Inside the SOC

Cutting Through the Noise: An Analysis of Post-Exploitation Activity on PaperCut Servers

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Aug 2023
Aug 2023


Malicious cyber actors are known to exploit vulnerabilities in Internet-facing systems and services to gain entry to organizations’ digital environments. Keeping track of the vulnerabilities which malicious actors are exploiting is seemingly futile, with malicious actors continually finding new avenues of exploitation.  

In mid-April 2023, Darktrace, along with the wider security community, observed malicious cyber actors gaining entry to networks through exploitation of a critical vulnerability in the print management system, PaperCut. Darktrace observed two types of attack chain within its customer base, one involving the deployment of payloads to facilitate crypto-mining, and the other involving the deployment of a payload to facilitate Tor-based command-and-control (C2) communication.

Walking Through the Front Door

One of the most widely abused Initial Access methods attackers use to gain entry to an organization’s digital environment is the exploitation of vulnerabilities in Internet-facing systems and services [1]. The public disclosure of a critical vulnerability in a widely used, Internet-facing service, along with a proof of concept (POC) exploit for such vulnerability, provides malicious cyber actors with a key to the front door of countless organizations. Once malicious actors are in possession of such a key, security teams are in a race against time to patch all their vulnerable systems and services. But until organizations accomplish this, the doors are left open.

This year, the security community has seen malicious actors gaining entry to networks through the exploitation of vulnerabilities in a range of services. These services include familiar suspects, such as Microsoft Exchange and ManageEngine, along with less familiar suspects, such as PaperCut. PaperCut is a system for managing and tracking printing, copying, and scanning activity within organizations. In 2021, PaperCut was used in more than 50,000 sites across over 100 countries [2], making PaperCut a widely used print management system.

In January 2023, Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) notified PaperCut of a critical RCE vulnerability, namely CVE-2023–27350, in certain versions of PaperCut NG (PaperCut’s ‘print only’ variant) and PaperCut MF (PaperCut’s ‘extended feature’ variant) [3,4]. In March 2023, PaperCut released versions of PaperCut NG and PaperCut MF containing a fix for CVE-2023–27350 [4]. Despite this, security teams observed a surge in cases of malicious actors exploiting CVE-2023–27350 to compromise PaperCut servers in April 2023 [4-10]. This trend was mirrored in Darktrace’s customer base, where a surge in compromises of PaperCut servers was observed in April 2023.

Observed Attack Chains

In mid-April 2023, Darktrace identified two related clusters of attack chains. The attack chains within the first of these clusters involved Internet-facing PaperCut servers downloading payloads with crypto-mining capabilities from the external location, 50.19.48[.]59. While the attack chains within the second of the clusters involved Internet-facing PaperCut servers downloading payloads with Tor-based C2 capabilities from 192.184.35[.]216. The attack chains within the first cluster, which were observed on April 22, 2023, will be referred to as ‘50.19.48[.]59 chains’ and the attack chains in the second cluster, observed on April 24, 2023, will be called ‘192.184.35[.]216 chains’.

Both attack chains started with highly unusual external endpoints contacting the '/SetupCompleted' endpoint of an Internet-facing PaperCut server. These requests to the ‘/SetupCompleted’ endpoint likely represented attempts to exploit CVE-2023–27350 [10].  50.19.48[.]59 chains started with exploit connections from the external endpoint, 85.106.112[.]60, whereas 192.184.35[.]216 chains started with exploit connections from Tor nodes, such as 185.34.33[.]2.

Figure 1: Darktrace’s Advanced Search data showing likely CVE-2023-27350 exploitation activity from the suspicious, external endpoint, 85.106.112[.]60.

After the exploitation step, the two attack chains took different paths. In the 50.19.48[.]59 chains, the exploitation step was followed by the affected PaperCut server making HTTP GET requests over port 82 to the rare external endpoint, 50.19.48[.]59. In the 192.184.35[.]216 chains, the exploitation step was followed by the affected PaperCut server making an HTTP GET request over port 443 to 192.184.35[.]216.

