Blog

No items found.

Unmasking Major Cyber-Threats of 2018

Default blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog image
07
Feb 2019
07
Feb 2019
In the second installment of a 2-part series, Max Heinemeyer analyzes the rise of deceptive attacks & insider threats found by Darktrace AI in 2018.

For security professionals around the world, it is hardly a secret that cyber-attacks are becoming ever more difficult to detect — incorporating stealthier tactics and even automated elements to breach the network perimeter. Yet despite the increasing sophistication of these threats, the greatest security risk confronting today’s businesses, governments, and nonprofits continues to be their own employees.

Such credentialed network users present a relatively easy avenue into the digital estate for cyber-criminals who manage to deceive them. From banking trojans that are spread using social engineering to cryptocurrency mining carried out by disgruntled workers, the past year witnessed a significant upswing in threats that either exploited the fallibility of employees or which were authored by employees themselves.

By monitoring and analyzing raw traffic from all our clients’ users, internet-connected devices, and cloud deployments, we saw a number of trends emerge in 2018. As the second installment of a two-part series, this article will review specifically those attack trends that involve trickery, subtlety, and the art of deception. Because, as organizations deploy the latest technologies and tools to improve their cyber defenses, the weakest link in our network security is not a machine — it is human.

Banking trojan attacks increased by 239%

Named after the legendary act of Grecian subterfuge, today a trojan horse refers to a malicious computer program that misleads its user of its actual purpose, taking advantage of the fundamental weakness of human error inherent to any security posture. Over the last 12 months, the incidence of banking trojans in particular — which harvest the credentials of online banking customers from infected machines — has increased by a staggering 239% across our customer base.

This dramatic increase may be a consequence of the declining popularity of ransomware for monetary gain: it seems that banking trojans are, at least at present, a more profitable tool for cyber-criminals. Unlike ransomware, banking trojans do not rely on a victim’s conscious willingness to pay; rather, they use deception to perform transactions without the victim’s knowledge. And as the number of ransomware incidents declined in 2018, it seems that subtler attacks have become the weapons of choice for cyber-crime.

The proliferation of banking trojans has been accompanied by a growing sophistication in the malware itself, with many banking trojans having expanded beyond their original target of online banking access. Indeed, advanced trojans like Emotet now deliver other forms of malware as payloads, after using fraudulent emails, online advertisements, and other forms of social engineering to breach the perimeter.

Cryptocurrency-related incidents up 78%

Figure 1: Cryptocurrency values declined precipitously in 2018 after rapid growth.

Alongside the increase in banking trojans, Darktrace detected 78% growth in the frequency of another under-the-radar threat: crypto-jacking. Defined as the secret usage of computing power to mine cryptocurrency, crypto-jacking operates by the opposite logic of ransomware, acting as a parasite on an organization’s computing systems or injecting hidden code into an organization’s web pages. Whereas ransomware attackers demand payment immediately, cryptocurrency miners seek to go unnoticed for as long as possible.

Deceptive threats like banking trojans and crypto-jacking are particularly elusive when they originate from insiders. In one Fortune 500 e-commerce company this year, Darktrace discovered a privileged access user — a disgruntled systems administrator — hijacking power sources from the company’s infrastructure for his own monetary gain. The employee co-opted other users’ credentials and service accounts to stealthily take over multiple machines for the purpose of crypto-mining.

At the same time, the growth rate of cryptocurrency-related threats is less than in the previous year, likely as a result of the dramatic fall in the value of most cryptocurrencies (see Figure 1). But with many experts anticipating these values to bounce back, we expect crypto-jacking to become far more common in the years to come. The cyber-criminal ecosystem still responds to macroeconomic factors, and as payment systems continue to evolve, so too will attackers’ revenue streams.

