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Royal Pains: How Darktrace Refused to Bend the Knee to the MyKings Botnet

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06
Dec 2023
06
Dec 2023
This blog investigates the persistent MyKings botnet which has been observed across the Darktrace customer base since 2022, and highlights how Darktrace was able to provide full visibility over its kill chain from the beginning of the infections to the eventual cryptocurrency mining activity.

Botnets: A persistent cyber threat

Since their appearance in the wild over three decades ago, botnets have consistently been the attack vector of choice for many threat actors. The most prevalent of these attack vectors are distributed denial of service (DDoS) and phishing campaigns. Their persistent nature means that even if a compromised device in identified, attackers can continue to operate by using the additional compromised devices they will likely have on the target network. Similarly, command and control (C2) infrastructure can easily be restructured between infected systems, making it increasingly difficult to remove the infection.  

MyKings Botnet

One of the most prevalent and sophisticated examples in recent years is the MyKings botnet, also known as Smominru or DarkCloud. Darktrace has observed numerous cases of MyKings botnet compromises across multiple customer environments in several different industries as far back as August 2022. The diverse tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and sophisticated kill chains employed by MyKings botnet may prove a challenge to traditional rule and signature-based detections.

However, Darktrace’s anomaly-centric approach enabled it to successfully detect a wide-range of indicators of compromise (IoCs) related to the MyKings botnet and bring immediate awareness to customer security teams, as it demonstrated on the network of multiple customers between March and August 2023.

Background on MyKings Botnet

MyKings has been active and spreading steadily since 2016 resulting in over 520,000 infections worldwide.[1] Although verified attribution of the botnet remains elusive, the variety of targets and prevalence of crypto-mining software on affected devices suggests the threat group behind the malware is financially motivated. The operators behind MyKings appear to be highly opportunistic, with attacks lacking an obvious specific target industry. Across Darktrace’s customer base, the organizations affected were representative of multiple industries such as entertainment, mining, education, information technology, health, and transportation.

Given its longevity, the MyKings botnet has unsurprisingly evolved since its first appearance years ago. Initial analyses of the botnet showed that the primary crypto-related activity on infected devices was the installation of Monero-mining software. However, in 2019 researchers discovered a new module within the MyKings malware that enabled clipboard-jacking, whereby the malware replaces a user's copied cryptowallet address with the operator's own wallet address in order to siphon funds.[2]

Similar to other botnets such as the Outlaw crypto-miner, the MyKings botnet can also kill running processes of unrelated malware on the compromised hosts that may have resulted from prior infection.[3] MyKings has also developed a comprehensive set of persistence techniques, including: the deployment of bootkits, initiating the botnet immediately after a system reboot, configuring Registry run keys, and generating multiple Scheduled Tasks and WMI listeners.[4] MyKings have also been observed rotating tools and payloads over time to propagate the botnet. For example, some operators have been observed utilizing PCShare, an open-source remote access trojan (RAT) customized to conduct C2 services, execute commands, and download mining software[5].

Darktrace Coverage

Across observed customer networks between March and August 2023, Darktrace identified the MyKings botnet primarily targeting Windows-based servers that supports services like MySQL, MS-SQL, Telnet, SSH, IPC, WMI, and Remote Desktop (RDP).  In the initial phase of the attack, the botnet would initiate a variety of attacks against a target including brute-forcing and exploitation of unpatched vulnerabilities on exposed servers. The botnet delivers a variety of payloads to the compromised systems including worm downloaders, trojans, executable files and scripts.

This pattern of activity was detected across the network of one particular Darktrace customer in the education sector in early March 2023. Unfortunately, this customer did not have Darktrace RESPOND™ deployed on their network at the time of the attack, meaning the MyKings botnet was able to move through the cyber kill chain ultimately achieving its goal, which in this case was mining cryptocurrency.

