general public and private sector businesses. If these vulnerabilities are left unpatched, exploitation usually involves handful of assets and presents menace actors with simple obtain to target networks. Assessment CISA and FBI’s Major 10 Routinely Exploited Vulnerabilities and other CISA alerts that determine vulnerabilities exploited by overseas attackers.
  • Carry out an antivirus application and a formalized patch management method.
  • Block certain sites and e mail attachments normally linked with malware (e.g., .scr, .pif, .cpl, .dll, .exe).
  • Block email attachments that are not able to be scanned by antivirus software program (e.g., .zip data files).
  • Carry out Team Policy Object and firewall rules.
  • Put into action filters at the email gateway and block suspicious IP addresses at the firewall.
  • Routinely audit area and area accounts as nicely as their permission levels to glimpse for conditions that could let an adversary to attain large accessibility by getting qualifications of a privileged account.
  • Abide by very best practices for layout and administration of the community to restrict privileged account use across administrative tiers.
  • Put into practice a Domain-Primarily based Concept Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) validation system.
  • Disable or block pointless distant companies.
  • Limit access to distant expert services through centrally managed concentrators.
  • Deny direct distant access to internal programs or methods by applying community proxies, gateways, and firewalls.
  • Limit unneeded lateral communications.
  • Disable file and printer sharing providers. If these services are demanded, use robust passwords or Lively Listing authentication.
  • Make sure purposes do not shop delicate data or qualifications insecurely.
  • Empower a firewall on agency workstations, configured to deny unsolicited link requests.
  • Disable needless companies on company workstations and servers.
  • Scan for and eliminate suspicious e-mail attachments assure any scanned attachment is its “accurate file sort” (i.e., the extension matches the file header).
  • Observe users’ internet searching practices restrict entry to suspicious or dangerous web-sites. Call regulation enforcement or CISA promptly relating to any unauthorized community accessibility determined.
  • Pay a visit to the MITRE ATT&CK tactics and techniques web pages connected in the ATT&CK Profile section above for extra mitigation and detection techniques for this destructive exercise concentrating on think tanks.
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