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Recycling ransomware: The return of Ryuk

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20
Oct 2021
20
Oct 2021
The once notorious Ryuk ransomware has returned in new hands. Discover how small-time criminals are getting hold of cyber-crime’s most malicious tools, and what organizations can do to protect themselves.

In the era of international-scale cyber-warfare, focus has started to move away from small-time cyber thieves toward well-known, well-funded and sometimes government-backed cyber-crime organizations. Cyber-attacks sometimes work on discordant scales, however, and it doesn’t always take big budgets or key players for considerable damage to be dealt.

Numerous stories detail how the criminal and the curious alike have single-handedly breached some of the most secure systems in the world. At the more amusing end, there’s the story of Kristoffer von Hassel who discovered a novel exploit in Microsoft’s Xbox Live system at just five years old. And then of course there are those who hack their way right into promising security careers by breaching systems at major organizations. However, genuine damage has been done by individual threat actors as well.

These might be criminals using second-hand offensive tools, buying botnet armies for as little as $10 on the Dark Web, or using ransomware files downloaded for free. But ultimately, even a single cyber-criminal can inflict crippling damage upon large organizations if they are given the opportunity.

This is especially the case when the tools in their possession have been developed by some of the most notorious names in cyber-crime.

Copycat criminals

In early 2021, Darktrace detected a new instance of the once notorious Ryuk ransomware being launched against a business in the APAC region. The detection was intriguing.

The developers of Ryuk, a prolific cyber-criminal organization given the name ‘Wizard Spider’, had long since abandoned it in favor of a successor called ‘Conti’. Wizard Spider have launched some of the largest cyber-attacks in recent history, allegedly with the support of the Russian government, and are under investigation by Interpol and the FBI. They are not known for using outdated tools.

It soon became clear that this attack was not being launched by Wizard Spider at all, but by small-scale threat actors picking up the tools Wizard Spider left behind. And as the new attackers proved, these tools are still far from defunct.

Ryuk ransomware: A city-stopper for sale

Ryuk ransomware is commonly used to target large enterprise environments, even taking down entire city councils in some instances. Lake City, Florida and the City of Onkaparinga in South Australia are two of its known victims, along with numerous schools and hospitals across the US.

Once active in a system, Ryuk uses a combination of symmetric (AES) and asymmetric (RSA) encryption to encrypt files, disabling Windows’ system restore feature as it does so, and generally demands payment via Bitcoin in return for a private decryption key.

Though Ryuk was not initially sold in the same manner as its predecessor, Hermes, on the Dark Web site ‘exploit[.]in’, it is now believed by some publications that the toolkit must be available somewhere for various threat actors to buy and tailor to their requirements. This explains its recurrence beyond Wizard Spider activities.

New dog, old tricks

Darktrace spotted the new instance of Ryuk during a trial with a real estate business in the APAC region. The first warning sign came when some basic .dat files were downloaded onto one of the business’ devices from an unknown Russian IP address. Darktrace immediately detected that this download was a likely breach and, had Antigena been set up in active mode, would have initiated a targeted response at this early stage.

The .dat files on the infected device allowed the attackers to use RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) to spread further into the business’ network. Two days after the initial compromise, the threat actor had gained administrative credentials through a bruteforce attack and could begin scanning the network further.

Figure 1: Timeline of the attack

The witching hour

Just an hour after the attacker gained administrative credentials, at approximately 3:30am local time, ransomware files appeared in the business’ network. This timing was not accidental. The attackers knew that the security teams at the target business were home and asleep when the ransomware landed in the small hours of the morning, giving them plenty of time to conduct their attack.

This is precisely the kind of simple tactic which can multiply the scale of an attack without using large budgets or complex toolsets. The Ryuk ransomware rapidly began encrypting corporate files during the night, and by the time the security team returned in the morning, all they could do was shut down the entire network and hope to limit the spread of Ryuk, if only to save a few final devices.

The total attack time, from initial compromise to widespread data encryption, was just two and a half days. Whether due to understaffing or preoccupation, the security team did not find the time in that small window to respond to alerts, and, with Darktrace Antigena in passive mode, the attack was able to go ahead. This business’ need for Autonomous Response, which can protect against old and new attacks around the clock without the need for manual intervention, was painfully apparent.

Autonomous Response: Stop Ryuk before Ryuk stops you

Understanding Ryuk’s history and functionality does little good for organizations when it is still capable of eluding their defenses and catching security teams unawares. Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI is uniquely positioned to address these sophisticated threats, even as they evolve in the hands of different attackers and become unrecognizable to traditional rule-based security approaches.

Utilizing 24/7 Autonomous Response to stop both new and old threats at machine speed gives security teams the best chance of leveling the playing field against attackers. With Darktrace Antigena, the size or status of the attacking organization and their toolset is irrelevant – any anomalous and threatening behavior will be neutralized quickly and accurately, before damage can be done.

Thanks to Darktrace analyst Thomas Nommensen for his insights on the above threat find.