Initial Access

On March 6, Darktrace observed an internet-facing SQL server receiving an unusually large number of incoming MySQL connections from the rare external endpoint 171.91.76[.]31 via port 1433. While it is not possible to confirm whether these suspicious connections represented the exact starting point of the infection, such a sudden influx of SQL connection from a rare external endpoint could be indicative of a malicious attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in the server's SQL database or perform password brute-forcing to gain unauthorized access. Given that MyKings typically spreads primarily through such targeting of internet-exposed devices, the pattern of activity is consistent with potential initial access by MyKings.[6]

Initial Command and Control

The device then proceeded to initiate a series of repeated HTTP connections between March 6 and March 10, to the domain www[.]back0314[.]ru (107.148.239[.]111). These connections included HTTP GET requests featuring URIs such as ‘/back.txt',  suggesting potential beaconing and C2 communication. The device continued this connectivity to the external host over the course of four days, primarily utilizing destination ports 80, and 6666. While port 80 is commonly utilized for HTTP connections, port 6666 is a non-standard port for the protocol. Such connectivity over non-standard ports can indicate potential detection evasion and obfuscation tactics by the threat actors.  During this time, the device also initiated repeated connections to additional malicious external endpoints with seemingly algorithmically generated hostnames such as pc.pc0416[.]xyz.

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Figure 1: Model breach showing details of the malicious domain generation algorithm (DGA) connections.

Tool Transfer

While this beaconing activity was taking place, the affected device also began to receive potential payloads from unusual external endpoints. On April 29, the device made an HTTP GET request for “/power.txt” to the endpoint 192.236.160[.]237, which was later discovered to have multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) links to malware. Power.txt is a shellcode written in PowerShell which is downloaded and executed with the purpose of disabling Windows Defenders related functions.[7] After the initial script was downloaded (and likely executed), Darktrace went on to detect the device making a series of additional GET requests for several varying compressed and executable files. For example, the device made HTTP requests for '/pld/cmd.txt' to the external endpoint 104.233.224[.]173. In response the external server provided numerous files, including ‘u.exe’, and ‘upsup4.exe’ for download, both of which share file names with previously identified MyKings payloads.

MyKings deploys a diverse array of payloads to expand the botnet and secure a firm position within a compromised system. This multi-faceted approach may render conventional security measures less effective due to the intricacies of and variety of payloads involved in compromises. Darktrace, however, does not rely on static or outdated lists of IoCs in order to detect malicious activity. Instead, DETECT’s Self-Learning AI allows it to identify emerging compromise activity by recognizing the subtle deviations in an affected device’s behavior that could indicate it has fallen into the hands of malicious actors.

Figure 2: External site summary of the endpoint 103.145.106[.]242 showing the rarity of connectivity to the external host.

Achieving Objectives – Crypto-Mining

Several weeks after the initial payloads were delivered and beaconing commenced, Darktrace finally detected the initiation of crypto-mining operations. On May 27, the originally compromised server connected to the rare domain other.xmrpool[.]ru over port 1081. As seen in the domain name, this endpoint appears to be affiliated with pool mining activity and the domain has various OSINT affiliations with the cryptocurrency Monero coin. During this connection, the host was observed passing Monero credentials, activity which parallels similar mining operations observed on other customer networks that had been compromised by the MyKings botnet.

Although mining activity may not pose an immediate or urgent concern for security unauthorized cryptomining on devices can result in detrimental consequences, such as compromised hardware integrity, elevated energy costs, and reduced productivity, and even potential involvement in money laundering.

Figure 3: Event breach log showing details of the connection to the other.xmrpool[.]ru endpoint associated with cryptocurrency mining activity.

Conclusion

Detecting future iterations of the MyKings botnet will likely demand a shift away from an overreliance on traditional rules and signatures and lists of “known bads”, instead requiring organizations to employ AI-driven technology that can identify suspicious activity that represents a deviation from previously established patterns of life.

Despite the diverse range of payloads, malicious endpoints, and intricate activities that constitute a typical MyKing botnet compromise, Darktrace was able successfully detect multiple critical phases within the MyKings kill chain. Given the evolving nature of the MyKings botnet, it is highly probable the botnet will continue to expand and adapt, leveraging new tactics and technologies. By adopting Darktrace’s product of suites, including Darktrace DETECT, organizations are well-positioned to identify these evolving threats as soon as they emerge and, when coupled with the autonomous response technology of Darktrace RESPOND, threats like the MyKings botnet can be stopped in their tracks before they can achieve their ultimate goals.

