Pulling back the curtain on Grief ransomware
From its emergence in May 2021, Grief used novel malware which confounded security tools trained on historical attacks. By July, however, the sophistication and efficiency of the group’s attacks led many to suspect that Grief’s operators had experience beyond their supposed two months of operation.
Grief is now widely reported to be a rebrand of the DoppelPaymer ransomware gang, which ended its operations in May 2021 and was believed to be affiliated with the Russian ransomware gang Evil Corp. After adopting the new moniker, however, Grief regularly blew past traditional security tools, amassing well over $10 million in ransom payments in just four months.
Adaptations and rebrands are common techniques adopted by criminal gangs using the Ransomware-as-a-Service business model. The success of Grief’s rebrand illustrates how rapidly a ransomware group can update its attacks and render them unrecognizable to signature-based tools.
Revealing Grief’s tricks with Cyber AI Analyst
In July 2021, PayOrGrief targeted a European manufacturing company which had Darktrace deployed across its network. Darktrace’s early detection of the attack, along with the real-time visibility into its lifecycle offered by Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst, meant that each stage of the attack was clear to see.
The initial intrusion compromised four devices, which Darktrace detected when these devices connected to rare external IPs and downloaded encoded text files. It is likely that the devices were compromised as the result of a targeted phishing campaign, which are often used in Grief attacks as a way of injecting malware such as Dridex onto devices. If deployed within the targeted organization, Antigena Email would have identified the phishing campaign and halted it, before it reached employee inboxes. In this case, however, the attack continued.
Following the initial compromise, C2 (Command and Control) connections were made over an encrypted channel using invalid SSL certificates. An upload of 50MB of data was made from one of the infected devices to the company’s corporate server, which gave the attackers access to the company’s crown jewels: its most sensitive data. From this privileged position, and with keep-alive beacons in place, the attack was ready for detonation.
Several devices were detected attempting to upload data totaling more than 100 GB to the external file storage platform, Mega, using encrypted HTTPS on port 443. However, the attackers did not receive the total package of data they had expected. The organization had deployed Darktrace’s Autonomous Response to protect its key assets and most sensitive data. The AI recognized the anomalous behavior as a significant deviation from the business’s normal ‘pattern of life’ and autonomously blocked uploads from protected devices, preventing exfiltration wherever it was able to do so.
The attackers then continued to spread through the digital environment. Using ‘Living off the Land’ techniques including RDP and SMB, they performed internal reconnaissance, escalated their privileges and moved laterally to additional digital assets. With access to new admin credentials, just ten hours after the initial C2 communications, the attackers commenced ransomware encryption.
It’s highly possible, therefore, that Grief has targeted Darktrace customers previously and been neutralized too early for the attack to be identified and attributed. In this instance, the organization had deployed Autonomous Response only on certain areas of the network, and we are therefore able to see how the attack progressed on unprotected devices.
The Indicators of Compromise (IoCs) for Grief ransomware have now been incorporated by many traditional security tools, but this is a short-term solution, and won’t account for further changes in both threat actor tactics and the digital environments they target. Once the Grief moniker has been exhausted, it is more than likely that another will be adopted in its place.
The AI-driven approach to cyber security tackles threats regardless of when and where they arrive, or what name they arrive under. By focusing on developing its sophisticated understanding of the entire digital estate, Darktrace’s Autonomous Response targets specific anomalies with specific, proportionate responses, even when they are part of entirely novel attacks. And when given the freedom to take action against these threats the moment they’re detected, Autonomous Response can ensure that organizations stay protected even when human teams are unavailable.
Thanks to Darktrace analyst Beverly McCann for her insights on the above threat find.
Darktrace model detections
- Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity
- Device / New User Agents
- Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server
- Compliance / External Windows Communications
- Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port
- Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External
- Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed
- Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port
- Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
- Compliance / Remote Management Tool on Server
- Anomalous Server Activity / Outgoing from Server
- Anomalous Connection / Multiple HTTP POSTs to Rare Hostname
- Anomalous Connection / Data Sent to Rare Domain
- Anomalous Connection / Lots of New Connections
- Unusual Activity / Unusual File Storage Data Transfer
- Unusual Activity / Enhanced Unusual External Data Transfer [Enhanced Monitoring]
- Anomalous Connection / Uncommon 1GiB Outbound
- Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data to New Ips
- Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration
- Multiple Device Correlations / Behavioral Change Across Multiple Devices
- Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity
- Unusual Activity / Unusual External Connections
- Device / ICMP Address Scan
- Anomalous Connection / Unusual Admin RDP Session
- Compliance / SMB Version 1 Usage
- Anomalous Connection / Unusual SMB Version 1
- Anomalous File / Internal / Additional Extension Appended to SMB File
- Unusual Activity / Anomalous SMB Move and Write
- Compromise / Ransomware / Suspicious SMB Activity [Enhanced Monitoring]
- Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Read Write Ratio and Unusual SMB
- Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control
- Device / New or Unusual Remote Command Execution
- User / New Admin Credentials On Client
- Device / New or Uncommon SMB Named Pipe
- Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches [Enhanced Monitoring]
- Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Read Write Ratio
- Device / SMA Lateral Movement
- Anomalous File / Internal / Unusual Internal EXE File Transfer
- Anomalous Server Activity / Unusual Unresponsive Server
- Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert
- Multiple Device Correlations / Spreading Unusual SMB Activity
- Multiple Device Correlations / Multiple Devices Breaching the Same Model
Darktrace Autonomous Response alerts
- Antigena / Network / Insider Threat / Antigena Network Scan Block
- Antigena / Network / Insider Threat / Antigena Breaches Over Time Block
- Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Anomaly Block
- Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Breaches over Time Block
- Antigena / Network / Insider Threat / Antigena Large Data Volume Outbound Block
- Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Enhanced Monitoring from Client Block
- Antigena / Network / Insider Threat / Antigena SMB Enumeration Block
- Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Controlled and Model Breach
- Antigena / Network / Insider Threat / Antigena Internal Anomalous File Activity
- Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block
- Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Ransomware Block
- Antigena / Network / External Threat / SMB Ratio Antigena Block
MITRE ATT&CK techniques observed
T1595 — Active Scanning
T1608 — Stage Capabilities
T1190 — Exploit Public-Facing Application
T1133 — External Remote Services
T1079 — Valid Accounts
T1046 — Network Service Scanning
T1083 — File and Directory Discovery
T1018 — Remote System Discovery
T1210 — Exploitation of Remote Services
T1080 — Taint Shared Content
T1570 — Lateral Tool Transfer
T1021 — Remote Services
Command and Control
T1071 — Application Layer Protocol
T1095 — Non-Application Layer Protocol
T1571 — Non-Standard Port
T1041 — Exfiltration over C2 Channel
T1567 — Exfiltration Over Web Service
T1029 — Scheduled Transfer
T1486 — Data Encrypted for Impact
T1489 — Service Stop
T1529 — System Shutdown/Reboot
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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.