Inside the SOC
Breakdown of a multi-account compromise within Office 365
In February 2022, Darktrace detected the compromise of three SaaS accounts within a customer’s Office 365 environment. This incident provides an effective use case for highlighting how Darktrace/Apps and Darktrace/Email can work together to alert to unusual logins, app permission changes, new email rules and outbound spam. It also emphasizes an instance where Darktrace RESPOND/Apps could have been set to autonomous mode and stopped additional compromise.
February 9 2022
Account A was logged into from a rare IP from Nigeria with the BAV2ROPC user agent which is commonly associated with SaaS account attacks. BAV2ROPC stands for ‘Basic Authentication Version 2 Resource Owner Password Credential’ and is commonly used by old email apps such as iOS Mail. It is often seen in SaaS/email account compromises where accounts have ‘legacy authentication’ enabled. This is because, even if multi-factor authentication (MFA) is activated, legacy protocols like IMAP/POP3 are not configured for MFA and so do not result in an MFA notification being sent.
Account A then created a new email rule which was named as a single full stop. Attackers commonly create new email rules to give themselves persistent access by using the ability to forward certain emails to external email accounts they own. This means that even if the account’s password is changed or MFA is turned on, the attacker keeps getting the forwarded emails as long as the rule remains in place. In this case, the attacker configured the new email rule using the following fields and features:
- AlwaysDeleteOutlookRulesBlob – hides any warning messages when using Outlook on the web or Powershell to edit inbox rules. It is likely that the attacker had a set list of commands to run and didn’t want to be slowed down in the exploitation of the account by having to click confirmation messages.
- Force – hides warning or confirmation messages.
- MoveToFolder – moves emails to a folder. This is often used to move bounced emails away from the inbox in order to hide the fact the account is being used to send emails by the attacker.
- Name – specifies the name of the rule, in this case a single full stop.
- SubjectOrBodyContainsWords – emails with key words are actioned.
- StopProcessingRules – determines whether subsequent rules are processed if the conditions of this rule are met. It is likely in this case the attacker set this to false so that any subsequent rules would still be processed to avoid raising suspicion.
Account A was then observed giving permission to the email management app Spike. This was likely to allow the rapid automated exploitation of the compromised account. Attackers want to speed up this process to reduce the time between account compromise and malicious use of the account, thus reducing the time security teams have to respond.
Figure 1: Screenshot from SaaS console showing the timeline of giving consent to the email management application Spike and the creation of the new inbox rule
The account was then observed sending 794 emails over a 15 minute period to both internal and external recipients. These emails shared similar qualities including the same subject line and related phishing links. This mass spam was likely due to the attacker wanting to compromise as many accounts and credentials as possible within the shortest timeframe. The domain of the link sent in the emails was spikenow[.]com and was hidden by the text ‘View Shared Link’. This suggests that the attacker used Spike to send the emails and host the phishing link.
Figure 2: Screenshot of AGE UI showing the spike in outbound messages from the compromised account – the messages all appear to be the same format
Figure 3: Screenshot from Darktrace/Email of the link and text that masked the link: ‘View Shared File’
Within 15 minutes of this large volume of outbound email from Account A, Account B was accessed from the same rare IP located in Nigeria. Account B also created a new email rule which was named a single full stop. In addition to the previous rules, the following rules were observed:
- From – specifies that emails from certain addresses will be processed by the rule.
- MarkAsRead – specifies that emails are to be marked as read.
Due to the short timeframe between the phishing emails and the anomalous behavior from Account B, it is possible that Account B was an initial phishing victim.
Figure 4: Screenshot of the SaaS console showing Account B login failures, then successful login and inbox rule creation from the rare Nigerian IP
February 10 2022
The next day, a third account (Account C) was also accessed from the same rare IP. This occurred on two occasions, once with the user agent Mozilla/5.0 and once with BAV2ROPC. After the login at 13:08 with BAV2ROPC, the account gave the same permission as Account A to the email management app Spike. It then created what appears to be the same email rule, named a single full stop. As with Account B, it is possible that this account was compromised by one of the phishing emails sent by Account A.