Credit to: Oluwatosin Aturaka, Analyst Team Lead, Cambridge, Adam Potter, Cyber Analyst

Appendix

IoC Table

IoC - Type - Description + Confidence

162.216.150[.]108- IP - C2 Infrastructure

103.145.106[.]242 - IP - C2 Infrastructure

137.175.56[.]104 - IP - C2 Infrastructure

138.197.152[.]201 - IP - C2 Infrastructure

139.59.74[.]135 - IP - C2 Infrastructure

pc.pc0416[.]xyz - Domain - C2 Infrastructure (DGA)

other.xmrpool[.]ru - Domain - Cryptomining Endpoint

xmrpool[.]ru - Domain - Cryptomining Endpoint

103.145.106[.]55 - IP - Cryptomining Endpoint

ntuser[.]rar - Zipped File - Payload

/xmr1025[.]rar - Zipped File - Payload

/20201117[.]rar - Zipped File - Payload

wmi[.]txt - File - Payload

u[.]exe - Executable File - Payload

back[.]txt - File - Payload

upsupx2[.]exe - Executable File - Payload

cmd[.]txt - File - Payload

power[.]txt - File - Payload

ups[.]html - File - Payload

xmr1025.rar - Zipped File - Payload

171.91.76[.]31- IP - Possible Initial Compromise Endpoint

www[.]back0314[.]ru - Domain - Probable C2 Infrastructure

107.148.239[.]111 - IP - Probable C2 Infrastructure

194.67.71[.]99 - IP- Probable C2 Infrastructure

Darktrace DETECT Model Breaches

  • Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise
  • Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer (x37)
  • Compromise / Large DNS Volume for Suspicious Domain
  • Compromise / Fast Beaconing to DGA
  • Device / Large Number of Model Breaches
  • Anomalous File / Multiple EXE from Rare External Locations (x30)
  • Compromise / Beacon for 4 Days (x2)
  • Anomalous Server Activity / New User Agent from Internet Facing System
  • Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
  • Anomalous Server Activity / New Internet Facing System
  • Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location (x37)
  • Device / Large Number of Connections to New Endpoints
  • Anomalous Server Activity / Server Activity on New Non-Standard Port (x3)
  • Device / Threat Indicator (x3)
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Activity
  • Compromise / Crypto Currency Mining Activity (x37)
  • Compliance / Internet Facing SQL Server
  • Device / Anomalous Scripts Download Followed By Additional Packages
  • Device / New User Agent

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

ATT&CK Technique - Technique ID

Reconnaissance – T1595.002 Vulnerability Scanning

Resource Development – T1608 Stage Capabilities

Resource Development – T1588.001 Malware

Initial Access – T1190 Exploit Public-Facing Application

Command and Control – T15568.002 Domain Generated Algorithms

Command and Control – T1571 Non-Standard Port

Execution – T1047 Windows Management Instrumentation

Execution – T1059.001 Command and Scripting Interpreter

Persistence – T1542.003 Pre-OS Boot

Impact – T1496 Resource Hijacking

References

[1] https://www.binarydefense.com/resources/threat-watch/mykings-botnet-is-growing-and-remains-under-the-radar/

[2] https://therecord.media/a-malware-botnet-has-made-more-than-24-7-million-since-2019

[3] https://www.darktrace.com/blog/outlaw-returns-uncovering-returning-features-and-new-tactics

[4] https://www.sophos.com/en-us/medialibrary/pdfs/technical-papers/sophoslabs-uncut-mykings-report.pdf

[5] https://www.antiy.com/response/20190822.html

[6] https://ethicaldebuggers.com/mykings-botnet/

[7] https://ethicaldebuggers.com/mykings-botnet/

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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Oluwatosin Aturaka
Analyst Team Lead, Cambridge
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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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