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Double extortion ransomware

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18
May 2021
18
May 2021
With ransomware attacks against AXA ASIA, Colonial Pipeline, and Ireland’s Health Service last week, this blog explores how cyber-criminal groups are exfiltrating data to coerce victims into paying, in what is known as ‘double extortion’ ransomware.

A year and a half ago, ‘double extortion’ ransomware was being used by only one known threat actor. Now, over 16 ransomware groups actively utilize this tactic. So, what is it, and why has it become so popular?

What is double extortion ransomware?

The traditional story of ransomware was one of malicious code rapidly encrypting files with public-key RSA encryption, and then deleting those files if the victim did not pay the ransom.

However, after the infamous WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware campaigns over 2017, companies ramped up their cyber defense. More emphasis was placed on backups and restoration processes, so that even if files were destroyed, organizations had copies in place and could easily restore their data.

Yet in turn, cyber-criminals have also adapted their techniques. Now, rather than just encrypting files, double extortion ransomware exfiltrates the data first. This means that if the company refuses to pay up, information can be leaked online or sold to the highest bidder. Suddenly, all those backups and data recovery plans became worthless.

Maze ransomware and friends

In late 2019, Maze ransomware emerged as the first high-profile case of double extortion. Other strains soon followed, with the Sodinokibi attack — which crippled foreign exchange company Travelex — occurring on the final day of that year.

By mid-2020, hundreds of organizations were falling victim to double extortion attacks, various websites on the dark net were leaking company data, and the Ransomware-as-a-Service business was booming as developers sold and rented new types of malware.

Furthermore, cyber security regulations started being weaponized by cyber-criminals who could leverage the threat of having to pay a hefty compliance fine (CCPA, GDPR, NYSDFS regulations) to encourage their victims to keep quiet by offering them a ransom smaller than the penalty fee.

There were 1,200 double extortion ransomware incidents in 2020, across 63 countries, with over 60% of these aimed at the US and the UK.

Despite new legislation being written regularly to try and mitigate these attacks, they aren’t slowing down. According to a recent study by RUSI, there were 1,200 double extortion ransomware incidents in 2020 alone, across 63 different countries. 60% of these were aimed at organizations headquartered in the US, and the UK suffered the second highest number of breaches.

Last month, the cyber-criminal gang known as REvil released details about Apple’s new Macbook Pro on their site ‘Happy Blog’, threatening to release more blueprints and demanding a ransom of $50 million. And last week, Colonial Pipeline purportedly paid $5 million in bitcoin to recover from a devastating OT ransomware attack.

Anatomy of a double extortion ransomware attack

Darktrace has detected a huge upsurge in double extortion ransomware threats in the last year, most recently at an energy company based in Canada. The hackers had clearly done their homework, tailoring the attack to the company and moving quickly and stealthily once inside. Below is a timeline of this real-world incident, which was mostly carried out in the space of 24 hours.

Figure 1: A timeline of the attack

Darktrace detected every stage of the intrusion and notified the security team with high-priority alerts. If Darktrace Antigena had been active in the environment, the compromised server would have been isolated as soon as it began to behave anomalously, preventing the infection from spreading.

Encryption and exfiltration

The initial infection vector is not known, but the admin account was compromised most likely from a phishing link or a vulnerability exploit. This is indicative of a trend away from the widespread ‘spray and pray’ ransomware campaigns of the last decade, towards a more targeted approach.

Cyber AI identified an internal server engaging in unusual network scanning and attempted lateral movement using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Compromised admin credentials were used to spread rapidly from the server to another internal device, ‘serverps’.

The device ‘serverps’ initiated an outbound connection to TeamViewer, a legitimate file storage service, which was active for nearly 21 hours. This connection was used for remote control of the device and to facilitate the further stages of attack. Although TeamViewer was not in wide operation in the company’s digital environment, it was not blocked by any of the legacy defenses.

The device then connected to an internal file server and downloaded 1.95 TB of data, and uploaded the same volume of data to pcloud[.]com. This exfiltration took place during work hours to blend in with regular admin activity.

The device was also seen downloading Rclone software – an open source tool, which was likely applied to sync data automatically to the legitimate file storage service pCloud.

The compromised admin credential allowed the threat actor to move laterally during this time. Following the completion of the data exfiltration, the device ‘serverps’ finally began encrypting files on 12 devices with the extension *.06d79000.

