Inside the SOC
랜섬웨어의 초기 징후 : 블리츠 게임
The deployment of ransomware is the endgame of a cyber-attack. A threat actor must have accomplished several previous steps – including lateral movement and privilege escalation – to reach this final position. The ability to detect and counter the early moves is therefore just as important as detecting the encryption itself.
Attackers are using diverse strategies – such as ‘Living off the Land’ and carefully crafting their command and control (C2) – to blend in with normal network traffic and evade traditional security defenses. The analysis below examines the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) used by many ransomware actors by unpacking a compromise which occurred at a defense contractor in Canada.
Phases of a ransomware attack
Figure 1: Timeline of the attack.
The opening: Initial access to privileged account
The first indicator of compromise was a login on a server with an unusual credential, followed by unusual admin activity. The attacker may have gained access to the username and password in a number of ways, from credential stuffing to buying them on the Dark Web. As the attacker had privileged access from the get-go, there was no need for privilege escalation.
Two days later, the attacker began to spread from the initial server. The compromised server began to send out unusual Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) commands.
It began remotely controlling four other devices – authenticating on them with a single admin credential. One of the destinations was a domain controller (DC), another was a backup server.
By using WMI – a common admin tool – for lateral movement, the attacker opted to ‘live off the land’ rather than introduce a new lateral movement tool, aiming to remain unnoticed by the company’s security stack. The unusual use of WMI was picked up by Darktrace and the timings of the unusual WMI connections were pieced together by Cyber AI Analyst.
- New or Uncommon WMI Activity
- AI Analyst / Extensive Chain of Administrative Connections
The four devices then connected to the IP 185.250.151[.]172. Three of them, including the DC and backup server, established SSL beacons to the IP using the dynamic DNS domain goog1e.ezua[.]com.
The C2 endpoints had very little open-source intelligence (OSINT) available, but it seems that a Cobalt Strike-style script had used the endpoint in the past. This suggests complex tooling, as the attacker used dynamic SSL and spoofed Google to mask their beaconing.
Interestingly, through the entirety of the attack, only these three devices used SSL connections for beaconing, while later C2 occurred over unencrypted protocols. It appears these three critical devices were treated differently to the other infected devices on the network.
- Immediate breach of Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device, then several model breaches involving beaconing and SSL to dynamic DNS. (Domain Controller DynDNS SSL or HTTP was particularly specific to this activity.)
The middle game: Internal reconnaissance and further lateral movement
The attack chain took the form of two cycles of lateral movement, followed by establishing C2 at the newly controlled destinations.
Figure 2: Observed chain of lateral movement and C2.
So, after establishing C2, the DC made WMI requests to 20 further IPs over an extended period. It also scanned 234 IPs via ICMP pings, presumably in an attempt to find more hosts.
Many of these were eventually found with ransom notes, in particular when the targeted devices were hypervisors. The ransomware was likely deployed with remote commands via WMI.
- AI Analyst / Suspicious Chain of Administrative Connections (from the initial server to the DC to the hypervisor)
- AI Analyst / Extensive Suspicious WMI Activity (from the DC)
- Device / ICMP Address Scan, Scanning of Multiple Devices AI Analyst incident (from the DC)
As the second stage of lateral movement stopped, a second stage of unencrypted C2 was seen from five new devices. Each started with GET requests to the IP seen in the SSL C2 (185.250.151[.]172), which used the spoofed hostname google[.]com.
Activity started on each device with HTTP requests for a URI ending in .png, before a more consistent beaconing to the URI /books/. Eventually, the devices made POST requests to the URI /ebooks/?k= (a unique identifier for each device). All this appears to be a way of concealing a C2 beacon in what looks like plausible traffic to Google.
In this way, by encrypting some C2 connections with SSL to a Dynamic DNS domain, while crafting other unencrypted HTTP to look like traffic to google[.]com, the attacker managed to operate undetected by the company’s antivirus tools.
Darktrace identified this anomalous activity and generated a large number of external connectivity model breaches.