The HTTP GET requests to 50.19.48[.]59 had Target URIs such as ‘/me1.bat’, ‘/me2.bat’, ‘/’, ‘/mazar.bat’, and ‘/’, whilst the HTTP GET requests to 192.184.35[.]216 had the Target URI ‘/4591187629.exe’. The User-Agent header of the GET requests to 192.184.35[.]216 indicated that that the malicious file transfers were initiated through Microsoft’s pre-installed Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS).

Figure 2: Darktrace’s Advanced Search data showing a PaperCut server downloading Batch and ZIP files from 50.19.48[.]59 straight after receiving likely exploit connections from 85.106.112[.]60.
Figure 3: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server downloading an executable file from 192.184.35[.]216 immediately after receiving a likely exploit connection from the Tor node, 185.34.33[.]2.

Downloads from 50.19.48[.]59 were followed by cURL GET requests to 138.68.61[.]82 and then connections to external endpoints associated with the cryptocurrency miner, Mimu (as seen in Fig 4). Downloads from 192.184.35[.]216 were followed by Python-urllib GET requests to api.ipify[.]org and long connections to Tor nodes (as seen in Fig 5).  

These facts suggest that the actor behind the 50.19.48[.]59 chains were seeking to drop cryptocurrency miners on PaperCut servers, with the intention of abusing the customer’s network to carry out resource intensive and costly cryptocurrency mining activity. Meanwhile, the actors behind the 192.184.35[.]216 chains were likely attempting to establish a Tor-based C2 channel with PaperCut servers to allow actors to further communicate with compromised devices.

Figure 4: Darktrace's Event Log data showing a PaperCut contacting 50.19.48[.]59 to download payloads, and then making a cURL request to 138.68.61[.]82 before contacting a Mimu crypto-mining endpoint.
Figure 5: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server contacting 192.184.35[.]216 to download a payload, and then making connections to api.ipify[.]org and several Tor nodes.

The activities ensuing from both attack chains were varied, making it difficult to ascertain whether the activities were steps of separate attack chains, or steps of the existing 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains. A wide variety of activities ensued from observed 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains, including the abuse of pre-installed tools, such as cURL, CertUtil, and PowerShell to transfer further payloads to PaperCut servers, Cobalt Strike C2 communication, Ngrok usage, Mimikatz usage, AnyDesk usage, and in one case, detonation of the LockBit ransomware strain.

Figure 6: Diagram representing the steps of observed 50.19.48[.]59 chains.
Figure 7: Diagram representing the steps of observed 192.184.35[.]215 chains.

As the PaperCut servers that were targeted by malicious actors are Internet-facing, they regularly receive connections from unusual external endpoints. The exploit connections in the 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains, which originated from unusual external endpoints, were therefore not detected by Darktrace DETECT™, which relies on anomaly-based methods to detect network-based steps of an intrusion.

On the other hand, the post-exploitation steps of the 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains yielded ample anomaly-based detections, given that they consisted of PaperCut servers displaying highly unusual behaviors. As such Darktrace DETECT was able to successfully identify multiple chains of suspicious activity, including unusual file downloads from external endpoints and beaconing activity to rare external locations.

The file downloads from 50.19.48[.]59 observed in the 50.19.48[.]59 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

- Anomalous File / Internet Facing System File Download

- Anomalous File / Script from Rare External Location

- Anomalous File / Zip or Gzip from Rare External Location

- Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

Figure 8: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching several models immediately after contacting 50.19.48[.]59.

The file downloads from 192.184.35[.]216 observed in the 192.184.35[.]216 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

- Anomalous File / Numeric File Download

- Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

Figure 9: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching several models immediately after contacting 192.184.35[.]216.

Subsequent C2, beaconing, and crypto-mining connections in the 50.19.48[.]59 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

- Anomalous Server Activity / New User Agent from Internet Facing System

- Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server

- Compromise / Crypto Currency Mining Activity

- Compromise / High Priority Crypto Currency Mining

- Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score

- Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections

- Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination

- Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

- Device / Large Number of Model Breaches

Figure 10: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching models as a result of its connections to a Mimu crypto-mining endpoint.

Subsequent C2, beaconing, and Tor connections in the 192.184.35[.]216 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

- Compromise / Anomalous File then Tor

- Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

- Compromise / Possible Tor Usage

- Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare

- Compromise / Uncommon Tor Usage

- Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

Figure 11: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching several models as a result of its connections to Tor nodes.

