Yet this rapid proliferation of nontraditional IT has rendered traditional cyber security strategies insufficient, and the result has been highly damaging. Cyber-crime cost the world more than half a trillion dollars last year, in large part because conventional security tools are rarely compatible with IoT devices, while perimeter defenses struggle to protect the borderless networks engendered by the cloud. In fact, even visualizing these new forms of IT — much less safeguarding them against sophisticated cyber-attacks — has proven to be a daunting challenge for companies and governments around the world. As a result, cloud services and IoT appliances have become key security blind spots.
By monitoring and analyzing raw traffic from all our clients’ internet-connected devices and cloud deployments, we saw a number of trends emerge in 2018. As the first installment of a two-part series, this article will review the IoT, Cloud, and SaaS trends of last year and forecast what we expect to see in 2019.
IoT attacks have increased by 100%
Figure 1: The Internet of Things is projected to undergo major expansion.
Internet of Things devices now far outnumber human beings, further contributing to the challenge of identifying all such devices on an organization’s network. On average, upwards of 15% of the devices visualized by our cyber AI were unknown to our clients, and given that a single compromise can cost companies millions in damages and reputational harm, failing to comprehensively monitor the entire digital infrastructure is to play with fire. Indeed, Darktrace has discovered threats in everything from corporate CCTV cameras to parking payment kiosks to smart lockers at an amusement park. All of these devices were connected to the corporate network, and none were previously known to the security team.
This lack of visibility into the Internet of Things has enabled cyber-attackers to manipulate and exploit it as low-hanging fruit, with our cyber AI detecting a 100% increase in IoT attacks over the last year. And as innovative businesses and smart cities continue to adopt connected devices at an alarming rate, these attacks will almost certainly multiply in 2019. To address the fundamental limitations of IoT cyber hygiene, organizations must be willing to rethink their security tactics, both to gain visibility over their networks and to neutralize IoT attacks that have already breached weak perimeter defenses.
28% rise in cloud and SaaS threats
Figure 2: Cloud services will become increasingly ubiquitous in the coming years.
The global migration to cloud and SaaS infrastructures only intensified in 2018, while no less than 83% of enterprise workloads are projected to be run in the cloud by 2020. This development is hardly surprising: not only does the cloud cut expenses for organizations, it provides scalable and flexible services that can evolve as needed. But as these organizations take the next step in cloud innovation, they must also consider the evolution of their security stacks.
Security teams must now cope with an environment wherein they have limited visibility and control. Attackers are aware of the weaknesses inherent to most cloud security systems, and over the last year Darktrace has discovered 28% more threats within Cloud and SaaS than observed in 2017. In fact, the Gartner Risk Management Council identified cloud computing as the most significant emerging cyber-risk of 2018, since even CASBs and native security controls fail to identify the entire spectrum of cyber-threat.
The future of nontraditional IT attacks
Although the perpetual evolution of the cyber-threat landscape prevents anyone from forecasting tomorrow’s attacks with total confidence, we can use these insights to predict some major trends this year and beyond. One overarching trend is the increasing automation of attacks on IoT devices and in the cloud, while there is every reason to suspect that more automated, even artificial intelligence-powered attacks are on the horizon.
For the same reasons that cloud environments are a challenge to protect, they can also be difficult to infiltrate, since they expose attack surfaces that are expansive and constantly shifting. Malware equipped with AI elements, meanwhile, could continuously scan a company’s cloud deployment until it spots a vulnerability, and then use its own ‘judgment’ to exploit that vulnerability before it disappears — without having to ‘phone home’ to the criminals behind the attack for instructions. And when targeting an IoT device, this kind of AI malware could leverage contextualization to blend in to its surroundings, sitting passively while learning to emulate the device’s normal behavior.
The blind spots introduced by the explosion of IoT devices and cloud services — as well as the difficulty of securing the network perimeter given the vulnerabilities that these technologies present — will undoubtedly rank among the most severe security challenges of 2019. And as AI-powered attacks become a fact of life, securing such nontraditional IT will require thinking beyond traditional cyber defenses.
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Darktrace cyber analysts are world-class experts in threat intelligence, threat hunting and incident response, and provide 24/7 SOC support to thousands of Darktrace customers around the globe. Inside the SOC is exclusively authored by these experts, providing analysis of cyber incidents and threat trends, based on real-world experience in the field.
