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QuickBooks Impersonation Phishing Exposed

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23
Jun 2020
23
Jun 2020
Protect your business from QuickBooks impersonation phishing attacks with Darktrace Email and learn how to defend against cyber threats.

Recently in the Darktrace Blog we’ve explored how the current working conditions have resulted in a huge surge in spoofing and impersonation attacks, where attackers masquerade either as trusted colleagues or familiar brands.

These types of email attacks continue to be a successful tactic for cyber-criminals. Forever responsive and adaptive, attackers are taking advantage of the disruption to everyday operations by impersonating credible suppliers to send in fake invoices and other fraudulent emails.

How AI caught a fake invoice attack

This blog explores a string of counterfeit invoices sent to dozens of employees at a cutting-edge technology company. With valuable IP and several research labs, the company is a prime target for organized and ambitious cyber-criminals seeking maximum financial reward for their campaigns. In this particular incident, the threat-actors convincingly impersonated QuickBooks, a leading provider of book-keeping and accounting software, and part of the Intuit group which includes other recognizable brands like TurboTax and Mint.

The spoofed emails contained an invoice notification that closely imitated a legitimate monthly invoice that the organization would expect to receive from QuickBooks. If successfully delivered to the inbox, these would have appeared to come from quickbooks@notification.intuit[.]com.

The ‘invoice’ attached to these emails was actually a macro-containing Office document.

Figure 1: The malicious attachment shown in the Threat Visualizer

The source of the spoofed emails was an IP address in Italy. Since this falls outside the range of IPs that are permitted by Intuit to send mail on their behalf, this breached the SPF model breach within Antigena Email.

However, that in itself was not the main cause for Darktrace/Email’s detection – any mail server can run an SPF check. The primary factor behind the 100% anomaly score that Darktrace/Email assigned these emails was the high sender history of the email address – Darktrace was able to see that the failed SPF results were particularly suspicious against the background of SPF passes usually assigned to quickbooks@notification.intuit[.]com.

In addition, Darktrace/Email recognized that it would be highly unusual for this group of recipients, across multiple departments, to be receiving the same email from the same source – particularly of that particular subject matter. This caused the Cyber AI to hold the emails back in some cases, and in others it took the action to ‘unspoof’ the email, revealing that the invoice was not in fact from Quickbooks.

Figure 2: Five of the offending emails, deemed 100% anomalous by Darktrace/Email

The above illustrates how these emails appeared in Darktrace’s Threat Visualizer, in comparison to normal legitimate invoices below. Note the identical sender address and similar style of subject line. Had Darktrace’s AI not been analyzing every inbound email in real time, these attacks would have been highly likely to succeed.

Figure 3: Genuine invoices received from Intuit in the same week

The below is a full list of the model breaches piled onto these emails, producing the overall anomaly score of 100% seen above.

Attachment/Dangerous AttachmentAttachment/SPF Anomalous AttachmentAttachment/Spoof Sender AttachmentAttachment/Unsolicited AttachmentSpoof/Meta Popular Domain SpoofType/High Sender HistoryUnusual/Behavioral AnomalyUnusual/Connection AnomaliesValidation/SPF AnomalousValidation/SPF Fail Known Correspondent

Catching the full range of email attacks

Thankfully, the organization in question was an early adopter of a Self-Learning, AI-powered approach to email security, and the attack was contained at an early stage. But this attack is nothing extraordinary – and these kind of impersonation attempts are affecting organizations across every industry on a daily basis.

The extension of the tax season in the US this year has brought with it a widened opportunity for cyber-criminals to exploit the flurry of activity with fake invoices and other similar attacks. Predictably, a second surge of attacks targeting individuals and small businesses has been reported.

We have already seen an increase of COVID-19 related email attacks. With attackers impersonating trusted brands like Intuit’s TurboTax and QuickBooks, the necessity for defenders to adopt Cyber AI as part of their email security defense is more prevalent than ever.

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
Mariana Pereira
VP, Cyber Innovation

Mariana is the VP of Cyber Innovation at Darktrace, and works closely with the development, analyst, and marketing teams to advise technical and non-technical audiences on how best to augment cyber resilience, and how to implement AI technology as a means of defense. She speaks regularly at international events, with a specialism in presenting on sophisticated, AI-powered email attacks. She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago, and speaks several languages including French, Italian, and Portuguese.

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Thought Leadership

The State of AI in Cybersecurity: Understanding AI Technologies

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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.

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Inside the SOC

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

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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

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About the author
Nahisha Nobregas
SOC Analyst
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