As with the majority of ransomware incidents, the encryption happened outside of office hours – overnight in local time – to minimize the chance of the security team responding quickly.

AI-powered investigation

Cyber AI Analyst reported on four incidents related to the attack, highlighting the suspicious behavior to the security team and providing a report on the affected devices for immediate remediation. Such concise reporting allowed the security team to quickly identify the scope of the infection and respond accordingly.

Figure 2: Cyber AI Analyst incident tray for a week

Cyber AI Analyst investigates on demand

Following further analysis on March 13, the security team employed Cyber AI Analyst to conduct on-demand investigations into the compromised admin credential in Microsoft 365, as well as another device which was identified as a potential threat.

Cyber AI Analyst created an incident for this other device, which resulted in the identification of unusual port scanning during the time period of infection. The device was promptly removed from the network.

Figure 3: Cyber AI Analyst incident for a compromised device, detailing an unusual internal download

Double trouble

The use of legitimate tools and ‘Living off the Land’ techniques (using RDP and a compromised admin credential) allowed the threat actors to carry out the bulk of the attack in less than 24 hours. By exploiting TeamViewer as a legitimate file storage solution for the data exfiltration, as opposed to relying on a known ‘bad’ or recently registered domain, the hackers easily circumvented all the existing signature-based defenses.

If Darktrace had not detected this intrusion and immediately alerted the security team, the attack could have resulted not only in a ‘denial of business’ with employees locked out of their files, but also in sensitive data loss. The AI went a step further in saving the team vital time with automatic investigation and on-demand reporting.

There is so much more to lose from double extortion ransomware. Exfiltration provides another layer of risk, leading to compromised intellectual property, reputational damage, and compliance fines. Once a threat group has your data, they might easily ask for more payments down the line. It is important therefore to defend against these attacks before they happen, proactively implementing cyber security measures that can detect and autonomously respond to threats as soon as they emerge.

Learn more about double extortion ransomware.

Darktrace model detections:

  • Device / Suspicious Network Scan Activity
  • Device / RDP Scan
  • Device / Network Scan
  • Anomalous Connection / Unusual Admin SMB Session
  • Anomalous Connection / Unusual Admin RDP Session
  • Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches
  • User / New Admin Credentials on Client
  • Anomalous Connection / Uncommon 1 GiB Outbound
  • Anomalous Connection / Low and Slow Exfiltration
  • Device / Anomalous SMB Followed By Multiple Model
  • Anomalous Connection / Download and Upload
  • Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Activity On High Risk Device
  • Anomalous File / Internal::Additional Extension Appended to SMB File
  • Compromise / Ransomware::Suspicious SMB Activity
  • Anomalous Connection / Sustained MIME Type Conversion
  • Device / Anomalous RDP Followed By Multiple Model Breaches
  • Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Read Write Ratio
  • Device / Large Number of Model Breaches
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
Brianna Leddy
Director of Analysis

Based in San Francisco, Brianna is Director of Analysis at Darktrace. She joined the analyst team in 2016 and has since advised a wide range of enterprise customers on advanced threat hunting and leveraging Self-Learning AI for detection and response. Brianna works closely with the Darktrace SOC team to proactively alert customers to emerging threats and investigate unusual behavior in enterprise environments. Brianna holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

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Email

Looking Beyond Secure Email Gateways with the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/Email

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09
Apr 2024

Organizations Should Demand More from their Email Security

In response to a more intricate threat landscape, organizations should view email security as a critical component of their defense-in-depth strategy, rather than defending the inbox alone with a traditional Secure Email Gateway (SEG). Organizations need more than a traditional gateway – that doubles, instead of replaces, the capabilities provided by native security vendor – and require an equally granular degree of analysis across all messaging, including inbound, outbound, and lateral mail, plus Teams messages.  

Darktrace/Email is the industry’s most advanced cloud email security, powered by Self-Learning AI. It combines AI techniques to exceed the accuracy and efficiency of leading security solutions, and is the only security built to elevate, not duplicate, native email security.  