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Max is a cyber security expert with over a decade of experience in the field, specializing in a wide range of areas such as Penetration Testing, Red-Teaming, SIEM and SOC consulting and hunting Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups. At Darktrace, Max is closely involved with Darktrace’s strategic customers & prospects. He works closely with the R&D team at Darktrace’s Cambridge UK headquarters, leading research into new AI innovations and their various defensive and offensive applications. Max’s insights are regularly featured in international media outlets such as the BBC, Forbes and WIRED. When living in Germany, he was an active member of the Chaos Computer Club. Max holds an MSc from the University of Duisburg-Essen and a BSc from the Cooperative State University Stuttgart in International Business Information Systems.
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Since their appearance in the wild over three decades ago, botnets have consistently been the attack vector of choice for many threat actors. The most prevalent of these attack vectors are distributed denial of service (DDoS) and phishing campaigns. Their persistent nature means that even if a compromised device in identified, attackers can continue to operate by using the additional compromised devices they will likely have on the target network. Similarly, command and control (C2) infrastructure can easily be restructured between infected systems, making it increasingly difficult to remove the infection.
One of the most prevalent and sophisticated examples in recent years is the MyKings botnet, also known as Smominru or DarkCloud. Darktrace has observed numerous cases of MyKings botnet compromises across multiple customer environments in several different industries as far back as August 2022. The diverse tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and sophisticated kill chains employed by MyKings botnet may prove a challenge to traditional rule and signature-based detections.
However, Darktrace’s anomaly-centric approach enabled it to successfully detect a wide-range of indicators of compromise (IoCs) related to the MyKings botnet and bring immediate awareness to customer security teams, as it demonstrated on the network of multiple customers between March and August 2023.
Background on MyKings Botnet
MyKings has been active and spreading steadily since 2016 resulting in over 520,000 infections worldwide. Although verified attribution of the botnet remains elusive, the variety of targets and prevalence of crypto-mining software on affected devices suggests the threat group behind the malware is financially motivated. The operators behind MyKings appear to be highly opportunistic, with attacks lacking an obvious specific target industry. Across Darktrace’s customer base, the organizations affected were representative of multiple industries such as entertainment, mining, education, information technology, health, and transportation.
Given its longevity, the MyKings botnet has unsurprisingly evolved since its first appearance years ago. Initial analyses of the botnet showed that the primary crypto-related activity on infected devices was the installation of Monero-mining software. However, in 2019 researchers discovered a new module within the MyKings malware that enabled clipboard-jacking, whereby the malware replaces a user's copied cryptowallet address with the operator's own wallet address in order to siphon funds.
Similar to other botnets such as the Outlaw crypto-miner, the MyKings botnet can also kill running processes of unrelated malware on the compromised hosts that may have resulted from prior infection. MyKings has also developed a comprehensive set of persistence techniques, including: the deployment of bootkits, initiating the botnet immediately after a system reboot, configuring Registry run keys, and generating multiple Scheduled Tasks and WMI listeners. MyKings have also been observed rotating tools and payloads over time to propagate the botnet. For example, some operators have been observed utilizing PCShare, an open-source remote access trojan (RAT) customized to conduct C2 services, execute commands, and download mining software.
Across observed customer networks between March and August 2023, Darktrace identified the MyKings botnet primarily targeting Windows-based servers that supports services like MySQL, MS-SQL, Telnet, SSH, IPC, WMI, and Remote Desktop (RDP). In the initial phase of the attack, the botnet would initiate a variety of attacks against a target including brute-forcing and exploitation of unpatched vulnerabilities on exposed servers. The botnet delivers a variety of payloads to the compromised systems including worm downloaders, trojans, executable files and scripts.
This pattern of activity was detected across the network of one particular Darktrace customer in the education sector in early March 2023. Unfortunately, this customer did not have Darktrace RESPOND™ deployed on their network at the time of the attack, meaning the MyKings botnet was able to move through the cyber kill chain ultimately achieving its goal, which in this case was mining cryptocurrency.
On March 6, Darktrace observed an internet-facing SQL server receiving an unusually large number of incoming MySQL connections from the rare external endpoint 171.91.76[.]31 via port 1433. While it is not possible to confirm whether these suspicious connections represented the exact starting point of the infection, such a sudden influx of SQL connection from a rare external endpoint could be indicative of a malicious attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in the server's SQL database or perform password brute-forcing to gain unauthorized access. Given that MyKings typically spreads primarily through such targeting of internet-exposed devices, the pattern of activity is consistent with potential initial access by MyKings.
