Hyperjacking involves a sophisticated type of cyberattack where malicious actors gain control over a critical component called the hypervisor, which manages the virtual environment inside a main computer system. The goal of this attack is to manipulate the hypervisor to carry out unauthorized actions without being detected by other parts of the computer.
Hyperjacking attackers focus on the layer of the computer system beneath the virtual machines (VMs). By doing so, they can execute harmful code without detection, effectively bypassing the awareness of the VMs running on top of it.
The counterfeit version of the hypervisor gives them control over the entire computer system. Regular security measures often don’t catch this type of attack because the genuine operating system (OS) doesn’t realize it’s being tricked by the fake hypervisor.
Aside from gaining unauthorized access, hyperjacking can also be used to conduct surveillance on individuals, manipulate connected devices remotely, and steal sensitive information without leaving any trace. In essence, hyperjacking opens up a secret gateway for cybercriminals to exploit your computer environment.
This article will explain how hyperjacking works, how to tell if your own hypervisor may be at risk, how to prevent hyperjacking, and what to do in the event that those steps fail and you fall victim to a hyperjacking attack.
How does hyperjacking work?
Hyperjacking works by taking control of the hypervisor with the intent of seizing management of the server. Here’s a step-by-step look at how hyperjacking works:
1. Targeting the hypervisor
Cybercriminals initiate their attack by focusing on targeting hypervisors and VMs. The hypervisor becomes the central point for their infiltration strategy. For example, in cases of wired hyperjacking, attackers employ physical hardware devices to insert harmful code into the hypervisor.
2. Installing a counterfeit hypervisor
Attackers employ a deceptive tactic by installing a counterfeit hypervisor. This can be accomplished through methods such as infiltrating a rogue hypervisor beneath the authentic one or gaining direct control over the original hypervisor. Additionally, attackers might execute a hyperjacking scheme by implementing a deceitful hypervisor on top of an existing one.
3. Operating stealthily
The fake hypervisor operates in stealth mode, avoiding detection. It functions beneath the regular machine, allowing the attacker to more easily infiltrate computer servers. This kind of attack can have a widespread impact, affecting an entire company or institution before it is detected.
4. Exploiting the compromised system
Once the attacker successfully takes control of the hypervisor, they can engage in a range of malicious activities. These activities include surveillance of individuals, manipulation of devices, theft of sensitive information, and even tampering with the virtual environment hosted within the computer.
How to tell if your hypervisor is at risk
Hyperjacking can be extremely difficult to detect. Ordinary security measures don’t work well here, because the nature of the hyperjacking attack means the regular computer system can’t tell if it’s been hacked.
However, there are common signs that may indicate a compromised hypervisor, such as:
- Detecting suspicious activity: If you start noticing odd things happening in your virtual system — like severe slowdowns, frequent crashing, or unexplained errors — there’s a chance the hypervisor might have been tampered with.
- Unexplained resource usage: If your system suddenly starts using up a lot more resources than usual, such as the processor’s power, memory capacity, or network bandwidth, and you can’t pinpoint a valid reason, it might be an indication that the hypervisor’s security has been compromised.
- Unauthorized access clues: If you spot signs of someone accessing the hypervisor or the VMs without authorization — such as new user accounts appearing out of nowhere, permissions changing suddenly, or strange happenings in the network — you may be experiencing a hyperjacking attack.
- Detecting unknown elements: If you stumble upon unfamiliar processes or services running on either the hypervisor or VMs, and you didn’t put them there, there’s a chance that malicious software or unauthorized access might be present and active.
- Tinkering with setup: If you observe changes in the hypervisor’s configuration settings that you didn’t initiate — like different network setups, security adjustments, or new VMs that you didn’t create — that’s a signal that someone could be meddling with the system.
5 ways to prevent hyperjacking
In the face of the growing threat posed by hyperjacking attacks, fortifying your defenses becomes paramount. By implementing proactive server security measures, such as keeping your hypervisor updated, strengthening access controls, and implementing intrusion detection, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to this covert and potentially damaging cyber assault.
Maintain hypervisor security
Optimize your security measures by making use of specialized tools that act as virtual guards. Firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems play the role of sentinels in your virtual domain. These tools swiftly identify any potential threats lurking around the hypervisor and take immediate action to neutralize them.
Furthermore, by integrating encryption techniques, you can envelop your sensitive data in an impenetrable cloak. Encryption serves as the digital lock, rendering your data indecipherable to unauthorized eyes. This proactive approach guarantees the data’s confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility solely to those with the authorized decryption key, even in the event of an incursion into your virtual landscape.
Keep hypervisor and VMs up-to-date
A solid line of defense against hyperjacking begins with the diligent practice of regularly updating and patching the hypervisor software. This entails keeping the hypervisor up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates.
