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Connecting the Dots: Darktrace’s Detection of the Exploitation of the ConnectWise ScreenConnect Vulnerabilities

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10
May 2024
10
May 2024
This blog focuses on the exploitation of the ConnectWise ScreenConnect vulnerabilities (CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-1709) and Darktrace’s coverage of affected customer networks in early 2024.

Introduction

Across an ever changing cyber landscape, it is common place for threat actors to actively identify and exploit newly discovered vulnerabilities within commonly utilized services and applications. While attackers are likely to prioritize developing exploits for the more severe and global Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs), they typically have the most success exploiting known vulnerabilities within the first couple years of disclosure to the public.

Addressing these vulnerabilities in a timely manner reduces the effectiveness of known vulnerabilities, decreasing the pace of malicious actor operations and forcing pursuit of more costly and time-consuming methods, such as zero-day related exploits or attacking software supply chain operations. While actors also develop tools to exploit other vulnerabilities, developing exploits for critical and publicly known vulnerabilities gives actors impactful tools at a low cost they are able to use for quite some time.

Between January and March 2024, the Darktrace Threat Research team investigated one such example that involved indicators of compromise (IoCs) suggesting the exploitation of vulnerabilities in ConnectWise’s remote monitoring and management (RMM) software ScreenConnect.

What are the ConnectWise ScreenConnect vulnerabilities?

CVE-2024-1708 is an authentication bypass vulnerability in ScreenConnect 23.9.7 (and all earlier versions) that, if exploited, would enable an attacker to execute remote code or directly impact confidential information or critical systems. This exploit would pave the way for a second ScreenConnect vunerability, CVE-2024-1709, which allows attackers to directly access confidential information or critical systems [1].

ConnectWise released a patch and automatically updated cloud versions of ScreenConnect 23.9.9, while urging security temas to update on-premise versions immediately [3].

If exploited in conjunction, these vulnerabilities could allow a malicious actor to create new administrative accounts on publicly exposed instances by evading existing security measures. This, in turn, could enable attackers to assume an administrative role and disable security tools, create backdoors, and disrupt RMM processes. Access to an organization’s environment in this manner poses serious risk, potentially leading to significant consequences such as deploying ransomware, as seen in various incidents involving the exploitation of ScreenConnect [2]

Darktrace Coverage of ConnectWise Exploitation

Darktrace’s anomaly-based detection was able to identify evidence of exploitation related to CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-1709 across two distinct timelines; these detections included connectivity with endpoints that were later confirmed to be malicious by multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors. The activity observed by Darktrace suggests that threat actors were actively exploiting these vulnerabilities across multiple customer environments.

In the cases observed across the Darktrace fleet, Darktrace DETECT™ and Darktrace RESPOND™ were able to work in tandem to pre-emptively identify and contain network compromises from the onset. While Darktrace RESPOND was enabled in most customer environments affected by the ScreenConnect vulnerabilities, in the majority of cases it was configured in Human Confirmation mode. Whilst in Human Confirmation mode, RESPOND will provide recommended actions to mitigate ongoing attacks, but these actions require manual approval from human security teams.

When enabled in autonomous response mode, Darktrace RESPOND will take action automatically, shutting down suspicious activity as soon as it is detected without the need for human intervention. This is the ideal end state for RESPOND as actions can be taken at machine speed, without any delays waiting for user approval.

Looking within the patterns of activity observed by Darktrace , the typical  attack timeline included:

Darktrace observed devices on affected customer networks performing activity indicative of ConnectWise ScreenConnect usage, for example connections over 80 and 8041, connections to screenconnect[.]com, and the use of the user agent “LabTech Agent”. OSINT research suggests that this user agent is an older name for ConnectWise Automate [5] which also includes ScreenConnect as standard [6].

Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting the use of a remote management tool, namely “screenconnect[.]com”.
Figure 1: Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting the use of a remote management tool, namely “screenconnect[.]com”.