Figure 5: Timeline of key incidents with Darktrace/Apps actions
Whilst the motive of the threat actor was unclear, this may have been the result of:
- Credential harvesting for future use against the organization or to sell to a third party.
- Possible impersonation of compromised users on professional websites (LinkedIn, Indeed) to phish further company accounts:
- Fake accounts of one user were discovered on LinkedIn.
- Emails registering for Indeed for this same user were seen during compromise.
How did the attack bypass the rest of the security stack?
- Compromised Office 365 credentials, combined with the use of the user agent BAV2ROPC meant MFA could not stop the suspicious login.
- RESPOND was in Human Confirmation Mode and was therefore not confirmed to take autonomous action, showing only the detections. Disabling Account A would likely have prevented the phishing emails and the subsequent compromise of Accounts B and C.
- The organization was not signed up to Darktrace Proactive Threat Notifications or Ask The Expert services which could have allowed further triage from Darktrace SOC analysts.
Cyber AI Analyst investigates
Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst automates investigations at speed and scale, prioritizing relevant incidents and creating actionable insights, allowing security teams to rapidly understand and act against a threat.
In this case, the AI Analyst automatically investigated all three account compromises, saving time for the customer’s security team and allowing them to quickly investigate the incident themselves in more detail. The technology also highlighted some of the viewed files by the compromised accounts which was not immediately obvious from the model breaches alone.
Figure 6: Screenshot of AI Analyst for Account A
Figure 7: Screenshot of AI Analyst for Account B
Figure 8: Screenshot of AI Analyst for Account C
Darktrace RESPOND (Antigena) actions
The organization in question did not have RESPOND/Apps configured in Active Mode, and so it did not take any action in this case. The table below shows the critical defensive actions RESPOND would have taken.
Nonetheless, we can see what actions RESPOND would have taken, and when, had the technology been enabled.
The above tables illustrate that all three users would have been disabled during the incident had RESPOND been active. The highlighted row shows that Account A would have been disabled when the internal phishing emails were sent and possibly then prevented the cascade of compromised email accounts (B and C).
SaaS accounts greatly increase a company’s attack surface. Not only is exploitation of compromised accounts quick, but a single compromised account can easily lead to further compromises via an internal phishing campaign. Together this reinforces the ongoing need for autonomous and proactive security to complement existing IT teams and reduce threats at the point of compromise. Whilst disabling ‘legacy authentication’ for all accounts and providing MFA would give some extra protection, Darktrace/Apps has the ability to block all further infection.
List of Darktrace Model Detections
User A – February 9 2022
- 04:55:51 UTC | SaaS / Access / Suspicious Login User-Agent
- 04:55:51 UTC | SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use
- 04:55:52 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS and Email Activity Block
- 04:55:52 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
- 14:16:48 UTC | SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- 14:16:48 UTC | SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- 14:16:49 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
- 14:16:49 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
- 14:45:06 UTC | IaaS / Admin / Azure Application Administration Activities
- 14:45:07 UTC | SaaS / Admin / OAuth Permission Grant
- 14:45:07 UTC | Device / Multiple Model Breaches
- 14:45:08 UTC | SaaS / Compliance / Multiple Unusual SaaS Activities
- 15:03:25 UTC | SaaS / Email Nexus / Possible Outbound Email Spam
- 15:03:25 UTC | SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Outbound Email Spam
User B – February 9 2022
- 15:18:21 UTC | SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- 15:18:21 UTC | SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- 15:18:22 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
- 15:18:22 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
User C – February 10 2022
- 14:25:20 UTC | SaaS / Admin / OAuth Permission Grant
- 14:38:09 UTC | SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- 14:38:09 UTC | SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- 14:38:10 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
- 14:38:10 UTC | Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
Thanks to Adam Stevens and Anthony Wong for their contributions.