Initial Command and Control
The device then proceeded to initiate a series of repeated HTTP connections between March 6 and March 10, to the domain www[.]back0314[.]ru (107.148.239[.]111). These connections included HTTP GET requests featuring URIs such as ‘/back.txt', suggesting potential beaconing and C2 communication. The device continued this connectivity to the external host over the course of four days, primarily utilizing destination ports 80, and 6666. While port 80 is commonly utilized for HTTP connections, port 6666 is a non-standard port for the protocol. Such connectivity over non-standard ports can indicate potential detection evasion and obfuscation tactics by the threat actors. During this time, the device also initiated repeated connections to additional malicious external endpoints with seemingly algorithmically generated hostnames such as pc.pc0416[.]xyz.
While this beaconing activity was taking place, the affected device also began to receive potential payloads from unusual external endpoints. On April 29, the device made an HTTP GET request for “/power.txt” to the endpoint 192.236.160[.]237, which was later discovered to have multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) links to malware. Power.txt is a shellcode written in PowerShell which is downloaded and executed with the purpose of disabling Windows Defenders related functions. After the initial script was downloaded (and likely executed), Darktrace went on to detect the device making a series of additional GET requests for several varying compressed and executable files. For example, the device made HTTP requests for '/pld/cmd.txt' to the external endpoint 104.233.224[.]173. In response the external server provided numerous files, including ‘u.exe’, and ‘upsup4.exe’ for download, both of which share file names with previously identified MyKings payloads.
MyKings deploys a diverse array of payloads to expand the botnet and secure a firm position within a compromised system. This multi-faceted approach may render conventional security measures less effective due to the intricacies of and variety of payloads involved in compromises. Darktrace, however, does not rely on static or outdated lists of IoCs in order to detect malicious activity. Instead, DETECT’s Self-Learning AI allows it to identify emerging compromise activity by recognizing the subtle deviations in an affected device’s behavior that could indicate it has fallen into the hands of malicious actors.
Achieving Objectives – Crypto-Mining
Several weeks after the initial payloads were delivered and beaconing commenced, Darktrace finally detected the initiation of crypto-mining operations. On May 27, the originally compromised server connected to the rare domain other.xmrpool[.]ru over port 1081. As seen in the domain name, this endpoint appears to be affiliated with pool mining activity and the domain has various OSINT affiliations with the cryptocurrency Monero coin. During this connection, the host was observed passing Monero credentials, activity which parallels similar mining operations observed on other customer networks that had been compromised by the MyKings botnet.
Although mining activity may not pose an immediate or urgent concern for security unauthorized cryptomining on devices can result in detrimental consequences, such as compromised hardware integrity, elevated energy costs, and reduced productivity, and even potential involvement in money laundering.
Detecting future iterations of the MyKings botnet will likely demand a shift away from an overreliance on traditional rules and signatures and lists of “known bads”, instead requiring organizations to employ AI-driven technology that can identify suspicious activity that represents a deviation from previously established patterns of life.
Despite the diverse range of payloads, malicious endpoints, and intricate activities that constitute a typical MyKing botnet compromise, Darktrace was able successfully detect multiple critical phases within the MyKings kill chain. Given the evolving nature of the MyKings botnet, it is highly probable the botnet will continue to expand and adapt, leveraging new tactics and technologies. By adopting Darktrace’s product of suites, including Darktrace DETECT, organizations are well-positioned to identify these evolving threats as soon as they emerge and, when coupled with the autonomous response technology of Darktrace RESPOND, threats like the MyKings botnet can be stopped in their tracks before they can achieve their ultimate goals.
Credit to: Oluwatosin Aturaka, Analyst Team Lead, Cambridge, Adam Potter, Cyber Analyst
The NIS2 Directive requires member states to adopt laws that will improve the cyber resilience of organizations within the EU. It impacts organizations that are “operators of essential services”. Under NIS 1, EU member states could choose what this meant. In an effort to ensure more consistent application, NIS2 has set out its own definition. It eliminates the distinction between operators of essential services and digital service providers from NIS1, instead defining a new list of sectors:
Energy (electricity, district heating and cooling, gas, oil, hydrogen)
Transport (air, rail, water, road)
Banking (credit institutions)
Financial market infrastructures
Health (healthcare providers and pharma companies)
Drinking water (suppliers and distributors)
Digital infrastructure (DNS, TLD registries, telcos, data center providers, etc.)