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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ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
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Based in San Francisco, Brianna is Director of Analysis at Darktrace. She joined the analyst team in 2016 and has since advised a wide range of enterprise customers on advanced threat hunting and leveraging Self-Learning AI for detection and response. Brianna works closely with the Darktrace SOC team to proactively alert customers to emerging threats and investigate unusual behavior in enterprise environments. Brianna holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

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Customer Blog: Community Housing Limited Enhancing Incident Response

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04
Mar 2024

About Community Housing Limited

Community Housing Limited is a non-profit organization based in Australia that focuses on providing affordable, long-term housing and creating employment opportunities where possible. We give people the security of having a home so that they can focus on other essential pathways. As such, we are responsible for sensitive information on our clients.

As part of our commitment to strengthening our cyber security, we sought to simplify and unify our incident response plans and equip our engineers and desktop support teams with all the information we need at our fingertips.

Why Community Housing Limited chose Darktrace

Our team hoped to achieve a response procedure that allowed us to have oversight over any potential security risks, even cases that don’t overtly seem like a security risk. For example, an incident could start as a payroll issue and end up in the hands of HR, instead of surfacing as a security problem. In this case, our security team has no way of knowing the real number of events or how the threat had actually started and played out, making incident response and mitigation even more challenging.

We were already a customer of Darktrace’s autonomous threat detection, attack intervention, and attack surface management capabilities, and decided to add Darktrace for AI-assisted incident response and AI cyber-attack simulation.

AI-generated playbooks save time during incident response

I wanted to reduce the time and resources it took our security team to appropriately respond to a threat. Darktrace automates several steps of the recovery process to accelerate the rate of incident response by using AI that learns the granular details of the specific organization, building a dynamic understanding of the devices, connections, and user behaviors that make up the normal “pattern of life.”  

The AI then uses this understanding to create bespoke, AI-generated incident response playbooks that leverage an evolving understanding of our organization to determine recovery steps that are tailored not only to the specific incident but also to our unique environment.

For my security team, this means having access to all the information we need to respond to a threat. When running through an incident, rather than going to different places to synthesize relevant information, which takes up valuable resources and time, we can speed up its remediation with Darktrace.  

The playbooks created by Darktrace help lower the technical skills required to respond to incidents by elevating the workload of the staff, tripling our capacity for incident response.

Realistic attack simulations upskill teams while saving resources

We have differing levels of experience on the team which means some members know exactly what to do during incident response while others are slower and need more guidance. Thus, we have to either outsource skilled security professionals or add a security solution that could lower the technical skills bar.

You don’t want to be second guessing and searching for the right move – it’s urgent – there should be certainty. Our goal with running attack simulations is to test and train our team's response capabilities in a “realistic” scenario. But this takes considerable time to plan and execute or can be expensive if outsourced, which can be a challenge for organizations short on resources. 

Darktrace provides AI-assisted incident response and cyber-attack simulation using AI that understands the organization to run simulations that effectively map onto the real digital environment and the assets within it, providing training for actual incidents.

It is one thing to sit together in a meeting and discuss various outcomes of a cyber-attack, talking through the best response strategies. It is a huge benefit being able to run attack simulations that emulate real-world scenarios.

Our team can now see how an incident would play out over several days to resemble a real-world scenario or it can play through the simulation quickly to ascertain outcomes immediately. It then uses these insights to strengthen its technology, processes, and training.

AI-Powered Incident Response

Darktrace helps my security team save resources and upskill staff using AI to generate bespoke playbooks and run realistic simulations. Its real-time understanding of our business ensures incident preparedness and incident response are tailored to not only the specific threat in question, but also to the contextual infrastructure of the organization.  

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Jamie Woodland
Head of Technology at Community Housing Limited

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Beyond DMARC: Navigating the Gaps in Email Security

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29
Feb 2024

Email threat landscape  

Email has consistently ranked among the most targeted attack vectors, given its ubiquity and criticality to business operations. From September to December 2023, 10.4 million phishing emails were detected across Darktrace’s customer fleet demonstrating the frequency of attempted email-based attacks.

Businesses are searching for ways to harden their email security posture alongside email providers who are aiming to reduce malicious emails traversing their infrastructure, affecting their clients. Domain-based Message Authentication (DMARC) is a useful industry-wide protocol organizations can leverage to move towards these goals.  

What is DMARC?

DMARC is an email authentication protocol designed to enhance the security of email communication.

Major email service providers Google and Yahoo recently made the protocol mandatory for bulk senders in an effort to make inboxes safer worldwide. The new requirements demonstrate an increasing need for a standardized solution as misconfigured or nonexistent authentication systems continue to allow threat actors to evade detection and leverage the legitimate reputation of third parties.  

DMARC is a powerful tool that allows email administrators to confidently identify and stop certain spoofed emails; however, more organizations must implement the standard for it to reach its full potential. The success and effectiveness of DMARC is dependent on broad adoption of the standard – by organizations of all sizes.  

How does DMARC work?

DMARC builds on two key authentication technologies, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and helps to significantly improve their ability to prevent domain spoofing. SPF verifies that a sender’s IP address is authorized to send emails on behalf of a particular domain and DKIM ensures integrity of email content by providing a verifiable digital signature.  