This activity was typically followed by anomalous connections to the external IP address 108.61.210[.]72 using URIs of the form “/MyUserName_DEVICEHOSTNAME”, as well as additional connections to another external, IP 185.62.58[.]132. Both of these external locations have since been reported as potentially malicious [14], with 185.62.58[.]132 in particular linked to ScreenConnect post-exploitation activity [2].

Figure 2: Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting the unusual connection to 185.62.58[.]132 via port 8041.
Figure 2: Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting the unusual connection to 185.62.58[.]132 via port 8041.
Figure 3: Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting connections to 108.61.210[.]72 using a new user agent and the “/MyUserName_DEVICEHOSTNAME” URI.
Figure 3: Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting connections to 108.61.210[.]72 using a new user agent and the “/MyUserName_DEVICEHOSTNAME” URI.

Same Exploit, Different Tactics?  

While the majority of instances of ConnectWise ScreenConnect exploitation observed by Darktrace followed the above pattern of activity, Darktrace was able to identify some deviations from this.

In one customer environment, Darktrace’s detection of post-exploitation activity began with the same indicators of ScreenConnect usage, including connections to screenconnect[.]com via port 8041, followed by connections to unusual domains flagged as malicious by OSINT, in this case 116.0.56[.]101 [16] [17]. However, on this deployment Darktrace also observed threat actors downloading a suspicious AnyDesk installer from the endpoint with the URI “hxxp[:]//116.0.56[.]101[:]9191/images/Distribution.exe”.

Figure 4: Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting the download of an unusual executable file from 116.0.56[.]101.
Figure 4: Darktrace DETECT model alert highlighting the download of an unusual executable file from 116.0.56[.]101.

Further investigation by Darktrace’s Threat Research team revealed that this endpoint was associated with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-1709 [1]. Darktrace was additionally able to identify that, despite the customer being based in the United Kingdom, the file downloaded came from Pakistan. Darktrace recognized that this represented a deviation from the device’s expected pattern of activity and promptly alerted for it, bringing it to the attention of the customer.

Figure 5: External Sites Summary within the Darktrace UI pinpointing the geographic locations of external endpoints, in this case highlighting a file download from Pakistan.
Figure 5: External Sites Summary within the Darktrace UI pinpointing the geographic locations of external endpoints, in this case highlighting a file download from Pakistan.

Darktrace’s Autonomous Response

In this instance, the customer had Darktrace enabled in autonomous response mode and the post-exploitation activity was swiftly contained, preventing the attack from escalating.

As soon as the suspicious AnyDesk download was detected, Darktrace RESPOND applied targeted measures to prevent additional malicious activity. This included blocking connections to 116.0.56[.]101 and “*.56.101”, along with blocking all outgoing traffic from the device. Furthermore, RESPOND enforced a “pattern of life” on the device, restricting its activity to its learned behavior, allowing connections that are considered normal, but blocking any unusual deviations.

Figure 6: Darktrace RESPOND enforcing a “pattern of life” on the offending device after detecting the suspicious AnyDesk download.
Figure 6: Darktrace RESPOND enforcing a “pattern of life” on the offending device after detecting the suspicious AnyDesk download.
Figure 7: Darktrace RESPOND blocking connections to the suspicious endpoint 116.0.56[.]101 and “*.56.101” following the download of the suspicious AnyDesk installer.
Figure 7: Darktrace RESPOND blocking connections to the suspicious endpoint 116.0.56[.]101 and “*.56.101” following the download of the suspicious AnyDesk installer.

The customer was later able to use RESPOND to manually quarantine the offending device, ensuring that all incoming and outgoing traffic to or from the device was prohibited, thus preventing ay further malicious communication or lateral movement attempts.

Figure 8: The actions applied by Darktrace RESPOND in response to the post-exploitation activity related to the ScreenConnect vulnerabilities, including the manually applied “Quarantine device” action.