Darktrace RESPOND

Darktrace RESPOND™ was not active in any of the networks affected by 192.184.35[.]216 activity, however, RESPOND was active in some of the networks affected by 50.19.48[.]59 activity.  In those environments where RESPOND was enabled in autonomous mode, observed malicious activities resulted in intervention from RESPOND, including autonomous actions like blocking connections to specific external endpoints, blocking all outgoing traffic, and restricting affected devices to a pre-established pattern of behavior.

Figure 12: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing Darktrace RESPOND automatically performing inhibitive actions on a device in response to the device’s connection to 50.19.48[.]59.
Figure 13: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing Darktrace RESPOND automatically performing inhibitive actions on a device in response to the device’s connections to a Mimu crypto-mining endpoint.

Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst

Cyber AI Analyst autonomously investigated model breaches caused by events within these 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains. Cyber AI Analyst created user-friendly and detailed descriptions of these events, and then linked together these descriptions into threads representing the attack chains. Darktrace DETECT thus uncovered the individual steps of the attack chains, while Cyber AI Analyst was able to piece together the individual steps and uncover the attack chains themselves.  

Figure 14: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the first event in a 50.19.48[.]59 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 15: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the second event in a 50.19.48[.]59 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 16: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the third event in a 50.19.48[.]59 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 17: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the first event in a 192.184.35[.]216 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 18: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the second event in a 192.184.35[.]216 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.


The existence of critical vulnerabilities in third-party software leaves organizations at constant risk of malicious actors breaching the perimeters of their networks. This risk can be mitigated through attack surface management and regular patching. However, this does not eliminate cyber risk entirely, meaning that organizations must be prepared for the eventuality of malicious actors getting inside their digital estate.

In April 2023, Darktrace observed malicious actors breaching the perimeters of several customer networks through exploitation of a critical vulnerability in PaperCut. Darktrace DETECT observed actors exploiting PaperCut servers to conduct a wide variety of post-exploitation activities, including downloading malicious payloads associated with cryptocurrency mining or payloads with Tor-based C2 capabilities. Darktrace DETECT created numerous model breaches based on this activity which alerted then customer’s security teams early in their development, providing them with ample time to take mitigative steps.

The successful detection of this payload delivery activity, along with the crypto-mining, beaconing, and Tor C2 activities which followed, elicited Darktrace RESPOND to take autonomous inhibitive action against the ongoing activity in those environments where it was operating in autonomous response mode.

If left to unfold, these intrusions developed in a variety of ways, in some cases leading to Cobalt Strike and ransomware activity. The detection of these intrusions in their early stages thus played a vital role in preventing malicious cyber actors from causing significant disruption.

Credit to: Sam Lister, Senior SOC Analyst, Zoe Tilsiter, Senior Cyber Analyst.



Initial Access techniques:

- Exploit Public-Facing Application (T1190)

Execution techniques:

- Command and Scripting Interpreter: PowerShell (T1059.001)

Discovery techniques:

- System Network Configuration Discovery (T1016)

Command and Control techniques

- Application Layer Protocol: Web Protocols (T1071.001)

- Encrypted Channel: Asymmetric Cryptography (T1573.002)

- Ingress Tool Transfer (T1105)

- Non-Standard Port (T1571)

- Protocol Tunneling (T1572)

- Proxy: Multi-hop Proxy (T1090.003)

- Remote Access Software (T1219)

Defense Evasion techniques:

- BITS Jobs (T1197)

Impact techniques:

- Data Encrypted for Impact (T1486)

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoCs from 50.19.48[.]59 attack chains:

- 85.106.112[.]60

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/me1.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/me2.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/

- 138.68.61[.]82

- update.mimu-me[.]cyou • 102.130.112[.]157

- 34.195.77[.]216

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/mazar.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/prx.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/lol.exe  

- http://77.91.85[.]117/122.exe

- windows.n1tro[.]cyou • 176.28.51[.]151

- 77.91.85[.]117

- 91.149.237[.]76

- kernel-mlclosoft[.]site • 104.21.29[.]206

-[.]com • 3.134.73[.]173

- 212.113.116[.]105

- c34a54599a1fbaf1786aa6d633545a60 (JA3 client fingerprint of crypto-mining client)