The weakest link: still people

The rapid escalation of deceptive and subtle threats — from banking trojans that gain access with social engineering to crypto-jacking carried out by insiders to targeted spear phishing emails — is the product of a fundamental flaw with the traditional approach to cyber defense, which entails securing the perimeter against known threats. Indeed, once an employee, maliciously or inadvertently, compromises the network from the inside, protecting the perimeter does little good. And as we look ahead to 2019, a year likely to be even more dominated by deceptive attacks and internal threats, organizations must seek to better understand their own networks to recognize whenever something is, ever so slightly, amiss.

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.
AUTHOR
ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
Max Heinemeyer
Chief Product Officer

Max is a cyber security expert with over a decade of experience in the field, specializing in a wide range of areas such as Penetration Testing, Red-Teaming, SIEM and SOC consulting and hunting Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups. At Darktrace, Max is closely involved with Darktrace’s strategic customers & prospects. He works with the R&D team at Darktrace, shaping research into new AI innovations and their various defensive and offensive applications. Max’s insights are regularly featured in international media outlets such as the BBC, Forbes and WIRED. Max holds an MSc from the University of Duisburg-Essen and a BSc from the Cooperative State University Stuttgart in International Business Information Systems.

Book a 1-1 meeting with one of our experts
share this article
USE CASES
No items found.
PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT
No items found.
COre coverage
No items found.

More in this series

No items found.

Blog

Thought Leadership

The State of AI in Cybersecurity: Understanding AI Technologies

Default blog imageDefault blog image
24
Jul 2024

About the State of AI Cybersecurity Report

Darktrace surveyed 1,800 CISOs, security leaders, administrators, and practitioners from industries around the globe. Our research was conducted to understand how the adoption of new AI-powered offensive and defensive cybersecurity technologies are being managed by organizations.

This blog continues the conversation from “The State of AI in Cybersecurity: Unveiling Global Insights from 1,800 Security Practitioners”. This blog will focus on security professionals’ understanding of AI technologies in cybersecurity tools.

To access download the full report, click here.

How familiar are security professionals with supervised machine learning

Just 31% of security professionals report that they are “very familiar” with supervised machine learning.

Many participants admitted unfamiliarity with various AI types. Less than one-third felt "very familiar" with the technologies surveyed: only 31% with supervised machine learning and 28% with natural language processing (NLP).

Most participants were "somewhat" familiar, ranging from 46% for supervised machine learning to 36% for generative adversarial networks (GANs). Executives and those in larger organizations reported the highest familiarity.

Combining "very" and "somewhat" familiar responses, 77% had familiarity with supervised machine learning, 74% generative AI, and 73% NLP. With generative AI getting so much media attention, and NLP being the broader area of AI that encompasses generative AI, these results may indicate that stakeholders are understanding the topic on the basis of buzz, not hands-on work with the technologies.  

If defenders hope to get ahead of attackers, they will need to go beyond supervised learning algorithms trained on known attack patterns and generative AI. Instead, they’ll need to adopt a comprehensive toolkit comprised of multiple, varied AI approaches—including unsupervised algorithms that continuously learn from an organization’s specific data rather than relying on big data generalizations.  

Different types of AI

Different types of AI have different strengths and use cases in cyber security. It’s important to choose the right technique for what you’re trying to achieve.  

Supervised machine learning: Applied more often than any other type of AI in cyber security. Trained on human attack patterns and historical threat intelligence.  

Large language models (LLMs): Applies deep learning models trained on extremely large data sets to understand, summarize, and generate new content. Used in generative AI tools.  

Natural language processing (NLP): Applies computational techniques to process and understand human language.  

Unsupervised machine learning: Continuously learns from raw, unstructured data to identify deviations that represent true anomalies.  

What impact will generative AI have on the cybersecurity field?

More than half of security professionals (57%) believe that generative AI will have a bigger impact on their field over the next few years than other types of AI.

Chart showing the types of AI expected to impact security the most
Figure 1: Chart from Darktrace's State of AI in Cybersecurity Report

Security stakeholders are highly aware of generative AI and LLMs, viewing them as pivotal to the field's future. Generative AI excels at abstracting information, automating tasks, and facilitating human-computer interaction. However, LLMs can "hallucinate" due to training data errors and are vulnerable to prompt injection attacks. Despite improvements in securing LLMs, the best cyber defenses use a mix of AI types for enhanced accuracy and capability.