Complement this strategy by implementing routine security assessments that specifically target the hypervisor. Regularly performing comprehensive security assessments and risk evaluations serves as a crucial aspect of maintaining a secure virtual environment. These assessments help in the early identification of vulnerabilities and weaknesses within the hypervisor’s framework, enabling timely remediation measures to be put in place.
Strengthen access controls
Strengthen access controls by implementing role-based access control (RBAC), which tailors user permissions according to their job roles and responsibilities. This meticulous allocation ensures that users only possess access to the specific resources and functions pertinent to their tasks, effectively reducing the potential for unauthorized entry.
Continuing in this vein, consistently assess user access rights through periodic reviews to ensure their accuracy and alignment with the principle of least privilege. Removing superfluous or redundant access rights serves to pare down the potential points of vulnerability.
Implement intrusion detection and prevention
Start intrusion detection by implementing two essential tools: an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) and an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS).
IDS serves as a vigilant watchman over network traffic, continuously scanning for any abnormal or malicious behavior. It dissects network packets, keeps track of events, and sends out alerts when it identifies potential intrusion attempts. This proactive measure ensures that you’re promptly alerted to any unauthorized activities that could signal an impending hyperjacking attack.
For enhanced protection, consider pairing the IDS with an IPS. IPS not only identifies suspicious actions but also takes immediate action against them. By leveraging automated responses, IPS actively thwarts potential intrusions, acting as a digital barricade to safeguard both the hypervisor and VMs.
Additionally, enable comprehensive log monitoring within the hypervisor and VMs. By regularly reviewing logs, you can uncover any anomalies or unusual activities that might indicate an ongoing or attempted hyperjacking endeavor.
Improve employee training and awareness
Educate employees about the dangers posed by hyperjacking. Equip them with a clear understanding of how hyperjacking can compromise the hypervisor and VMs. This educational effort should underscore the significance of practices such as using strong passwords, steering clear of dubious links or downloads, and promptly reporting any suspicious activities they come across.
Additionally, conduct regular security awareness training sessions. Keep employees abreast of the latest security risks and best practices. Engage them with interactive training methods, including simulated phishing attacks, security quizzes, and similar activities.
Furthermore, establish a robust security policy that outlines the organization’s security expectations and requirements. This comprehensive policy should encompass critical aspects such as password management, access control, and incident response. By establishing a clear set of guidelines, you provide employees with a roadmap to adhere to security best practices.
What to do in the event of hyperjacking
If you find yourself suspecting that your system might be under the threat of hyperjacking, swift and decisive action is essential. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do if you have reason to believe that hyperjacking could be occurring:
1. Isolate from the network
The first thing to do if you suspect you have been the victim of a hyperjacking attack is to swiftly disconnect the affected system from the network. This measure prevents further damage and limits the attacker’s access to your virtualized environment, curbing potential data theft or malicious actions.
2. Alert your IT team
Immediately notify your IT team or security experts about the suspected hyperjacking attack. Provide comprehensive details about observed symptoms and any unusual activities. This aids in launching a thorough investigation and implementing necessary containment measures.
3. Assess security
Conduct a comprehensive security assessment of your hypervisor and VMs. This step uncovers potential vulnerabilities and determines the scope of the attack, helping to gauge the extent of the damage. It’s also an opportunity to spot security gaps that need addressing for future prevention.
4. Deploy incident response protocols
Activate your incident response protocols to ensure a rapid and effective organizational reaction to hyperjacking attacks. This encompasses containment strategies, investigative procedures, and restoring security to the virtualized environment. The plan should also outline communication with stakeholders, such as customers or partners if their data is compromised.
5. Update security measures
Reevaluate and update your security measures to safeguard against future hyperjacking incidents. Implement security patches and updates, fortify access controls, and enhance employee training and awareness. Regularly reviewing and adjusting security policies keeps them aligned with the latest threats and best practices.
6. Preserve evidence
Safeguard all pertinent evidence linked to the suspected hyperjacking attack. This includes log files, network data, and system images. Such evidence aids in dissecting and analyzing the attack, while also serving as potential legal backing if required.
7. Notify law enforcement
Especially if the suspected hyperjacking involves criminal activities like data theft, it is prudent to involve law enforcement, such as the police. In some cases, their involvement can lead to an official investigation and legal action against the potential attackers. Even when no such actions are possible, the information can help cyber authorities understand the most active risks and disseminate warnings so other organizations know what to watch out for.
Bottom line: Robust VM security minimizes hyperjacking
In an era of increasingly sophisticated cyberthreats, the specter of hyperjacking underscores the critical need for stringent security measures within virtualized environments. A multilayered security approach serves as the cornerstone in safeguarding against hyperjacking.
By adopting a comprehensive approach that encompasses vigilant hypervisor maintenance, strategic security tools deployment, meticulous access control, employee education, and continuous monitoring, organizations can effectively mitigate the risks associated with hyperjacking.
To prevent data loss or theft in the event of an attack, make sure you have your VMs protected with dependable VM backup software.