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Inside the SOC
How Abuse of ‘PerfectData Software’ May Create a Perfect Storm: An Emerging Trend in Account Takeovers
Amidst the ever-changing threat landscape, new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) seem to emerge daily, creating extreme challenges for security teams. The broad range of attack methods utilized by attackers seems to present an insurmountable problem: how do you defend against a playbook that does not yet exist?
Faced with the growing number of novel and uncommon attack methods, it is essential for organizations to adopt a security solution able to detect threats based on their anomalies, rather than relying on threat intelligence alone.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed an emerging trend in the use of an application known as ‘PerfectData Software’ for probable malicious purposes in several Microsoft 365 account takeovers.
Using its anomaly-based detection, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to identify the activity chain surrounding the use of this application, potentially uncovering a novel piece of threat actor tradecraft in the process.
Microsoft 365 Intrusions
In recent years, Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) suite, Microsoft 365, along with its built-in identity and access management (IAM) service, Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), have been heavily targeted by threat actors due to their near-ubiquitous usage across industries. Four out of every five Fortune 500 companies, for example, use Microsoft 365 services .
Malicious actors typically gain entry to organizations’ Microsoft 365 environments by abusing either stolen account credentials or stolen session cookies . Once inside, actors can access sensitive data within mailboxes or SharePoint repositories, and send out emails or Teams messages. This activity can often result in serious financial harm, especially in cases where the malicious actor’s end-goal is to elicit fraudulent transactions.
Darktrace regularly observes malicious actors behaving in predictable ways once they gain access to customer Microsoft 365 environment. One typical example is the creation of new inbox rules and sending deceitful emails intended to convince recipients to carry out subsequent actions, such as following a malicious link or providing sensitive information. It is also common for actors to register new applications in Azure AD so that they can be used to conduct follow-up activities, like mass-mailing or data theft. The registration of applications in Azure AD therefore seems to be a relatively predictable threat actor behavior . Darktrace DETECT understands that unusual application registrations in Azure AD may constitute a deviation in expected behavior, and therefore a possible indicator of account compromise.
These registrations of applications in Azure AD are evidenced by creations of, as well as assignments of permissions to, Service Principals in Azure AD. Darktrace has detected a growing trend in actors creating and assigning permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. Further investigation of this Azure AD activity revealed it to be part of an ongoing account takeover.
‘PerfectData Software’ Activity
Darktrace observed variations of the following pattern of activity relating to an application named ‘PerfectData Software’ within its customer base:
- Actor signs in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint associated with a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
- Actor registers an application called 'PerfectData Software' with Azure AD, and then grants permissions to the application
- Actor accesses mailbox data and creates inbox rule
In two separate incidents, malicious actors were observed conducting their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services (HideMyAss (HMA) VPN and Surfshark VPN, respectively) and from endpoints within the Autonomous System AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed a malicious actor signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from a Kuwait-based IP address within the Autonomous System, AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o. This IP address is associated with the VPN service, HMA VPN. Over the next couple of days, an actor (likely the same malicious actor) signed in to the account several more times from two different Nigeria-based endpoints, as well as a VPS-related endpoint and a HMA VPN endpoint.
During their login sessions, the actor performed a variety of actions. First, they created and assigned permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. This Service Principal creation represents the registration of an application called ‘PerfectData Software’ in Azure AD. Although the reason for registering this application is unclear, within a few days the actor registered and granted permission to another application, ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’, and created a new inbox rule names ‘s’ on the mailbox of the hijacked account. This inbox rule moved emails meeting certain conditions to a folder named ‘RSS Subscription. The ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’ application was likely registered by the actor to facilitate mass-mailing activity.
Immediately after these actions, Darktrace detected the actor sending out thousands of malicious emails from the account. The emails included an attachment named ‘Credit Transfer Copy.html’, which contained a suspicious link. Further investigation revealed that the customer’s network had received several fake invoice emails prior to this initial intrusion activity. Additionally, there was an unusually high volume of failed logins to the compromised account around the time of the initial access.