Conclusion

In the observed cases of the ConnectWise ScreenConnect vulnerabilities being exploited across the Darktrace fleet, Darktrace was able to pre-emptively identify and contain network compromises from the onset, offering vital protection against disruptive cyber-attacks.

While much of the post-exploitation activity observed by Darktrace remained the same across different customer environments, important deviations were also identified suggesting that threat actors may be adapting their tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) from campaign to campaign.

While new vulnerabilities will inevitably surface and threat actors will continually look for novel ways to evolve their methods, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI and behavioral analysis offers organizations full visibility over new or unknown threats. Rather than relying on existing threat intelligence or static lists of “known bads”, Darktrace is able to detect emerging activity based on anomaly and respond to it without latency, safeguarding customer environments whilst causing minimal disruption to business operations.

Credit: Emma Foulger, Principal Cyber Analyst for their contribution to this blog.

Appendices

Darktrace Model Coverage

DETECT Models

Compromise / Agent Beacon (Medium Period)

Compromise / Agent Beacon (Long Period)

Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

Device / New PowerShell User Agent

Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External

Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

User / New Admin Credentials on Client

Device / New User Agent

Anomalous Connection / Multiple HTTP POSTs to Rare Hostname

Anomalous Server Activity / Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device

Compromise / Suspicious Request Data

Compliance / Remote Management Tool On Server

Anomalous File / Anomalous Octet Stream (No User Agent)

RESPOND Models

Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Suspicious File Block

Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena File then New Outbound Block

Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Enhanced Monitoring from Client Block

Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block

Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Controlled and Model Breach

Antigena / Network::Insider Threat::Antigena Unusual Privileged User Activities Block

Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Suspicious File Pattern of Life Block

Antigena / Network / Insider Threat / Antigena Unusual Privileged User Activities Pattern of Life Block

List of IoCs

IoC - Type - Description + Confidence

185.62.58[.]132 – IP- IP linked with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-17091

108.61.210[.]72- IP - IP linked with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-17091

116.0.56[.]101    - IP - IP linked with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-17091

/MyUserName_ DEVICEHOSTNAME – URI - URI linked with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-17091

/images/Distribution.exe – URI - URI linked with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-17091

24780657328783ef50ae0964b23288e68841a421 - SHA1 Filehash - Filehash linked with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-17091

a21768190f3b9feae33aaef660cb7a83 - MD5 Filehash - Filehash linked with threat actors exploiting CVE-2024-1708 and CVE-2024-17091

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Technique – Tactic – ID - Sub-technique of

Web Protocols - COMMAND AND CONTROL - T1071.001 - T1071

Web Services      - RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT - T1583.006 - T1583

Drive-by Compromise - INITIAL ACCESS - T1189 – NA

Ingress Tool Transfer   - COMMAND AND CONTROL - T1105 - NA

Malware - RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT - T1588.001- T1588

Exploitation of Remote Services - LATERAL MOVEMENT - T1210 – NA

PowerShell – EXECUTION - T1059.001 - T1059

Pass the Hash      - DEFENSE EVASION, LATERAL MOVEMENT     - T1550.002 - T1550

Valid Accounts - DEFENSE EVASION, PERSISTENCE, PRIVILEGE ESCALATION, INITIAL ACCESS - T1078 – NA

Man in the Browser – COLLECTION - T1185     - NA

Exploit Public-Facing Application - INITIAL ACCESS - T1190         - NA

Exfiltration Over C2 Channel – EXFILTRATION - T1041 – NA

IP Addresses – RECONNAISSANCE - T1590.005 - T1590

Remote Access Software - COMMAND AND CONTROL - T1219 – NA

Lateral Tool Transfer - LATERAL MOVEMENT - T1570 – NA

Application Layer Protocol - COMMAND AND CONTROL - T1071 – NA

References:

[1] https://unit42.paloaltonetworks.com/connectwise-threat-brief-cve-2024-1708-cve-2024-1709/  