IoCs from 192.184.35[.]216 attack chains:

- 185.56.83[.]83

- 185.34.33[.]2

- http://192.184.35[.]216:443/4591187629.exe

- api.ipify[.]org • 104.237.62[.]211

- www.67m4ipctvrus4cv4qp[.]com • 192.99.43[.]171

- www.ynbznxjq2sckwq3i[.]com • 51.89.106[.]29

- www.kuo2izmlm2silhc[.]com • 51.89.106[.]29

- 148.251.136[.]16

- 51.158.231[.]208

- 51.75.153[.]22

- 82.66.61[.]19

- backmainstream-ltd[.]com • 77.91.72[.]149

- 159.65.42[.]223

- 185.254.37[.]236

- http://137.184.56[.]77:443/for.ps1

- http://137.184.56[.]77:443/c.bat

- 45.88.66[.]59

- http://5.8.18[.]237/download/Load64.exe

- http://5.8.18[.]237/download/sdb64.dll

- 140e0f0cad708278ade0984528fe8493 (JA3 client fingerprint of Tor-based client)













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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.
Sam Lister
SOC Analyst
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Inside the SOC

Protecting Prospects: How Darktrace Detected an Account Hijack Within Days of Deployment

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Sep 2023

Cloud Migration Expanding the Attack Surface

Cloud migration is here to stay – accelerated by pandemic lockdowns, there has been an ongoing increase in the use of public cloud services, and Gartner has forecasted worldwide public cloud spending to grow around 20%, or by almost USD 600 billion [1], in 2023. With more and more organizations utilizing cloud services and moving their operations to the cloud, there has also been a corresponding shift in malicious activity targeting cloud-based software and services, including Microsoft 365, a prominent and oft-used Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

With the adoption and implementation of more SaaS products, the overall attack surface of an organization increases – this gives malicious actors additional opportunities to exploit and compromise a network, necessitating proper controls to be in place. This increased attack surface can leave organization’s open to cyber risks like cloud misconfigurations, supply chain attacks and zero-day vulnerabilities [2]. In order to achieve full visibility over cloud activity and prevent SaaS compromise, it is paramount for security teams to deploy sophisticated security measures that are able to learn an organization’s SaaS environment and detect suspicious activity at the earliest stage.

Darktrace Immediately Detects Hijacked Account

In May 2023, Darktrace observed a chain of suspicious SaaS activity on the network of a customer who was about to begin their trial of Darktrace/Cloud™ and Darktrace/Email™. Despite being deployed on the network for less than a week, Darktrace DETECT™ recognized that the legitimate SaaS account, belonging to an executive at the organization, had been hijacked. Darktrace/Email was able to provide full visibility over inbound and outbound mail and identified that the compromised account was subsequently used to launch an internal spear-phishing campaign.

If Darktrace RESPOND™ were enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of this compromise, it would have been able to take swift preventative action to disrupt the account compromise and prevent the ensuing phishing attack.

Account Hijack Attack Overview

Unusual External Sources for SaaS Credentials

On May 9, 2023, Darktrace DETECT/Cloud detected the first in a series of anomalous activities performed by a Microsoft 365 user account that was indicative of compromise, namely a failed login from an external IP address located in Virginia.

Figure 1: The failed login notice, as seen in Darktrace DETECT/Cloud. The notice includes additional context about the failed login attempt to the SaaS account.

Just a few minutes later, Darktrace observed the same user credential being used to successfully login from the same unusual IP address, with multi-factor authentication (MFA) requirements satisfied.

Figure 2: The “Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use” model breach summary, showing the successful login to the SaaS user account (with MFA), from the rare external IP address.

A few hours after this, the user credential was once again used to login from a different city in the state of Virginia, with MFA requirements successfully met again. Around the time of this activity, the SaaS user account was also observed previewing various business-related files hosted on Microsoft SharePoint, behavior that, taken in isolation, did not appear to be out of the ordinary and could have represented legitimate activity.

