Blog

Threat Finds

RESPOND

Ransomware

How AI stopped a WastedLocker intrusion

Default blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog image
21
Dec 2020
21
Dec 2020
Darktrace recently detected and investigated a WastedLocker attack. This blog explores how this high-speed, high-stakes ransomware uses ‘Living off the Land’ techniques to bypass traditional security tools, and how Darktrace Antigena can autonomously stop this threat in its earliest stages, before encryption has begun.

Since first being discovered in May 2020, WastedLocker has made quite a name for itself, quickly becoming an issue for businesses and cyber security firms around the world. WastedLocker is known for its sophisticated methods of obfuscation and steep ransom demands.

Its use of ‘Living off the Land’ techniques makes a WastedLocker attack extremely difficult for legacy security tools to detect. An ever-decreasing dwell time – the time between initial intrusion and final execution – means human responders alone struggle to contain the ransomware variant before damage is done.

This blog examines the anatomy of a WastedLocker intrusion that targeted a US agricultural organization in December. Darktrace’s AI detected and investigated the incident in real time, and we can see how Darktrace RESPOND would have autonomously taken action to stop the attack before encryption had begun.

As ransomware dwell time shrinks to hours rather than days, security teams are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence to stop threats from escalating at the earliest signs of compromise – containing attacks even when they strike at night or on the weekend.

How the WastedLocker attack unfolded

Figure 1: A timeline of the attack

Initial intrusion

The initial infection appears to have taken place when an employee was deceived into downloading a fake browser update. Darktrace AI was monitoring the behavior of around 5,000 devices at the organization, continuously adapting its understanding of the evolving ‘pattern of life’. It detected the first signs of a threat when a virtual desktop device started making HTTP and HTTPS connections to external destinations that were deemed unusual for the organization. The graph below depicts how the patient zero device exhibited a spike in internal connections around December 4.

Figure 2: The patient zero device exhibiting a spike in internal connections, with orange dots indicating model breaches of varying severity

Reconnaissance

Attempted reconnaissance began just 11 minutes after the initial intrusion. Again, Darktrace immediately picked up on the activity, detecting unusual ICMP ping scans and targeted address scans on ports 135, 139 and 445; presumably as the attacker looked for potential further Windows targets. The below demonstrates the scanning detections based on the unusual number of new failed connections.

Figure 3: Darktrace detecting an unusual number of failed connections

Lateral movement

The attacker used an existing administrative credential to authenticate against a Domain Controller, initiating new service control over SMB. Darktrace picked this up immediately, identifying it as unusual behavior.

Figure 4: Darktrace identifying the DCE-RPC requests
Figure 5: Darktrace surfacing the SMB writes

Several hours later – and in the early hours of the morning – the attacker used a temporary admin account ‘tempadmin’ to move to another Domain Controller over SMB. Darktrace instantly detected this as it was highly unusual to use a temporary admin account to connect from a virtual desktop to a Domain Controller.

Figure 6: Further anomalous connections detected the following day

Lock and load: WastedLocker prepares to strike

During the beaconing activity, the attacker also conducted internal reconnaissance and managed to establish successful administrative and remote connections to other internal devices by using tools already present. Soon after, a transfer of suspicious .csproj files was detected by Darktrace, and at least four other devices began exhibiting similar command and control (C2) communications.

However, with Darktrace’s real-time detections – and Cyber AI Analyst investigating and reporting on the incident in a number of minutes, the security team were able to contain the attack, taking the infected devices offline.

Automated investigations with Cyber AI Analyst

Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst launched an automatic investigation around every anomaly detection, forming hypotheses, asking questions about its own findings, and forming accurate answers at machine speed. It then generated high-level, intuitive incident summaries for the security team. Over the 48 hour period, the AI Analyst surfaced just six security incidents in total, with three of these directly relating to the WastedLocker intrusion.

Figure 7: The Cyber AI Analyst threat tray

The snapshot below shows a VMWare device (patient zero) making repeated external connections to rare destinations, scanning the network and using new admin credentials.

Figure 8: Cyber AI Analyst investigates

Darktrace RESPOND: AI that responds when the security team cannot

Darktrace RESPOND – the world’s first and only Autonomous Response technology – was configured in passive mode, meaning it did not actively interfere with the attack, but if we dive back into the Threat Visualizer we can see that Antigena in fully autonomous mode would have responded to the attack at this early stage, buying the security team valuable time.