DMARC adds to this by allowing domain owners to publish policies that set expectations for how SPF and DKIM verification checks relate to email addresses presented to users and whose authenticity the receiving mail server is looking to establish.  

These policies work in tandem to help authenticate email senders by verifying the emails are from the domain they say they are, working to prevent domain spoofing attacks. Key benefits of DMARC include:

  1. Phishing protection DMARC protects against direct domain spoofing in which a threat actor impersonates a legitimate domain, a common phishing technique threat actors use to trick employees to obtain sensitive information such as privileged credentials, bank information, etc.  
  2. Improving brand reputation: As DMARC helps to prevent impersonation of domains, it stands to maintain and increase an organization’s brand reputation. Additionally, as organizational reputation improves, so will the deliverability of emails.
  3. Increased visibility: DMARC provides enhanced visibility into email communication channels, including reports of all emails sent on behalf of your domain. This allows security teams to identify shadow-IT and any unauthorized parties using their domain.

Understanding DMARC’s Limitations

DMARC is often positioned as a way for organizations to ‘solve’ their email security problems, however, 65% of the phishing emails observed by Darktrace successfully passed DMARC verification, indicating that a significant number of threat actors are capable of manipulating email security and authentication systems in their exploits. While DMARC is a valuable tool in the fight against email-based attacks, the evolving threat landscape demands a closer look at its limitations.  

As threat actors continue to innovate, improving their stealth and evasion tactics, the number of attacks with valid DMARC authentication will only continue to increase in volume and sophistication. These can include:

  1. Phishing attacks that leverage non-spoofed domains: DMARC allows an organization to protect the domains that they own, preventing threat actors from being able to send phishing emails from their domains. However, threat actors will often create and use ‘look-a-like’ domains that closely resemble an organization’s domain to dupe users. 3% of the phishing emails identified by Darktrace utilized newly created domains, demonstrating shifting tactics.  
  2. Email Account Takeovers: If a threat actor gains access to a user’s email account through other social engineering means such as credential stuffing, they can then send phishing emails from the legitimate domain to pursue further attacks. Even though these emails are malicious, DMARC would not identify them as such because they are coming from an authorized domain or sender.  

Organizations must also ensure their inbound analysis of emails is not skewed by successful DMARC authentication. Security teams cannot inherently trust emails that pass DMARC, because the source cannot always be legitimized, like in the event of an account takeover. If a threat actor gains access to an authenticated email account, emails sent by the threat actor from that account will pass DMARC – however the contents of that email may be malicious. Sender behavior must be continuously evaluated and vetted in real time as past communication history and validated DMARC cannot be solely relied upon amid an ever-changing threat landscape.  

Security teams should lean on other security measures, such as anomaly detection tools that can identify suspicious emails without relying on historical attack rules and static data. While DMARC is not a silver bullet for email security, it is nevertheless foundational in helping organizations protect their brand identity and must be viewed as an essential layer in an organization's overall cyber security strategy.  

Implementing DMARC

Despite the criticality of DMARC for preserving brand reputation and trust, adoption of the standard has been inconsistent. DMARC can be complex to implement with many organizations lacking the time required to understand and successfully implement the standard. Because of this, DMARC set-up is often outsourced, giving security and infrastructure teams little to no visibility into or control of the process.  

Implementation of DMARC is only the start of this process, as DMARC reports must be consistently monitored to ensure organizations have visibility into who is sending mail from their domain, the volume of mail being sent and whether the mail is passing authentication protocols. This process can be time consuming for security teams who are already faced with mounting responsibilities, tight budgets, and personnel shortages. These complexities unfortunately delay organizations from using DMARC – especially as many today still view it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential.  

With the potential complexities of the DMARC implementation process, there are many ways security and infrastructure teams can still successfully roll out the standard. Initial implementation should start with monitoring, policy adjustment and then enforcement. As business changes over time, DMARC should be reviewed regularly to ensure ongoing protection and maintain domain reputation.

The Future of Email Security

As email-based attacks continue to rise, the industry must recognize the importance of driving adoption of foundational email authentication protocols. To do this, a new and innovative approach to DMARC is needed. DMARC products must evolve to better support organizations throughout the ongoing DMARC monitoring process, rather than just initial implementation. These products must also be able to share intelligence across an organization’s security stack, extending beyond email security tools. Integration across these products and tools will help organizations optimize their posture, ensuring deep understanding of their domain and increased visibility across the entire enterprise.

DMARC is critical in protecting brand identity and mitigating exact-domain based attacks. However, organizations must understand DMARC’s unique benefits and limitations to ensure their inboxes are fully protected. In today’s evolving threat landscape, organizations require a robust, multi-layered approach to stop email threats – in inbound mail and beyond. Email threats have evolved – its time security does too.

Join Darktrace on 9 April for a virtual event to explore the latest innovations needed to get ahead of the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Register today to hear more about our latest innovations coming to Darktrace’s offerings. For additional insights check out Darktrace’s 2023 End of Year Threat Report.

Credit to Carlos Gray and Stephen Pickman for their contribution to this blog

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Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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