- Eight breaches of Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to New Endpoint from the affected devices
Accomplish mission: Checkmate
Finally, the attacker deployed ransomware. In the ransom note, they stated that sensitive information had been exfiltrated and would be leaked if the company did not pay.
However, this was a lie. Darktrace confirmed that no data had been exfiltrated, as the C2 communications had sent far too little data. Lying about data exfiltration in order to extort a ransom is a common tactic for attackers, and visibility is crucial to determine whether a threat actor is bluffing.
In addition, Antigena – Darktrace’s Autonomous Response technology – blocked an internal download from one of the servers compromised in the first round of lateral movement, because it was an unusual incoming data volume for the client device. This was most likely the attacker attempting to transfer data in preparation for the end goal, so the block may have prevented this data from being moved for exfiltration.
Figure 3: Antigena model breach.
Figure 4: Device is blocked from SMB communication with the compromised server three seconds later.
- Unusual Incoming Data Volume
- High Volume Server Data Transfer
Unfortunately, Antigena was not active on the majority of the devices involved in the incident. If in active mode, Antigena would have stopped the early stages of this activity, including the unusual administrative logins and beaconing. The customer is now working to fully configure Antigena, so they benefit from 24/7 Autonomous Response.
Cyber AI Analyst investigates
Darktrace’s AI spotted and reported on beaconing from several devices including the DC, which was the highest scoring device for unusual behavior at the time of the activity. It condensed this information into three incidents – ‘Possible SSL Command and Control’, ‘Extensive Suspicious Remote WMI Activity’, and ‘Scanning of Remote Devices’.
Crucially, Cyber AI Analyst not only summarized the admin activity from the DC but also linked it back to the first device through an unusual chain of administrative connections.
Figure 5: Cyber AI Analyst incident showing a suspicious chain of administrative connections linking the first device in the chain of connections to a hypervisor where a ransom note was found via the compromised DC, saving valuable time in the investigation. It also highlights the credential common to all of the lateral movement connections.
Finding lateral movement chains manually is a laborious process well suited to AI. In this case, it enabled the security team to quickly trace back to the device which was the likely source of the attack and find the common credential in the connections.
Play the game like a machine
To get the full picture of a ransomware attack, it is important to look beyond the final encryption to previous phases of the kill chain. In the attack above, the encryption itself did not generate network traffic, so detecting the intrusion at its early stages was vital.
Despite the attacker ‘Living off the Land’ and using WMI with a compromised admin credential, as well as spoofing the common hostname google[.]com for C2 and applying dynamic DNS for SSL connections, Darktrace was able to identify all the stages of the attack and immediately piece them together into a meaningful security narrative. This would have been almost impossible for a human analyst to achieve without labor-intensive checking of the timings of individual connections.
With ransomware infections becoming faster and more frequent, with the threat of offensive AI looming closer and the Dark Web marketplace thriving, with security teams drowning under false positives and no time left on the clock, AI is now an essential part of any security solution. The board is set, the time is ticking, the stakes are higher than ever. Your move.
Thanks to Darktrace analyst Daniel Gentle for his insights on the above threat find.
IoCComment185.250.151[.]172IP address used for both HTTP and SSL C2goog1e.ezua[.]comDynamic DNS Hostname used for SSL C2
Darktrace model detections:
- AI Analyst models:
- Extensive Suspicious WMI Activity
- Suspicious Chain of Administrative Connections
- Scanning of Multiple Devices
- Possible SSL Command and Control
- Meta model:
- Device / Large Number of model breaches
- External connectivity models:
- Anonymous Server Activity / Domain Controller DynDNS SSL or HTTP
- Compromise / Suspicious TLS Beaconing to Rare External
- Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
- Compromise / SSL to DynDNS
- Anomalous Server Activity / External Activity from Critical Network Device
- Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
- Compromise / Suspicious Beaconing Behaviour
- Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to New Endpoint
- Internal activity models:
- Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity
- User / New Admin Credentials on Client
- Device / ICMP Address Scan
- Anomalous Connection / Unusual Incoming Data Volume
- Unusual Activity / High Volume Server Data Transfer
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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.