AI education is crucial as industry expectations for generative AI grow. Leaders and practitioners need to understand where and how to use AI while managing risks. As they learn more, there will be a shift from generative AI to broader AI applications.

Do security professionals fully understand the different types of AI in security products?

Only 26% of security professionals report a full understanding of the different types of AI in use within security products.

Confusion is prevalent in today’s marketplace. Our survey found that only 26% of respondents fully understand the AI types in their security stack, while 31% are unsure or confused by vendor claims. Nearly 65% believe generative AI is mainly used in cybersecurity, though it’s only useful for identifying phishing emails. This highlights a gap between user expectations and vendor delivery, with too much focus on generative AI.

Key findings include:

  • Executives and managers report higher understanding than practitioners.
  • Larger organizations have better understanding due to greater specialization.

As AI evolves, vendors are rapidly introducing new solutions faster than practitioners can learn to use them. There's a strong need for greater vendor transparency and more education for users to maximize the technology's value.

To help ease confusion around AI technologies in cybersecurity, Darktrace has released the CISO’s Guide to Cyber AI. A comprehensive white paper that categorizes the different applications of AI in cybersecurity. Download the White Paper here.  

Do security professionals believe generative AI alone is enough to stop zero-day threats?

No! 86% of survey participants believe generative AI alone is NOT enough to stop zero-day threats

This consensus spans all geographies, organization sizes, and roles, though executives are slightly less likely to agree. Asia-Pacific participants agree more, while U.S. participants agree less.

Despite expecting generative AI to have the most impact, respondents recognize its limited security use cases and its need to work alongside other AI types. This highlights the necessity for vendor transparency and varied AI approaches for effective security across threat prevention, detection, and response.

Stakeholders must understand how AI solutions work to ensure they offer advanced, rather than outdated, threat detection methods. The survey shows awareness that old methods are insufficient.

To access the full report, click here.

Continue reading
About the author
The Darktrace Community

Blog

Inside the SOC

Jupyter Ascending: Darktrace’s Investigation of the Adaptive Jupyter Information Stealer

Default blog imageDefault blog image
18
Jul 2024

What is Malware as a Service (MaaS)?

Malware as a Service (MaaS) is a model where cybercriminals develop and sell or lease malware to other attackers.

This approach allows individuals or groups with limited technical skills to launch sophisticated cyberattacks by purchasing or renting malware tools and services. MaaS is often provided through online marketplaces on the dark web, where sellers offer various types of malware, including ransomware, spyware, and trojans, along with support services such as updates and customer support.

The Growing MaaS Marketplace

The Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) marketplace is rapidly expanding, with new strains of malware being regularly introduced and attracting waves of new and previous attackers. The low barrier for entry, combined with the subscription-like accessibility and lucrative business model, has made MaaS a prevalent tool for cybercriminals. As a result, MaaS has become a significant concern for organizations and their security teams, necessitating heightened vigilance and advanced defense strategies.

Examples of Malware as a Service

  • Ransomware as a Service (RaaS): Providers offer ransomware kits that allow users to launch ransomware attacks and share the ransom payments with the service provider.
  • Phishing as a Service: Services that provide phishing kits, including templates and email lists, to facilitate phishing campaigns.
  • Botnet as a Service: Renting out botnets to perform distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or other malicious activities.
  • Information Stealer: Information stealers are a type of malware specifically designed to collect sensitive data from infected systems, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, personal identification information, and other valuable data.

How does information stealer malware work?

Information stealers are an often-discussed type MaaS tool used to harvest personal and proprietary information such as administrative credentials, banking information, and cryptocurrency wallet details. This information is then exfiltrated from target networks via command-and-control (C2) communication, allowing threat actors to monetize the data. Information stealers have also increasingly been used as an initial access vector for high impact breaches including ransomware attacks, employing both double and triple extortion tactics.

