Blog

No items found.

4 Ways Cyber-Criminals Fly Under the Radar | Darktrace

Default blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog image
07
Apr 2020
07
Apr 2020
Learn how cyber criminals evade detection. Darktrace analyses the four ways they operate under the radar. Read here to stay vigilant against cyber attacks.

The challenge of reliably attributing cyber-threats has amplified in recent years, as adversaries adopt a collection of techniques to ensure that even if their attacks are caught, they themselves escape detection and avoid punishment.

Detecting a threat is, of course, a very different technical challenge compared to tracing that activity back to a human operator. Nevertheless, at some point after the dust has settled, during the post-hoc incident analysis for example, someone somewhere may need to know who the suspects are. And in spite of all of our other advances, and also some recent successes in attributing offensive and cyber-criminal acts, only three out of every 100,000 cyber-crimes are prosecuted. Put simply, this is still an unsolved set of problems. Many of the successes we do have can be attributed more to operational security fails on the criminals’ end than any other active approaches. In fact, some recent trends have actually made reliable attribution even more challenging.

The four cyber-threat trends that make attribution difficult

There are four related trends in how threat-actors can procure and obtain attack capabilities that have resulted in an increase in complexity when attempting to reliably identify Tools, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and attributing them to distinct threat-actors.

A Cybercrime-as-a-Service economy and supply chain allowing cyber-criminals to mix and match off the shelf offensive cyber capabilities.

Expansion of ‘Living off the Land’ (LoL) tool usage by threat-actors to evade traditional, signature-based security defenses, and to obfuscate their activity.

While Code Reuse has always existed in the hacker community, copying nation-state-grade attack code has recently become possible.

The barrier to entry for criminally motivated operators has been lowered, providing the means for less technical criminals, who are only limited by time and their imagination.

Figure 1: The four cyber-threat trends

Threat-actors can mix and match attack tools, creating attack stacks that can be tailored for a variety of campaigns.

Between a professional marketplace of cyber-crime tools and services, the increasing adoption of ‘Living off the Land’ techniques, and the reusing of code leaked from nation-state intelligence services, threat-actors with even the most limited technical ability can conduct highly sophisticated criminal campaigns. Prospective cyber-criminals now have four primary types of attack tools to choose from – with three of them brand new or greatly enhanced. Even more importantly, these threat-actors can mix and match attack tools, creating tactically flexible attack stacks that can be tailored for a variety of campaigns against a diverse set of victims.

Off the shelf attacks

The burgeoning and increasingly professional Cybercrime-as-a-Service market (estimated at $1.6B) provides a thriving marketplace of microservices, attack code, and attack platforms. Anyone with a motive and enough bitcoin and enthusiasm can become the next ‘cyber Don Corleone’. Many of these services offer dedicated account management and professional support 24 hours a day. The commercialization of the cyber-crime supply chain has raised the barrier to entry for Cybercrime-as-a-Service vendors, while at the same time lowering it for cyber-criminal operators.

Living off the Land

‘Living off the Land’ (LoL) and “malware-less” attacks have been on the rise for some time now. What makes these attack methods so dangerous is that they leverage standard operating system tools to conduct their nefarious business, making signature-based approaches that look for malware heuristics ineffective – including signature-based Intrusion Protection Systems.

These attacks in particular demonstrate the need for an approach to cyber security that goes beyond looking at what malware is being used. Rather than relying on static blacklists, security teams are instead turning to a more sophisticated approach that learns ‘normal’ for every user and device across an entire business. From that evolving baseline, this approach to defense can identify and contain anomalous activity indicative of a cyber-threat – all in real time.

Code reuse and repurpose

What is new, and unprecedented, is that cyber-criminals are gaining access to intelligence and nation-state grade attack code.

Hackers have always begged, borrowed, and stolen code from others, including attack code – just two notable examples include the Zeus trojan and RIG exploit kit code leaks that provided the code base for much of the current generation of threats. What is new and unprecedented is that, whether through malice or incompetence, cyber-criminals are gaining access to intelligence and nation-state grade attack code. The Shadowbroker leaks that resulted in Wannacry is one recent example of this trend, and one we expect to accelerate – especially with intelligence services actively outing each other’s methods.

Custom and bespoke techniques

The practice of hackers creating their own tools and researching their own exploits has a long and hallowed tradition, with headline-grabbing zero-days becoming more and more common. Nation-state actors in particular often make a distinction between attack operators and attack code developers, with the ability to request tailored and bespoke code and tools – not unlike the model that has been replicated in the Cybercrime-as-a-Service market. Even when developing custom tools, threat-actors frequently integrate code and exploits from other parties.

Figure 2: The four main attack tool types

When determining who is actually behind these attacks, though, what is most important is the ability to combine all four types of attack tools – this provides a further layer of obfuscation against methods that rely on pattern matching for detection whilst causing additional confusion for would-be investigators. An attacker can use any combination and variation of these tool types to create a different “Chimera” attack stack – making it that much more difficult to identify who is really the operator. Telling apart the operator from the Cybercrime-as-a-Service vendor, for example, is difficult when most of the TTPs that are evaluated are technical and derive from the tooling.

Figure 3: The TTP and Attribution Confusion Chain

Conclusion

As the challenge of attribution intensifies, our focus must turn to defending against cyber-attacks themselves.

The combination of the four threat trends outlined above has lowered the barrier to entry for criminally motivated operators. Less technical adversaries are now able to launch attacks at a speed and scale previously confined to the most organized and well-financed cyber-criminal rings. This change in circumstances has made attribution of offensive cyber activity drastically more complex, and it may be some time before the prosecution rate for cyber-crime gets good enough that it can act as a greater disincentive.

As the challenge of attribution intensifies, our focus must turn to defending against cyber-attacks themselves. You may not ever know who is attacking you, but if you can successfully thwart the full range of threats, new and old, your organization can continue to operate as normal.

Fortunately, defenders’ abilities to detect and respond to cyber-threats have significantly advanced in recent years, thanks to the latest developments in AI and machine learning. Over 3,500 organizations now rely on Cyber AI to detect and contain cyber-threats – whether attackers use pre-existing OS tools to masquerade their attacks or use bespoke and entirely new techniques to bypass rules and signatures. When a threat is identified, AI can respond autonomously by enforcing a user or device’s ‘pattern of life’, allowing ‘business as usual’ whilst ensuring the organization is protected from harm.

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
Oliver Rochford
Technical Director
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.