[2] https://www.huntress.com/blog/slashandgrab-screen-connect-post-exploitation-in-the-wild-cve-2024-1709-cve-2024-1708    

[3] https://www.huntress.com/blog/a-catastrophe-for-control-understanding-the-screenconnect-authentication-bypass

[4] https://www.speedguide.net/port.php?port=8041  

[5] https://www.connectwise.com/company/announcements/labtech-now-connectwise-automate

[6] https://www.connectwise.com/solutions/software-for-internal-it/automate

[7] https://www.securityweek.com/slashandgrab-screenconnect-vulnerability-widely-exploited-for-malware-delivery/

[8] https://arcticwolf.com/resources/blog/cve-2024-1709-cve-2024-1708-follow-up-active-exploitation-and-pocs-observed-for-critical-screenconnect-vulnerabilities/https://success.trendmicro.com/dcx/s/solution/000296805?language=en_US&sfdcIFrameOrigin=null

[9] https://www.connectwise.com/company/trust/security-bulletins/connectwise-screenconnect-23.9.8

[10] https://socradar.io/critical-vulnerabilities-in-connectwise-screenconnect-postgresql-jdbc-and-vmware-eap-cve-2024-1597-cve-2024-22245/

[11] https://www.trendmicro.com/en_us/research/24/b/threat-actor-groups-including-black-basta-are-exploiting-recent-.html

[12] https://otx.alienvault.com/indicator/ip/185.62.58.132

[13] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/185.62.58.132/community

[14] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/108.61.210.72/community

[15] https://otx.alienvault.com/indicator/ip/108.61.210.72

[16] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/116.0.56[.]101/community

[17] https://otx.alienvault.com/indicator/ip/116.0.56[.]101

INSIDE THE SOC
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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How to Protect your Organization Against Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks

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21
May 2024

The problem: Microsoft Teams phishing attacks are on the rise

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services1, with Microsoft Teams and Microsoft SharePoint in particular emerging as critical platforms to the business operations of the everyday workplace. Researchers across the threat landscape have begun to observe these legitimate services being leveraged more and more by malicious actors as an initial access method.

As Teams becomes a more prominent feature of the workplace many employees rely on it for daily internal and external communication, even surpassing email usage in some organizations. As Microsoft2 states, "Teams changes your relationship with email. When your whole group is working in Teams, it means you'll all get fewer emails. And you'll spend less time in your inbox, because you'll use Teams for more of your conversations."

However, Teams can be exploited to send targeted phishing messages to individuals either internally or externally, while appearing legitimate and safe. Users might receive an external message request from a Teams account claiming to be an IT support service or otherwise affiliated with the organization. Once a user has accepted, the threat actor can launch a social engineering campaign or deliver a malicious payload. As a primarily internal tool there is naturally less training and security awareness around Teams – due to the nature of the channel it is assumed to be a trusted source, meaning that social engineering is already one step ahead.

Screenshot of a Microsoft Teams message request from a Midnight Blizzard-controlled account (courtesy of Microsoft)
Figure 1: Screenshot of a Microsoft Teams message request from a Midnight Blizzard-controlled account (courtesy of Microsoft)

Microsoft Teams Phishing Examples

Microsoft has identified several major phishing attacks using Teams within the past year.

In July 2023, Microsoft announced that the threat actor known as Midnight Blizzard – identified by the United States as a Russian state-sponsored group – had launched a series of phishing campaigns via Teams with the aim of stealing user credentials. These attacks used previously compromised Microsoft 365 accounts and set up new domain names that impersonated legitimate IT support organizations. The threat actors then used social engineering tactics to trick targeted users into sharing their credentials via Teams, enabling them to access sensitive data.  

At a similar time, threat actor Storm-0324 was observed sending phishing lures via Teams containing links to malicious SharePoint-hosted files. The group targeted organizations that allow Teams users to interact and share files externally. Storm-0324’s goal is to gain initial access to hand over to other threat actors to pursue more dangerous follow-on attacks like ransomware.