After investigating several prominent information stealers in recent years, the Darktrace Threat Research team launched an investigation into indicators of compromise (IoCs) associated with another variant in late 2023, namely the Jupyter information stealer.

What is Jupyter information stealer and how does it work?

The Jupyter information stealer (also known as Yellow Cockatoo, SolarMarker, and Polazert) was first observed in the wild in late 2020. Multiple variants have since become part of the wider threat landscape, however, towards the end of 2023 a new variant was observed. This latest variant achieved greater stealth and updated its delivery method, targeting browser extensions such as Edge, Firefox, and Chrome via search engine optimization (SEO) poisoning and malvertising. This then redirects users to download malicious files that typically impersonate legitimate software, and finally initiates the infection and the attack chain for Jupyter [3][4]. In recently noted cases, users download malicious executables for Jupyter via installer packages created using InnoSetup – an open-source compiler used to create installation packages in the Windows OS.

The latest release of Jupyter reportedly takes advantage of signed digital certificates to add credibility to downloaded executables, further supplementing its already existing tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for detection evasion and sophistication [4]. Jupyter does this while still maintaining features observed in other iterations, such as dropping files into the %TEMP% folder of a system and using PowerShell to decrypt and load content into memory [4]. Another reported feature includes backdoor functionality such as:

  • C2 infrastructure
  • Ability to download and execute malware
  • Execution of PowerShell scripts and commands
  • Injecting shellcode into legitimate windows applications

Darktrace Coverage of Jupyter information stealer

In September 2023, Darktrace’s Threat Research team first investigated Jupyter and discovered multiple IoCs and TTPs associated with the info-stealer across the customer base. Across most investigated networks during this time, Darktrace observed the following activity:

  • HTTP POST requests over destination port 80 to rare external IP addresses (some of these connections were also made via port 8089 and 8090 with no prior hostname lookup).
  • HTTP POST requests specifically to the root directory of a rare external endpoint.
  • Data streams being sent to unusual external endpoints
  • Anomalous PowerShell execution was observed on numerous affected networks.

Taking a further look at the activity patterns detected, Darktrace identified a series of HTTP POST requests within one customer’s environment on December 7, 2023. The HTTP POST requests were made to the root directory of an external IP address, namely 146.70.71[.]135, which had never previously been observed on the network. This IP address was later reported to be malicious and associated with Jupyter (SolarMarker) by open-source intelligence (OSINT) [5].

Device Event Log indicating several connections from the source device to the rare external IP address 146.70.71[.]135 over port 80.
Figure 1: Device Event Log indicating several connections from the source device to the rare external IP address 146.70.71[.]135 over port 80.

This activity triggered the Darktrace / NETWORK model, ‘Anomalous Connection / Posting HTTP to IP Without Hostname’. This model alerts for devices that have been seen posting data out of the network to rare external endpoints without a hostname. Further investigation into the offending device revealed a significant increase in external data transfers around the time Darktrace alerted the activity.

This External Data Transfer graph demonstrates a spike in external data transfer from the internal device indicated at the top of the graph on December 7, 2023, with a time lapse shown of one week prior.
Figure 2: This External Data Transfer graph demonstrates a spike in external data transfer from the internal device indicated at the top of the graph on December 7, 2023, with a time lapse shown of one week prior.

Packet capture (PCAP) analysis of this activity also demonstrates possible external data transfer, with the device observed making a POST request to the root directory of the malicious endpoint, 146.70.71[.]135.

PCAP of a HTTP POST request showing streams of data being sent to the endpoint, 146.70.71[.]135.
Figure 3: PCAP of a HTTP POST request showing streams of data being sent to the endpoint, 146.70.71[.]135.

In other cases investigated by the Darktrace Threat Research team, connections to the rare external endpoint 67.43.235[.]218 were detected on port 8089 and 8090. This endpoint was also linked to Jupyter information stealer by OSINT sources [6].

