Daixin Team Claims Attack on North Texas Municipal Water District

Cyber Security Threat Summary:
The Daixin Team, a group known for carrying out ransomware attacks, has listed the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) as a victim on their data leak site. The actors claim to have stolen large amounts of sensitive data from the company and are threatening to release it publicly. The information stolen is said to include board meeting minutes, internal project documentation, personnel details, audit reports, and more. The leak of the data puts the company at risk of frauds in the next months.

The North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) is a regional water district that provides wholesale water, wastewater treatment, and solid waste services to a group of member cities and customers in North Texas, United States. It is a governmental entity established to address the water supply needs of its member communities and promote responsible water resource management.

While the attack has not been publicly confirmed by the NTMWD, the company did issue a warning that they were “Experiencing Interruptions in Phone Service.”

Security Officer Comments:
The Daixin Team has published a .txt file that contains the list of allegedly stolen data. In total, the group claims to have stolen 33844 files. This is not the first time Daixin team has gone after US critical infrastructure. In October of last year, CISA, the FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned that the group was actively targeting US businesses, mainly in the Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) sector. The group has been active since June of 2022, mostly focusing on victims within the HPH Sector.

Daixin will often gain initial access to victim networks through their virtual private network (VPN) servers. In one case, the group used an unpatched vulnerability in the organization’s VPN server. In another case, the group leveraged compromised credentials to access a legacy VPN server. They will also leverage phishing to obtain legitimate credentials.

After gaining access to the target’s VPN server, Daixin actors move laterally via Secure Shell (SSH) and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). The attackers use various methods to escalate privileges, such as credential dumping and pass the hash, to deliver the ransomware.

Suggested Correction(s):
Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.

Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk- based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.

Test your incident response plan: There's nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?

Check Your Security Team's Work: Use a 3rd party pen tester to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.

Segment your networks: There's been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It's critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure ICS networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised. Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that safety critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.

Train employees: Email remains the most vulnerable attack vector for organizations. Users should be trained how to avoid and spot phishing emails. Multi Factor authentication can help prevent malicious access to sensitive services.