With its largest update ever, Darktrace/Email introduces the following innovations, finally allowing security teams to look beyond secure email gateways with autonomous AI:

  • AI-augmented data loss prevention to stop the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats
  • an easy way to deploy DMARC quickly with AI
  • major enhancements to streamline SOC workflows and increase the detection of sophisticated phishing links
  • expansion of Darktrace’s leading AI prevention to lateral mail, account compromise and Microsoft Teams

What’s New with Darktrace/Email  

Data Loss Prevention  

Block the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats with advanced data loss prevention that builds on tags in native email to stop unknown, accidental, and malicious data loss

Darktrace understands normal at individual user, group and organization level with a proven AI that detects abnormal user behavior and dynamic content changes. Using this understanding, Darktrace/Email actions outbound emails to stop unknown, accidental and malicious data loss.  

Traditional DLP solutions only take into account classified data, which relies on the manual input of labelling each data piece, or creating rules to catch pattern matches that try to stop data of certain types leaving the organization. But in today’s world of constantly changing data, regular expression and fingerprinting detection are no longer enough.

  • Human error – Because it understands normal for every user, Darktrace/Email can recognize cases of misdirected emails. Even if the data is correctly labelled or insensitive, Darktrace recognizes when the context in which it is being sent could be a case of data loss and warns the user.  
  • Unclassified data – Whereas traditional DLP solutions can only take action on classified data, Darktrace analyzes the range of data that is either pending labels or can’t be labeled with typical capabilities due to its understanding of the content and context of every email.  
  • Insider threat – If a malicious actor has compromised an account, data exfiltration may still be attempted on encrypted, intellectual property, or other forms of unlabelled data to avoid detection. Darktrace analyses user behaviour to catch cases of unusual data exfiltration from individual accounts.

And classification efforts already in place aren’t wasted – Darktrace/Email extends Microsoft Purview policies and sensitivity labels to avoid duplicate workflows for the security team, combining the best of both approaches to ensure organizations maintain control and visibility over their data.

End User and Security Workflows

Achieve more than 60% improvement in the quality of end-user phishing reports and detection of sophisticated malicious weblinks1

Darktrace/Email improves end-user reporting from the ground up to save security team resource. Employees will always be on the front line of email security – while other solutions assume that end-user reporting is automatically of poor quality, Darktrace prioritizes improving users’ security awareness to increase the quality of end-user reporting from day one.  

Users are empowered to assess and report suspicious activity with contextual banners and Cyber AI Analyst generated narratives for potentially suspicious emails, resulting in 60% fewer benign emails reported.  

Out of the higher-quality emails that end up being reported, the next step is to reduce the amount of emails that reach the SOC. Darktrace/Email’s Mailbox Security Assistant automates their triage with secondary analysis combining additional behavioral signals – using x20 more metrics than previously – with advanced link analysis to detect 70% more sophisticated malicious phishing links.2 This directly alleviates the burden of manual triage for security analysts.

For the emails that are received by the SOC, Darktrace/Email uses automation to reduce time spent investigating per incident. With live inbox view, security teams gain access to a centralized platform that combines intuitive search capabilities, Cyber AI Analyst reports, and mobile application access. Analysts can take remediation actions from within Darktrace/Email, eliminating console hopping and accelerating incident response.

Darktrace takes a user-focused and business-centric approach to email security, in contrast to the attack-centric rules and signatures approach of secure email gateways

Microsoft Teams

Detect threats within your Teams environment such as account compromise, phishing, malware and data loss

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services, particularly Teams and SharePoint.3

Darktrace now leverages the same behavioral AI techniques for Microsoft customers across 365 and Teams, allowing organizations to detect threats and signals of account compromise within their Teams environment including social engineering, malware and data loss.  

The primary use case for Microsoft Teams protection is as a potential entry vector. While messaging has traditionally been internal only, as organizations open up it is becoming an entry vector which needs to be treated with the same level of caution as email. That’s why we’re bringing our proven AI approach to Microsoft Teams, that understands the user behind the message.  

Anomalous messaging behavior is also a highly relevant indicator of whether a user has been compromised. Unlike other solutions that analyze Microsoft Teams content which focus on payloads, Darktrace goes beyond basic link and sandbox analysis and looks at actual user behavior from both a content and context perspective. This linguistic understanding isn’t bound by the requirement to match a signature to a malicious payload, rather it looks at the context in which the message has been delivered. From this analysis, Darktrace can spot the early symptoms of account compromise such as early-stage social engineering before a payload is delivered.