Darktrace recognized that such suspicious connections represented unusual activity and raised several model alerts on multiple customer environments, including ‘Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections’ and ‘Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port’.

In one instance, a device that was observed performing many suspicious connections to 67.43.235[.]218 was later observed making suspicious HTTP POST connections to other malicious IP addresses. This included 2.58.14[.]246, 91.206.178[.]109, and 78.135.73[.]176, all of which had been linked to Jupyter information stealer by OSINT sources [7] [8] [9].

Darktrace further observed activity likely indicative of data streams being exfiltrated to Jupyter information stealer C2 endpoints.

Graph displaying the significant increase in the number of HTTP POST requests with No Get made by an affected device, likely indicative of Jupyter information stealer C2 activity.
Figure 4: Graph displaying the significant increase in the number of HTTP POST requests with No Get made by an affected device, likely indicative of Jupyter information stealer C2 activity.

In several cases, Darktrace was able to leverage customer integrations with other security vendors to add additional context to its own model alerts. For example, numerous customers who had integrated Darktrace with Microsoft Defender received security integration alerts that enriched Darktrace’s model alerts with additional intelligence, linking suspicious activity to Jupyter information stealer actors.

The security integration model alerts ‘Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection’ and (right image) ‘Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection’, linking suspicious activity observed by Darktrace with Jupyter information stealer (SolarMarker).
Figure 5: The security integration model alerts ‘Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection’ and (right image) ‘Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection’, linking suspicious activity observed by Darktrace with Jupyter information stealer (SolarMarker).

Conclusion

The MaaS ecosystems continue to dominate the current threat landscape and the increasing sophistication of MaaS variants, featuring advanced defense evasion techniques, poses significant risks once deployed on target networks.

Leveraging anomaly-based detections is crucial for staying ahead of evolving MaaS threats like Jupyter information stealer. By adopting AI-driven security tools like Darktrace / NETWORK, organizations can more quickly identify and effectively detect and respond to potential threats as soon as they emerge. This is especially crucial given the rise of stealthy information stealing malware strains like Jupyter which cannot only harvest and steal sensitive data, but also serve as a gateway to potentially disruptive ransomware attacks.

Credit to Nahisha Nobregas (Senior Cyber Analyst), Vivek Rajan (Cyber Analyst)

References

1.     https://www.paloaltonetworks.com/cyberpedia/what-is-multi-extortion-ransomware

2.     https://flashpoint.io/blog/evolution-stealer-malware/

3.     https://blogs.vmware.com/security/2023/11/jupyter-rising-an-update-on-jupyter-infostealer.html

4.     https://www.morphisec.com/hubfs/eBooks_and_Whitepapers/Jupyter%20Infostealer%20WEB.pdf

5.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/146.70.71.135

6.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/67.43.235.218/community

7.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/2.58.14.246/community

8.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/91.206.178.109/community

9.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/78.135.73.176/community

Appendices

Darktrace Model Detections

  • Anomalous Connection / Posting HTTP to IP Without Hostname
  • Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data to New Endpoints
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Excessive Posts to Root
  • Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
  • Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection
  • Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data Transfer

AI Analyst Incidents:

  • Unusual Repeated Connections
  • Possible HTTP Command and Control to Multiple Endpoints
  • Possible HTTP Command and Control

List of IoCs

Indicators – Type – Description

146.70.71[.]135

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

91.206.178[.]109

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

146.70.92[.]153

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

2.58.14[.]246

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

78.135.73[.]176

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

217.138.215[.]105

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

185.243.115[.]88

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

146.70.80[.]66

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

23.29.115[.]186

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

67.43.235[.]218

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

217.138.215[.]85

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

193.29.104[.]25

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

Continue reading
About the author
Nahisha Nobregas
SOC Analyst
Our ai. Your data.

Elevate your cyber defenses with Darktrace AI

Start your free trial
Darktrace AI protecting a business from cyber threats.