For a more in depth look at how Darktrace stops Microsoft Teams phishing read our blog: Don’t Take the Bait: How Darktrace Keeps Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks at Bay

The market: Existing Microsoft Teams security solutions are insufficient

Microsoft’s native Teams security focuses on payloads, namely links and attachments, as the principal malicious component of any phishing. These payloads are relatively straightforward to detect with their experience in anti-virus, sandboxing, and IOCs. However, this approach is unable to intervene before the stage at which payloads are delivered, before the user even gets the chance to accept or deny an external message request. At the same time, it risks missing more subtle threats that don’t include attachments or links – like early stage phishing, which is pure social engineering – or completely new payloads.

Equally, the market offering for Teams security is limited. Security solutions available on the market are always payload-focused, rather than taking into account the content and context in which a link or attachment is sent. Answering questions like:

  • Does it make sense for these two accounts to speak to each other?
  • Are there any linguistic indicators of inducement?

Furthermore, they do not correlate with email to track threats across multiple communication environments which could signal a wider campaign. Effectively, other market solutions aren’t adding extra value – they are protecting against the same types of threats that Microsoft is already covering by default.

The other aspect of Teams security that native and market solutions fail to address is the account itself. As well as focusing on Teams threats, it’s important to analyze messages to understand the normal mode of communication for a user, and spot when a user’s Teams activity might signal account takeover.

The solution: How Darktrace protects Microsoft Teams against sophisticated threats

With its biggest update to Darktrace/Email ever, Darktrace now offers support for Microsoft Teams. With that, we are bringing the same AI philosophy that protects your email and accounts to your messaging environment.  

Our Self-Learning AI looks at content and context for every communication, whether that’s sent in an email or Teams message. It looks at actual user behavior, including language patterns, relationship history of sender and recipient, tone and payloads, to understand if a message poses a threat. This approach allows Darktrace to detect threats such as social engineering and payloadless attacks using visibility and forensic capabilities that Microsoft security doesn’t currently offer, as well as early symptoms of account compromise.  

Unlike market solutions, Darktrace doesn’t offer a siloed approach to Teams security. Data and signals from Teams are shared across email to inform detection, and also with the wider Darktrace ActiveAI security platform. By correlating information from email and Teams with network and apps security, Darktrace is able to better identify suspicious Teams activity and vice versa.  

Interested in the other ways Darktrace/Email augments threat detection? Read our latest blog on how improving the quality of end-user reporting can decrease the burden on the SOC. To find our more about Darktrace's enduring partnership with Microsoft, click here.

References

[1] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

[2] Microsoft blog, Microsoft Teams and email, living in harmony, 2024

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Carlos Gray
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Inside the SOC

Don’t Take the Bait: How Darktrace Keeps Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks at Bay

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20
May 2024

Social Engineering in Phishing Attacks

Faced with increasingly cyber-aware endpoint users and vigilant security teams, more and more threat actors are forced to think psychologically about the individuals they are targeting with their phishing attacks. Social engineering methods like taking advantage of the human emotions of their would-be victims, pressuring them to open emails or follow links or face financial or legal repercussions, and impersonating known and trusted brands or services, have become common place in phishing campaigns in recent years.

Phishing with Microsoft Teams

The malicious use of the popular communications platform Microsoft Teams has become widely observed and discussed across the threat landscape, with many organizations adopting it as their primary means of business communication, and many threat actors using it as an attack vector. As Teams allows users to communicate with people outside of their organization by default [1], it becomes an easy entry point for potential attackers to use as a social engineering vector.

In early 2024, Darktrace/Apps™ identified two separate instances of malicious actors using Microsoft Teams to launch a phishing attack against Darktrace customers in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Interestingly, in this case the attackers not only used a well-known legitimate service to carry out their phishing campaign, but they were also attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.