In this case, after the initial unusual SSL C2 detection (based on a combination of destination rarity, JA3 unusualness and frequency analysis), RESPOND (formerly known as 'Antigena', as shown in the screenshots below) suggested instantly blocking the C2 traffic on port 443 and parallel internal scanning on port 135.

Figure 9: The Threat Visualizer reveals the action Antigena would have taken

When beaconing was later observed to bywce.payment.refinedwebs[.]com, this time over HTTP to /updateSoftwareVersion, RESPOND escalated its response by blocking the further C2 channels.

Figure 10: Antigena escalates its response

The vast majority of response tools rely on hard-coded, pre-defined rules, formulated as ‘If X, do Y’. This can lead to false positives that unnecessarily take devices offline and hamper productivity. Darktrace RESPOND's actions are proportionate, bespoke to the organization, and not created in advance. Darktrace Antigena autonomously chose what to block and the severity of the blocks based on the context of the intrusion, without a human pre-eminently hard-coding any commands or set responses.

Every response over the 48 hours was related to the incident – RESPOND did not try to take action on anything else during the intrusion period. It simply would have actioned a surgical response to contain the threat, while allowing the rest of the business to carry on as usual. There were a total of 59 actions throughout the incident time period – excluding the ‘Watched Domain Block’ actions shown below – which are used during incident response to proactively shut down C2 communication.

Figure 11: All Antigena action attempts during the intrusion period across the whole organization

RESPOND would have delivered those blocks via whatever integration is most suitable for the organization – whether that be Firewall integrations, NACL integrations or other native integrations. The technology would have blocked the malicious activity on the relevant ports and protocols for several hours – surgically interrupting the threat actors’ intrusion activity, thus preventing further escalation and giving the security team air cover.

Stopping WastedLocker ransomware before encryption ensues

This attack used many notable Tools, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) to bypass signature-based tools. It took advantage of ‘Living off the Land’ techniques, including Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Powershell, and default admin credential use. Only one of the involved C2 domains had a single hit on Open Source Intelligence Lists (OSINT); the others were unknown at the time. The C2 was also encrypted with legitimate Thawte SSL Certificates.

For these reasons, it is plausible that without Darktrace in place, the ransomware would have been successful in encrypting files, preventing business operations at a critical time and possibly inflicting huge financial and reputational losses to the organization in question.

Darktrace’s AI detects and stops ransomware in its tracks without relying on threat intelligence. Ransomware has thrived this year, with attackers constantly coming up with new attack TTPs. However, the above threat find demonstrates that even targeted, sophisticated strains of ransomware can be stopped with AI technology.

Thanks to Darktrace analyst Signe Zaharka for her insights on the above threat find.

Learn more about Autonomous Response

Darktrace model detections:

  • Compliance / High Priority Compliance Model Breach
  • Compliance / Weak Active Directory Ticket Encryption
  • Anomalous Connection / Cisco Umbrella Block Page
  • Anomalous Server Activity / Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device
  • Compliance / Default Credential Usage
  • Compromise / Suspicious TLS Beaconing To Rare External
  • Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server
  • Device / Lateral Movement and C2 Activity
  • Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination
  • Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity
  • Compromise / Watched Domain
  • Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Watched Domain Block
  • Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches
  • Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score
  • Device / Large Number of Model Breaches
  • Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Controlled and Model Breach
  • Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control
  • Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block
  • Compromise / SSL or HTTP Beacon
  • Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Suspicious Activity Block
  • Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Breaches Over Time Block
  • Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual Internal Connections
  • Device / ICMP Address Scan


INSIDE THE SOC
Darktrace cyber analysts are world-class experts in threat intelligence, threat hunting and incident response, and provide 24/7 SOC support to thousands of Darktrace customers around the globe. Inside the SOC is exclusively authored by these experts, providing analysis of cyber incidents and threat trends, based on real-world experience in the field.
AUTHOR
ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
Max Heinemeyer
Chief Product Officer

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

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

More in this series

No items found.

Blog

Email

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

Default blog imageDefault blog image
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

Continue reading
About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

Blog

No items found.

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

Default blog imageDefault blog image
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

Continue reading
About the author
Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
Our ai. Your data.

Elevate your cyber defenses with Darktrace AI

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