Alibaba Cloud servers hacked to mine Monero cryptocurrency

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Cybercriminals have begun targeting servers running on Alibaba Cloud (opens in new tab) in an attempt to use them to mine for cryptocurrency (opens in new tab).

Cryptojacking (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) used by the attackers to create firewall (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) or Microsoft Azure (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab) where the number of users with the highest access privileges are limited.

Also check out the best endpoint protection software (opens in new tab), best cloud firewall (opens in new tab) and best malware removal software (opens in new tab)

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.