ICT service providers (B2B): MSSPs and managed service providers
Public administration (central and regional government institutions, as defined per member state)
Postal and courier services
Manufacturing of medical devices
Computers and electronics
Machinery and equipment
Motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers and other transport equipment
Digital providers (online market places, online search engines, and social networking service platforms) and research organizations.
With these updates, it becomes harder to try and find industry segments not included within the scope. NIS2 represents legally binding cyber security requirements for a significant region and economy. Standout features that have garnered the most attention include the tight timelines associated with notification requirements. Under NIS 2, in-scope entities must submit an initial report or “early warning” to the competent national authority or computer security incident response team (CSIRT) within 24 hours from when the entity became aware of a significant incident. This is a new development from the first iteration of the Directive, which used more vague language of the need to notify authorities “without undue delay”.
Another aspect gaining attention is oversight and regulation – regulators are going to be empowered with significant investigation and supervision powers including on-site inspections.
The stakes are now higher, with the prospect of fines that are capped at €10 million or 2% of an offending organization’s annual worldwide turnover – whichever is greater. Added to that, the NIS2 Directive includes an explicit obligation to hold members of management bodies personally responsible for breaches of their duties to ensure compliance with NIS2 obligations – and members can be held personally liable.
The risk management measures introduced in the Directive are not altogether surprising – they reflect common best practices. Many organizations (especially those that are newly in scope for NIS2) may have to expand their cyber security capabilities, but there’s nothing controversial or alarming in the required measures. For organizations in this situation, there are various tools, best practices, and frameworks they can leverage. Darktrace in particular provides capabilities in the areas of visibility, incident handling, and reporting that can help.
NIS2 and Cyber AI
The use of AI is not an outright requirement within NIS2 – which may be down to lack of knowledge and expertise in the area, and/or the immaturity of the sector. The clue to this might be in the timing: the provisional agreement on the NIS2 text was reached in May 2022 – six months before ChatGPT and other open-source Generative AI tools propelled broader AI technology into the forefront of public consciousness. If the language were drafted today, it's not far-fetched to imagine AI being mentioned much more prominently and perhaps even becoming a requirement.
NIS2 does, however, very clearly recommend that “member states should encourage the use of any innovative technology, including artificial intelligence”. Another section speaks directly to essential and important entities, saying that they should “evaluate their own cyber security capabilities, and where appropriate, pursue the integration of cyber security enhancing technologies, such as artificial intelligence or machine learning systems…”
One of the recitals states that “member states should adopt policies on the promotion of active cyber protection”. Where active cyber protection is defined as “the prevention, detection, monitoring, analysis and mitigation of network security breaches in an active manner.”
From a Darktrace perspective, our self-learning Cyber AI technology is precisely what enables our technology to deliver active cyber protection – protecting organizations and uplifting security teams at every stage of an incident lifecycle – from proactively hardening defenses before an attack is launched, to real-time threat detection and response, through to recovering quickly back to a state of good health.
The visibility provided by Darktrace is vital to understanding the effectiveness of policies and ensuring policy compliance. NIS2 also covers incident handling and business continuity, which Darktrace HEAL addresses through AI-enabled incident response, readiness reports, simulations, and secure collaborations.
Reporting is integral to NIS2 and organizations can leverage Darktrace’s incident reporting features to present the necessary technical details of an incident and provide a jump start to compiling a full report with business context and impact.
What’s Next for NIS2
We don’t yet know the details for how EU member states will transpose NIS2 into national law – they have until 17th October 2024 to work this out. The Commission also commits to reviewing the functioning of the Directive every three years. Given how much our overall understanding and appreciation for not only the dangers of AI but also its power (perhaps even necessity in the realm of cyber security) is changing, we may see many member states will leverage the recitals’ references to AI in order to make a strong push if not a requirement that essential and important organizations within their jurisdiction leverage AI.
Organizations are starting to prepare now to meet the forthcoming legislation related to NIS2. To see how Darktrace can help, talk to your representative or contact us.
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