In a separate case also observed by Darktrace in March 2023, a malicious actor was observed signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint within the Autonomous System, AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON. The endpoint appears to be related to the VPN service, Surfshark VPN. This login was followed by several failed and successful logins from a VPS-related within the Autonomous System, AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01. The actor was then seen registering and assigning permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’. As with the previous example, the motives for this registration are unclear. The actor proceeded to log in several more times from a Surfshark VPN endpoint, however, they were not observed carrying out any further suspicious activity.
It was not clear in either of these examples, nor in fact any of cases observed by Darktrace, why actors had registered and assigned permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’, and there do not appear to be any open-source intelligence (OSINT) resources or online literature related to the malicious usage of an application by that name. That said, there are several websites which appear to provide email migration and data recovery/backup tools under the moniker ‘PerfectData Software’.
It is unclear whether the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ by malicious actors observed on the networks of Darktrace customers was one of these tools. However, given the nature of the tools, it is possible that the actors intended to use them to facilitate the exfiltration of email data from compromises mailboxes.
If the legitimate software ‘PerfectData’ is the application in question in these incidents, it is likely being purchased and misused by attackers for malicious purposes. It is also possible the application referenced in the incidents is a spoof of the legitimate ‘PerfectData’ software designed to masquerade a malicious application as legitimate.
Cases of ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains detected by Darktrace typically began with an actor signing into an internal user’s Microsoft 365 account from a VPN or VPS-related endpoint. These login events, along with the suspicious email and/or brute-force activity which preceded them, caused the following DETECT models to breach:
- SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use
- SaaS / Access / Suspicious Login Attempt
- SaaS / Compromise / Login From Rare Following Suspicious Login Attempt(s)
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Unusual Location for SaaS and Email Activity
Subsequent activities, including inbox rule creations, registration of applications in Azure AD, and mass-mailing activity, resulted in breaches of the following DETECT models.
- SaaS / Admin / OAuth Permission Grant
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Logic Following OAuth Grant
- SaaS / Admin / New Application Service Principal
- IaaS / Admin / Azure Application Administration Activities
- SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Suspicious Internal Exchange Activity
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Possible Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Suspicious Login and Suspicious Outbound Email(s)
In cases where Darktrace RESPOND™ was enabled in autonomous response mode, ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains resulted in breaches of the following RESPOND models:
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
In response to these model breaches, Darktrace RESPOND took immediate action, performing aggressive, inhibitive actions, such as forcing the actor to log out of the SaaS platform, and disabling the user entirely. When applied autonomously, these RESPOND actions would seriously impede an attacker’s progress and minimize network disruption.
In addition, Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst was able to autonomously investigate registrations of the ‘PerfectData Software’ application and summarized its findings into digestible reports.
Due to the widespread adoption of Microsoft 365 services in the workplace and continued emphasis on a remote workforce, account hijackings now pose a more serious threat to organizations around the world than ever before. The cases discussed here illustrate the tendency of malicious actors to conduct their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services, while also registering new applications, like PerfectData Software, with malicious intent.
While it was unclear exactly why the malicious actors were using ‘PerfectData Software’ as part of their account hijacking, it is clear that either the legitimate or spoofed version of the application is becoming an very likely emergent piece of threat actor tradecraft.
Darktrace DETECT’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to recognize that the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ represented a deviation in the SaaS user’s expected behavior. While Darktrace RESPOND, when enabled in autonomous response mode, was able to quickly take preventative action against threat actors, blocking the potential use of the application for data exfiltration or other nefarious purposes.
MITRE ATT&CK Mapping
• T1598 – Phishing for Information
• T1110 – Brute Force
• T1078.004 – Valid Accounts: Cloud Accounts
Command and Control:
• T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer
• T1098.003 – Account Manipulation: Additional Cloud Roles
• T1114 – Email Collection
• T1564.008 – Hide Artifacts: Email Hiding Rules
• T1534 – Internal Spearphishing
Unusual Source IPs
• 5.62.60[.]202 (AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o.)