The following day, May 10, however, there were additional login attempts observed from two different states within the US, namely Texas and Florida. Darktrace understood that this activity was extremely suspicious, as it was highly improbable that the legitimate user would be able to travel over 2,500 miles in such a short period of time. Both login attempts were successful and passed MFA requirements, suggesting that the malicious actor was employing techniques to bypass MFA. Such MFA bypass techniques could include inserting malicious infrastructure between the user and the application and intercepting user credentials and tokens, or by compromising browser cookies to bypass authentication controls [3]. There have also been high-profile cases in the recent years of legitimate users mistakenly (and perhaps even instinctively) accepting MFA prompts on their token or mobile device, believing it to be a legitimate process despite not having performed the login themselves.

New Email Rule

On the evening of May 10, following the successful logins from multiple US states, Darktrace observed the Microsoft 365 user creating a new inbox rule, named “.’, in Microsoft Outlook from an IP located in Florida. Threat actors are often observed naming new email rules with single characters, likely to evade detection, but also for the sake of expediency so as to not expend any additional time creating meaningful labels.

In this case the newly created email rules included several suspicious properties, including ‘AlwaysDeleteOutlookRulesBlob’, ‘StopProcessingRules’ and “MoveToFolder”.

Firstly, ‘AlwaysDeleteOutlookRulesBlob’ suppresses or hides warning messages that typically appear if modifications to email rules are made [4]. In this case, it is likely the malicious actor was attempting to implement this property to obfuscate the creation of new email rules.

The ‘StopProcessingRules’ rule meant that any subsequent email rules created by the legitimate user would be overridden by the email rule created by the malicious actor [5]. Finally, the implementation of “MoveToFolder” would allow the malicious actor to automatically move all outgoing emails from the “Sent” folder to the “Deleted Items” folder, for example, further obfuscating their malicious activities [6]. The utilization of these email rule properties is frequently observed during account hijackings as it allows attackers to delete and/or forward key emails, delete evidence of exploitation and launch phishing campaigns [7].

In this incident, the new email rule would likely have enabled the malicious actor to evade the detection of traditional security measures and achieve greater persistence using the Microsoft 365 account.

Figure 3: Screenshot of the “New Email Rule” model breach. The Office365 properties associated with the newly modified Microsoft Outlook inbox rule, “.”, are highlighted in red.

Account Update

A few hours after the creation of the new email rule, Darktrace observed the threat actor successfully changing the Microsoft 365 user’s account password, this time from a new IP address in Texas. As a result of this action, the attacker would have locked out the legitimate user, effectively gaining full access over the SaaS account.

Figure 4: The model breach event log showing the user password and token change updates performed by the compromised SaaS account.

Phishing Emails

The compromised SaaS account was then observed sending a high volume of suspicious emails to both internal and external email addresses. Darktrace was able to identify that the emails attempting to impersonate the legitimate service DocuSign and contained a malicious link prompting users to click on the text “Review Document”. Upon clicking this link, users would be redirected to a site hosted on Adobe Express, namely hxxps://express.adobe[.]com/page/A9ZKVObdXhN4p/.

Adobe Express is a free service that allows users to create web pages which can be hosted and shared publicly; it is likely that the threat actor here leveraged the service to use in their phishing campaign. When clicked, such links could result in a device unwittingly downloading malware hosted on the site, or direct unsuspecting users to a spoofed login page attempting to harvest user credentials by imitating legitimate companies like Microsoft.

Figure 5: Screenshot of the phishing email, containing a malicious link hidden behind the “Review Document” text. The embedded link directs to a now-defunct page that was hosted on Adobe Express.

The malicious site hosted on Adobe Express was subsequently taken down by Adobe, possibly in response to user reports of maliciousness. Unfortunately though, platforms like this that offer free webhosting services can easily and repeatedly be abused by malicious actors. Simply by creating new pages hosted on different IP addresses, actors are able to continue to carry out such phishing attacks against unsuspecting users.

In addition to the suspicious SaaS and email activity that took place between May 9 and May 10, Darktrace/Email also detected the compromised account sending and receiving suspicious emails starting on May 4, just two days after Darktrace’s initial deployment on the customer’s environment. It is probable that the SaaS account was compromised around this time, or even prior to Darktrace’s deployment on May 2, likely via a phishing and credential harvesting campaign similar to the one detailed above.