Despite these attempts to evade endpoint users and traditional security measures, Darktrace’s anomaly detection enabled it to identify the suspicious phishing messages and bring them to the customer’s attention. Additionally, Darktrace’s autonomous response capability, was able to follow-up these detections with targeted actions to contain the suspicious activity in the first instance.

Darktrace Coverage of Microsoft Teams Phishing

Chats Sent by External User and Following Actions by Darktrace

On February 29, 2024, Darktrace detected the presence of a new external user on the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment of an EMEA customer for the first time. The user, “REDACTED@InternationalHotelChain[.]onmicrosoft[.]com” was only observed on this date and no further activities were detected from this user after February 29.

Later the same day, the unusual external user created its first chat on Microsoft Teams named “New Employee Loyalty Program”. Over the course of around 5 minutes, the user sent 63 messages across 21 different chats to unique internal users on the customer’s SaaS platform. All these chats included the ‘foreign tenant user’ and one of the customer’s internal users, likely in an attempt to remain undetected. Foreign tenant user, in this case, refers to users without access to typical internal software and privileges, indicating the presence of an external user.

Darktrace’s detection of unusual messages being sent by a suspicious external user via Microsoft Teams.
Figure 1: Darktrace’s detection of unusual messages being sent by a suspicious external user via Microsoft Teams.
Advanced Search results showing the presence of a foreign tenant user on the customer’s SaaS environment.
Figure 2: Advanced Search results showing the presence of a foreign tenant user on the customer’s SaaS environment.

Darktrace identified that the external user had connected from an unusual IP address located in Poland, 195.242.125[.]186. Darktrace understood that this was unexpected behavior for this user who had only previously been observed connecting from the United Kingdom; it further recognized that no other users within the customer’s environment had connected from this external source, thereby deeming it suspicious. Further investigation by Darktrace’s analyst team revealed that the endpoint had been flagged as malicious by several open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors.

External Summary highlighting the rarity of the rare external source from which the Teams messages were sent.
Figure 3: External Summary highlighting the rarity of the rare external source from which the Teams messages were sent.

Following Darktrace’s initial detection of these suspicious Microsoft Teams messages, Darktrace's autonomous response was able to further support the customer by providing suggested mitigative actions that could be applied to stop the external user from sending any additional phishing messages.

Unfortunately, at the time of this attack Darktrace's autonomous response capability was configured in human confirmation mode, meaning any autonomous response actions had to be manually actioned by the customer. Had it been enabled in autonomous response mode, it would have been able promptly disrupt the attack, disabling the external user to prevent them from continuing their phishing attempts and securing precious time for the customer’s security team to begin their own remediation procedures.

Darktrace autonomous response actions that were suggested following the ’Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User’ detection model alert.
Figure 4: Darktrace autonomous response actions that were suggested following the ’Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User’ detection model alert.

External URL Sent within Teams Chats

Within the 21 Teams chats created by the threat actor, Darktrace identified 21 different external URLs being sent, all of which included the domain "cloud-sharcpoint[.]com”. Many of these URLs had been recently established and had been flagged as malicious by OSINT providers [3]. This was likely an attempt to impersonate “cloud-sharepoint[.]com”, the legitimate domain of Microsoft SharePoint, with the threat actor attempting to ‘typo-squat’ the URL to convince endpoint users to trust the legitimacy of the link. Typo-squatted domains are commonly misspelled URLs registered by opportunistic attackers in the hope of gaining the trust of unsuspecting targets. They are often used for nefarious purposes like dropping malicious files on devices or harvesting credentials.

Upon clicking this malicious link, users were directed to a similarly typo-squatted domain, “InternatlonalHotelChain[.]sharcpoInte-docs[.]com”. This domain was likely made to appear like the SharePoint URL used by the international hotel chain being impersonated.

Redirected link to a fake SharePoint page attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.
Figure 5: Redirected link to a fake SharePoint page attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.