Lateral Mail Analysis

Detect and respond to internal mailflow with multi-layered AI to prevent account takeover, lateral phishing and data leaks

The industry’s most robust account takeover protection now prevents lateral mail account compromise. Darktrace has always looked at internal mail to inform inbound and outbound decisions, but will now elevate suspicious lateral mail behaviour using the same AI techniques for inbound, outbound and Teams analysis.

Darktrace integrates signals from across the entire mailflow and communication patterns to determine symptoms of account compromise, now including lateral mailflow

Unlike other solutions which only analyze payloads, Darktrace analyzes a whole range of signals to catch lateral movement before a payload is delivered. Contributing yet another layer to the AI behavioral profile for each user, security teams can now use signals from lateral mail to spot the early symptoms of account takeover and take autonomous actions to prevent further compromise.

DMARC

Gain in-depth visibility and control of 3rd parties using your domain with an industry-first AI-assisted DMARC

Darktrace has created the easiest path to brand protection and compliance with the new Darktrace/DMARC. This new capability continuously stops spoofing and phishing from the enterprise domain, while automatically enhancing email security and reducing the attack surface.

Darktrace/DMARC helps to upskill businesses by providing step by step guidance and automated record suggestions provide a clear, efficient road to enforcement. It allows organizations to quickly achieve compliance with requirements from Google, Yahoo, and others, to ensure that their emails are reaching mailboxes.  

Meanwhile, Darktrace/DMARC helps to reduce the overall attack surface by providing visibility over shadow-IT and third-party vendors sending on behalf of an organization’s brand, while informing recipients when emails from their domains are sent from un-authenticated DMARC source.

Darktrace/DMARC integrates with the wider Darktrace product platform, sharing insights to help further secure your business across Email Attack Path and Attack Surface management.

Conclusion

To learn more about the new innovations to Darktrace/Email download the solution brief here.

All of the new updates to Darktrace/Email sit within the new Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform, creating a feedback loop between email security and the rest of the digital estate for better protection. Click to read more about the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform or to hear about the latest innovations to Darktrace/OT, the most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for critical infrastructures.  

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.

References

[1] Internal Darktrace Research

[2] Internal Darktrace Research

[3] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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Managing Risk Beyond CVE Scores With the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/OT

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09
Apr 2024

Identifying Cyber Risk in Industrial Organizations

Compromised OT devices in ICS and SCADA environments pose significant physical risks, even endangering lives. However, identifying CVEs in the multitude of complex OT devices is labor-intensive and time-consuming, draining valuable resources.

Even after identifying a vulnerability, implementing a patch presents its own challenges limited maintenance windows and the need for uninterrupted operations strain IT and OT teams often leading organizations to prioritize availability over security leading vulnerabilities remaining unresolved for over 5 years on average. (1)

Darktrace’s New Innovation

Darktrace is an industry leader in cybersecurity with 10+ years of experience securing OT environments where we take a fundamentally different approach using Self-Learning AI to enhance threat detection and response.

Continuing to combat the expanding threat landscape, Darktrace is excited to announce new capabilities that enable a contextualized and proactive approach to managing cyber risk at industrial organizations.

Today we launch an innovation to our OT Cybersecurity solution, Darktrace/OT, that will add a layer of proactivity, enabling a comprehensive approach to risk management. This industry leading innovation for Darktrace/OT moves beyond CVE scores to redefine vulnerability management for critical infrastructure, tackling the full breadth of risks not limited by traditional controls.  

Darktrace/OT is the only OT security solution with comprehensive Risk Management which includes:

  • Contextualized risk analysis unique to your organization
  • The most realistic evaluation and prioritization of OT risk
  • Effectively mitigate risk across your OT infrastructure, with and without patching.
  • The only OT security solution that evaluates your defenses against Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Groups.

The most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for Critical Infrastructures

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI technology is a cutting-edge innovation that implements real time prevention, detection, response, and recovery for operational technologies and enables a fundamental shift from the traditional approach to cyber defense by learning a ‘pattern of life’ for every network, device, and user.  

Rather than relying on knowledge of past attacks, AI technology learns what is ‘normal’ for its environment, discovering previously unknown threats by detecting subtle shifts in behavior. Through identifying these unexpected anomalies, security teams can investigate novel attacks, discover blind spots, have live time visibility across all their physical and digital assets, and reduce time to detect, respond to, and triage security events.  