Figure 6: Event logs of the compromised SaaS user, here seen breaching several Darktrace/Email model breaches on 4th May.

Darktrace Coverage

As the customer was soon to begin their trial period, Darktrace RESPOND was set in “human confirmation” mode, meaning that any preventative RESPOND actions required manual application by the customer’s security team.

If Darktrace RESPOND had been enabled in autonomous response mode during this incident, it would have taken swift mitigative action by logging the suspicious user out of the SaaS account and disabling the account for a defined period of time, in doing so disrupting the attack at the earliest possible stage and giving the customer the necessary time to perform remediation steps.  As it was, however, these RESPOND actions were suggested to the customer’s security team for them to manually apply.

Figure 7: Example of Darktrace RESPOND notices, in response to the anomalous user activity.

Nevertheless, with Darktrace DETECT/Cloud in place, visibility over the anomalous cloud-based activities was significantly increased, enabling the swift identification of the chain of suspicious activities involved in this compromise.

In this case, the prospective customer reached out to Darktrace directly through the Ask the Expert (ATE) service. Darktrace’s expert analyst team then conducted a timely and comprehensive investigation into the suspicious activity surrounding this SaaS compromise, and shared these findings with the customer’s security team.


Ultimately, this example of SaaS account compromise highlights Darktrace’s unique ability to learn an organization’s digital environment and recognize activity that is deemed to be unexpected, within a matter of days.

Due to the lack of obvious or known indicators of compromise (IoCs) associated with the malicious activity in this incident, this account hijack would likely have gone unnoticed by traditional security tools that rely on a rules and signatures-based approach to threat detection. However, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI enables it to detect the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that could be indicative of an ongoing compromise.

Despite being newly deployed on a prospective customer’s network, Darktrace DETECT was able to identify unusual login attempts from geographically improbable locations, suspicious email rule updates, password changes, as well as the subsequent mounting of a phishing campaign, all before the customer’s trial of Darktrace had even begun.

When enabled in autonomous response mode, Darktrace RESPOND would be able to take swift preventative action against such activity as soon as it is detected, effectively shutting down the compromise and mitigating any subsequent phishing attacks.

With the full deployment of Darktrace’s suite of products, including Darktrace/Cloud and Darktrace/Email, customers can rest assured their critical data and systems are protected, even in the case of hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Credit: Samuel Wee, Senior Analyst Consultant & Model Developer










Darktrace Model Detections

Darktrace DETECT/Cloud and RESPOND Models Breached:

SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use

SaaS / Unusual Activity / Multiple Unusual External Sources for SaaS Credential

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Unusual Activity Block (RESPOND Model)

SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block

SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule (Enhanced Monitoring Model)

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block (RESPOND Model)

SaaS / Compromise / SaaS Anomaly Following Anomalous Login (Enhanced Monitoring Model)

SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Account Update

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block (RESPOND Model)

IoC – Type – Description & Confidence

hxxps://express.adobe[.]com/page/A9ZKVObdXhN4p/ - Domain – Probable Phishing Page (Now Defunct)

37.19.221[.]142 – IP Address – Unusual Login Source

35.174.4[.]92 – IP Address – Unusual Login Source


Tactic - Techniques


T1078.004 – Cloud Accounts


T1538 – Cloud Service Dashboards


T1539 – Steal Web Session Cookie


T1586 – Compromise Accounts


T1137.005 – Outlook Rules

Probability yardstick used to communicate the probability that statements or explanations given are correct.
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About the author
Min Kim
Cyber Security Analyst



Darktrace/Email in Action: Why AI-Driven Email Security is the Best Defense Against Sustained Phishing Campaigns

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Sep 2023

Stopping the bad while allowing the good

Since its inception, email has been regarded as one of the most important tools for businesses, revolutionizing communication and allowing global teams to become even more connected. But besides organizations heavily relying on email for their daily operations, threat actors have also recognized that the inbox is one of the easiest ways to establish an initial foothold on the network.