This fake SharePoint page used the branding of the international hotel chain and contained a document named “New Employee Loyalty Program”; the same name given to the phishing messages sent by the attacker on Microsoft Teams. Upon accessing this file, users would be directed to a credential harvester, masquerading as a Microsoft login page, and prompted to enter their credentials. If successful, this would allow the attacker to gain unauthorized access to a user’s SaaS account, thereby compromising the account and enabling further escalation in the customer’s environment.

Figure 6: A fake Microsoft login page that popped-up when attempting to open the ’New Employee Loyalty Program’ document.

This is a clear example of an attacker attempting to leverage social engineering tactics to gain the trust of their targets and convince them to inadvertently compromise their account. Many corporate organizations partner with other companies and well-known brands to offer their employees loyalty programs as part of their employment benefits and perks. As such, it would not necessarily be unexpected for employees to receive such an offer from an international hotel chain. By impersonating an international hotel chain, threat actors would increase the probability of convincing their targets to trust and click their malicious messages and links, and unintentionally compromising their accounts.

In spite of the attacker’s attempts to impersonate reputable brands, platforms, Darktrace/Apps was able to successfully recognize the malicious intent behind this phishing campaign and suggest steps to contain the attack. Darktrace recognized that the user in question had deviated from its ‘learned’ pattern of behavior by connecting to the customer’s SaaS environment from an unusual external location, before proceeding to send an unusually large volume of messages via Teams, indicating that the SaaS account had been compromised.

A Wider Campaign?

Around a month later, in March 2024, Darktrace observed a similar incident of a malicious actor impersonating the same international hotel chain in a phishing attacking using Microsoft Teams, suggesting that this was part of a wider phishing campaign. Like the previous example, this customer was also based in the EMEA region.  

The attack tactics identified in this instance were very similar to the previously example, with a new external user identified within the network proceeding to create a series of Teams messages named “New Employee Loyalty Program” containing a typo-squatted external links.

There were a few differences with this second incident, however, with the attacker using the domain “@InternationalHotelChainExpeditions[.]onmicrosoft[.]com” to send their malicious Teams messages and using differently typo-squatted URLs to imitate Microsoft SharePoint.

As both customers targeted by this phishing campaign were subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, this suspicious SaaS activity was promptly escalated to the Darktrace Security Operations Center (SOC) for immediate triage and investigation. Following their investigation, the SOC team sent an alert to the customers informing them of the compromise and advising urgent follow-up.

Conclusion

While there are clear similarities between these Microsoft Teams-based phishing attacks, the attackers here have seemingly sought ways to refine their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), leveraging new connection locations and creating new malicious URLs in an effort to outmaneuver human security teams and conventional security tools.

As cyber threats grow increasingly sophisticated and evasive, it is crucial for organizations to employ intelligent security solutions that can see through social engineering techniques and pinpoint suspicious activity early.

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI understands customer environments and is able to recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavioral pattern, enabling it to effectively identify suspicious activity even when attackers adapt their strategies. In this instance, this allowed Darktrace to detect the phishing messages, and the malicious links contained within them, despite the seemingly trustworthy source and use of a reputable platform like Microsoft Teams.

Credit to Min Kim, Cyber Security Analyst, Raymond Norbert, Cyber Security Analyst and Ryan Traill, Threat Content Lead

Appendix

Darktrace Model Detections

SaaS Model

Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User

SaaS / Unusual Activity / Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User

Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoC – Type - Description

https://cloud-sharcpoint[.]com/[a-zA-Z0-9]{15} - Example hostname - Malicious phishing redirection link

InternatlonalHotelChain[.]sharcpolnte-docs[.]com – Hostname – Redirected Link

195.242.125[.]186 - External Source IP Address – Malicious Endpoint

MITRE Tactics

Tactic – Technique

Phishing – Initial Access (T1566)

References

[1] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/trusted-organizations-external-meetings-chat?tabs=organization-settings

[2] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/195.242.125.186/detection

[3] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/cloud-sharcpoint.com

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About the author
Min Kim
Cyber Security Analyst
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