• 160.152.10[.]215 (AS37637 Smile-Nigeria-AS)
• 197.244.250[.]155 (AS37705 TOPNET)
• 169.159.92[.]36 (AS37122 SMILE)
• 45.62.170[.]237 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
• 92.38.180[.]49 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A)
• 129.56.36[.]26 (AS327952 AS-NATCOM)
• 92.38.180[.]47 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A.)
• 107.179.20[.]214 (AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON)
• 45.62.170[.]31 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
Darktrace Integrates Self-Learning AI with Amazon Security Lake to Support Security Investigations
Darktrace has deepened its relationship with AWS by integrating its detection and response capabilities with Amazon Security Lake.
This development will allow mutual customers to seamlessly combine Darktrace AI’s bespoke understanding of their organization with the Threat Intelligence offered by other security tools, and investigate all of their alerts in one central location.
This integration will improve the value security teams get from both products, streamlining analyst workflows and improving their ability to detect and respond to the full spectrum of known and unknown cyber-threats.
How Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake augment security teams
Amazon Security Lake is a newly-released service that automatically centralizes an organization’s security data from cloud, on-premises, and custom sources into a customer owned purpose-built data lake. Both Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake support the Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF), an open standard to simplify, combine, and analyze security logs.
Customers can store security logs, events, alerts, and other relevant data generated by various AWS services and security tools. By consolidating security data in a central lake, organizations can gain a holistic view of their security posture, perform advanced analytics, detect anomalies and open investigations to improve their security practices.
With Darktrace DETECT and RESPOND AI engines covering all assets across IT, OT, network, endpoint, IoT, email and cloud, organizations can augment the value of their security data lakes by feeding Darktrace’s rich and context-aware datapoints to Amazon Security Lake.
Amazon Security Lake empowers security teams to improve the protection of your digital estate:
- Quick and painless data normalization
- Fast-tracks ability to investigate, triage and respond to security events
- Broader visibility aids more effective decision-making
- Surfaces and prioritizes anomalies for further investigation
- Single interface for seamless data management
How will Darktrace customers benefit?
Across the Cyber AI Loop, all Darktrace solutions have been architected with AWS best practices in mind. With this integration, Darktrace is bringing together its understanding of ‘self’ for every organization with the centralized data visibility of the Amazon Security Lake. Darktrace’s unique approach to cyber security, powered by groundbreaking AI research, delivers a superior dataset based on a deep and interconnected understanding of the enterprise.
Where other cyber security solutions are trained to identify threats based on historical attack data and techniques, Darktrace DETECT gains a bespoke understanding of every digital environment, continuously analyzing users, assets, devices and the complex relationships between them. Our AI analyzes thousands of metrics to reveal subtle deviations that may signal an evolving issue – even unknown techniques and novel malware. It distinguishes between malicious and benign behavior, identifying harmful activity that typically goes unnoticed. This rich dataset is fed into RESPOND, which takes precise action to neutralize threats against any and every asset, no matter where data resides.
Both DETECT and RESPOND are supported by Darktrace Self-Learning AI, which provides full, real-time visibility into an organization’s systems and data. This always-on threat analysis already makes humans better at cyber security, improving decisions and outcomes based on total visibility of the digital ecosystem, supporting human performance with AI coverage and empowering security teams to proactively protect critical assets.
Converting Darktrace alerts to the Amazon Security Lake Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF) supplies the Security Operations Center (SOC) and incident response team with contextualized data, empowering them to accelerate their investigation, triage and response to potential cyber threats.
Darktrace is available for purchase on the AWS Marketplace.
Learn more about how Darktrace provides full-coverage, AI-powered cloud security for AWS, or see how our customers use Darktrace in their AWS cloud environments.