Today, not only are phishing campaigns and social engineering attacks becoming more prevalent, but the level of sophistication of these attacks are also increasing with the help of generative AI tools that allow for the creation of hyper-realistic emails with minimal errors, effectively lowering the barrier to entry for threat actors. These diverse and stealthy types of attacks evade traditional email security tools based on rules and signatures, because they are less likely to contain the low-sophistication markers of a typical phishing attack.  

In a situation where the sky is the limit for attackers and security teams are lean, how can teams equip themselves to tackle these threats? How can they accurately detect increasingly realistic malicious emails and neutralize these threats before it is too late? And importantly, how can email security block these threats while allowing legitimate emails to flow freely?

Instead of relying on past attack data, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI detects the slightest deviation from a user’s pattern of life and responds autonomously to contain potential threats, stopping novel attacks in their tracks before damage is caused. It doesn’t define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ like traditional email tools, rather it understands each user and what is normal for them – and what’s not.

This blog outlines how Darktrace/Email™ used its understanding of ‘normal’ to accurately detect and respond to a sustained phishing campaign targeting a real-life company.

Responding to a sustained phishing attack

Over the course of 24 hours, Darktrace detected multiple emails containing different subjects, all from different senders to different recipients in one organization. These emails were sent from different IP addresses, but all came from the same autonomous system number (ASN).

Figure 1: The sender freemail addresses and subject lines all followed a certain format. The subject lines followed the format of “<First name> <Last name>”, possibly to induce curiosity. The senders were all freemail accounts and contained first names, last names and some numbers, showing the attempts to make these email addresses appear legitimate.

The emails themselves had many suspicious indicators. All senders had no prior association with the recipient, and the emails generated a high general inducement score. This score is generated by structural and non-specific content analysis of the email – a high score indicates that the email is trying to induce the recipient into taking a particular action, which may lead to account compromise.

Additionally, each email contained a visually prominent link to a file storage service, hidden behind a shortened link. The similarities across all these emails pointed to a sustained campaign targeting the organization by a single threat actor.

Figure 2: One of the emails is shown above. Like all the other emails, it contained a highly suspicious and shortened link.
Figure 3: In another one of the emails, the link observed had similar characteristics. But this email stands out from the rest. The sender's name seems to be randomly set – the 3 alphabets are close to each other on the keyboard.

With all these suspicious indicators, many models were breached. This drove up the anomaly score, causing Darktrace/Email to hold all suspicious emails from the recipients’ inboxes, safeguarding the recipients from potential account compromise and disallowing the threats from taking hold in the network.

Imagining a phishing attack without Darktrace/Email

So what could have happened if Darktrace had not withheld these emails, and the recipients had clicked on the links? File storage sites have a wide variety of uses that allow attackers to be creative in their attack strategy. If the user had clicked on the shortened link, the possible consequences are numerous. The link could have led to a login page for unsuspecting victims to input their credentials, or it could have hosted malware that would automatically download if the link was clicked. With the compromised credentials, threat actors could even bypass MFA, change email rules, or gain privileged access to a network. The downloaded malware might also be a keylogger, leading to cryptojacking, or could open a back door for threat actors to return to at a later time.

Figure 4: Darktrace/Email highlights suspicious link characteristics and provides an option to preview the pages.
Figure 5: At the point of writing, both links could not be reached. This could be because they were one-time unique links created specifically for the user, and can no longer be accessed once the campaign has ceased.

The limits of traditional email security tools

Secure email gateways (SEGs) and static AI security tools may have found it challenging to detect this phishing campaign as malicious. While Darktrace was able to correlate these emails to determine that a sustained phishing campaign was taking place, the pattern among these emails is far too generic for specific rules as set in traditional security tools. If we take the characteristic of the freemail account sender as an example, setting a rule to block all emails from freemail accounts may lead to more legitimate emails being withheld, since these addresses have a variety of uses.

With these factors in mind, these emails could have easily slipped through traditional security filters and led to a devastating impact on the organization.


As threat actors step up their attacks in sophistication, prioritizing email security is more crucial than ever to preserving a safe digital environment. In response to these challenges, Darktrace/Email offers a set-and-forget solution that continuously learns and adapts to changes in the organization.  

Through an evolving understanding of every environment in which it is deployed, its threat response becomes increasingly precise in neutralizing only the bad, while allowing the good – delivering email security that doesn’t come at the expense of business growth.

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