The EleKtra-Leak Operation: How Exposed IAM Keys Fuel Cryptojacking


Published on Oct 30, 2023   —   2 min read

A recent report by Unit 42 has unveiled a malicious operation dubbed "EleKtra-Leak," which exploits exposed Identity and Access Management (IAM) keys on GitHub to launch cryptojacking attacks. This operation is not only sophisticated but also alarmingly efficient, capable of initiating a full-scale attack within just five minutes of an IAM key being exposed. Let's dive into the mechanics of this operation and what it means for cloud security.

The Anatomy of EleKtra-Leak

The threat actors behind EleKtra-Leak have automated the process of scanning public GitHub repositories for exposed IAM keys. Once they find these keys, they use them to create multiple Amazon Web Services (AWS) Elastic Compute (EC2) instances for cryptojacking operations. The operation has been active for at least two years and shows no signs of slowing down.

The Five-Minute Window

What's particularly concerning is the speed at which these threat actors operate. Unit 42's research indicates that the IAM keys, once exposed, are detected and exploited within a mere five minutes. This rapid response time underscores the need for robust security measures around IAM credentials.

The HoneyCloud Project

To understand the threat actor's operations better, Unit 42 initiated a project called HoneyCloud. This project aims to expose a fully compromisable cloud environment to monitor and track any malicious operations. The findings from this project have been instrumental in understanding the EleKtra-Leak operation.

The AWS Quarantine Policy: A Double-Edged Sword

AWS has a quarantine policy that automatically restricts the functionalities of exposed IAM keys. While this is a commendable security measure, it also poses challenges for researchers who are trying to understand the full scope of an attack. The quarantine policy can sometimes act as a smokescreen, hiding the true extent of the threat actor's capabilities.


  1. AWS Quarantine Policies: Keep them active and monitor any changes.
  2. GitHub Enterprise Repository Clone Monitoring: Use auditing capabilities to track potentially malicious activities.
  3. Prisma Cloud and Cortex XDR: Utilize these tools for comprehensive cloud security.


The EleKtra-Leak operation serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities that exist in our interconnected, cloud-based world. While the current focus is on AWS, it's only a matter of time before we see similar operations targeting Azure, Google Cloud, and other cloud service providers. The tactics may differ, but the underlying principle remains the same: exploit exposed credentials to gain unauthorized access.

As cloud services become more ubiquitous, the attack surface expands, making it imperative for organizations to adopt a multi-cloud security strategy. It's not just about having security measures in place; it's about continually updating and testing those measures against emerging threats across all cloud platforms.

So, whether you're an AWS aficionado or an Azure enthusiast, remember—staying one step ahead in cybersecurity is not just an advantage; it's a necessity. Keep those keys secure, no matter where they reside!


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