  • Achieve greater visibility of OT and IT devices across all levels of the Purdue Model.
  • The industry's only OT security to scale threat detection and response, with a 92% time saving from triage to recovery.  
  • The only OT focused security solution to provide bespoke Risk Management.

To learn more about how Darktrace/OT approaches unique use cases for industrial organizations visit the Darktrace/OT Webpage or join us LIVE at a city near you.

Read more below to discover how new innovations to Darktrace/OT are bringing a new, contextualized approach to Risk Management for Industrial organizations.

For more information on the entire Darktrace/OT Solution read our solution brief here.

Darktrace/OT and New Risk Management

Risk Identification

Leveraging the visibility of Darktrace/OT which identifies individual systems throughout the Purdue Model and the relationship between them, Darktrace/OT identifies high-risk CVEs and presents potential attack routes that go beyond techniques requiring a known exploit, such as misuse of legitimate services. Each attack path will have a mathematical evaluation of difficulty and impact from initial access to the high value objectives.  

Together this gives comprehensive coverage over your real and potential risks from both an attacker and known vulnerability perspectives. OT attack paths as seen here even leverage insights between the industrial and corporate communications to reveal ways threat actors may take advantage of IT-OT convergence. This revelation of imperceptible risks fills gaps in traditional risk analysis like remote access and insider threats.

Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 2: A specific Attack Path identified by Darktrace/OT

Risk Prioritization

Darktrace/OT prioritizes remediations and mitigations based on difficulty and damage to your unique organization, using the established Attack Paths.

We ascertain the priorities that apply to your organization beyond pure theoretical damage answering questions like:

  • How difficult is a particular vulnerability to exploit considering the steps an attacker would require to reach it?
  • And, how significant would the impact be if it was exploited within this particular network?

This expanded approach to risk prioritization has a much more comprehensive evaluation of your organization's unique risk than has ever been possible before. Traditional approaches of ranking only known vulnerabilities with isolated scores using CVSS and exploitability metrics, often leaves gaps in IT-OT risks and is blind to legitimate service exploitation.

Figure 3: Darktrace/OT leverages its contextual understand of the organization’s network to prioritize remediation that will have the positive impact on the risk score

Darktrace provides mitigation strategies associated with each identified risk and the relevant impact it has on your overall risk posture, across all MITRE ATT&CK techniques.

What sets Darktrace apart is our ability to contextualize these mitigations within the broader business. When patching vulnerabilities directly isn’t possible, Darktrace identifies alternative actions that harden attack paths leading to critical assets. Hardening the surrounding attack path increases the difficulty and therefore reduces the likelihood and impact of a breach.

That means unpatched vulnerabilities and vulnerable devices aren’t left unprotected. This also has an added bonus, those hardening techniques work for all devices in that network segment, so apply one change, secure many.

Figure 4: Darktrace prioritizes mitigation reducing accessibility of vulnerability and the overall risk score when patches aren’t available

Communicate Board Level Risk with APT Threat Mapping

Darktrace/OT bridges theory and practice as the only security solution that maps MITRE techniques, frequently used by APT Groups, onto AI-assessed critical Attack Paths. This unique solution provides unparalleled insights including sector and location intelligence, possible operating platforms, common techniques, exploited CVEs, and the number of potential devices affected in your environment, supporting holistic risk assessment and proactive defense measures.

Ultimately, this becomes a power dashboard to communicate board level risk, using both metric based evidence and industry standard threat mapping.

Conclusion

Darktrace/OT is part of the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform a native, holistic, AI-driven platform built on over ten years of AI research. It helps security teams shift to more a productive mode, finding the known and the unknown attacks and transforming the SOC with the various Darktrace products to drive efficiency gains. It does this across the whole incident lifecycle to lower risk, reduce time spent on active incidents, and drive return on investment.

Discover more about Darktrace's ever-strengthening platform with the upcoming changes coming to our Darktrace/Email product and other launch day blogs.

Join Darktrace LIVE half-day event to understand the reality versus the hype surrounding AI and how to achieve cyber resilience.

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.  

References

1. https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/313646831/Catch_Me_if_You_Can.pdf

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About the author
Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
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