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How Changing Online Habits Have Created New Email Attacks

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14
Apr 2020
14
Apr 2020
New email behaviors such as increased subscriptions and remote presentation tools have given rise to a new wave of email cyber-attacks. Learn more here.

For several weeks now, we’ve seen how cyber-criminals have used the ongoing global health crisis as a ‘fearware’ topic to mount and spread their attacks. But as more and more of the world’s population works from home, and as consumption of digital content subsequently increases, hackers are finding novel ways to exploit the full range of human emotions through sophisticated email attacks.

From attackers creating ‘digital fake’ campaigns that offer ‘advice’ for those self-isolating, to threat-actors masquerading behind trusted websites to launch malware, the last few weeks have demonstrated how quickly cyber-criminals can adapt their techniques in the email realm. This blog presents four ways hackers are changing their tactics in light of current trends and changing behaviors, and how security teams can react to defend against these developments.

Increased subscription

With a marked increase in digital subscription to entertainment sites and news sources, it should come as no surprise that spammers and hackers have doubled down on using fake newsletter subscriptions in their email attacks.

For security tools such as gateways and inboxes that look at the historic mail-flow, a new email subscription to a newsletter can look very much like any other – especially when the email passes all existing security tests and verifications. A brand new campaign or domain may not have been identified as malicious yet, and thus is allowed into the recipient’s inbox.

Analyzing emails within the broader business context gives a full understanding of the circumstances in which it was received. This requires looking beyond the inbox and considering the user’s ‘pattern of life’ across all touchpoints across the digital ecosystem. In the case of benign subscription emails, a user will have recently visited the domain of the sender and requested the email newsletter. There is an action ahead of receiving the email – requesting it.

Drawing insights from both email traffic and the user’s wider ‘pattern of life’ across the digital business, AI can tell the difference between an email newsletter that has and has not been requested. This simple act alone can help security teams understand when a user has voluntarily signed up for a newsletter versus when they have been targeted by a malicious attack, enabling them to respond appropriately.

Rapid adoption of remote presentation sites

As remote working sees a rapid rise, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people using presentation creation sites. Darktrace has recently picked up on a large number of attacks in which these trusted sites have been exploited to openly host malicious links. Malicious payloads are embedded within presentations, which are then shared in emails that go undetected by gateway tools.

Figure 1: Canva and Infogram, two presentation sites leveraged in this latest string of attacks

Several indicators suggest that this activity originates from a single, well-organized threat-actor or group, including the rotational targeting of presentation sites (Canva, Infogram, Axel, Piktochart, and Sway), the highly-focused nature of the attack type (taking place within the space of two weeks), and the consistent nature of these emails. These emails were seen across a large number of deployments, which appeared to utilize a strikingly similar fake eFax notification format.

Worryingly, the emails appear to display none of the typical ‘trademark’ identifiers often seen for phishing emails, such as spoofed or impersonated email addresses or suspicious link strings. For this reason, they go undetected by products such as Microsoft’s spam and phishing tools. As such, they are currently being delivered to recipients’ inboxes without any alteration or addition of safety features.

This activity appears to represent a significant and currently unrecognized external threat. Whilst the novel nature of the activity allowed it to easily bypass legacy tools, a more nuanced understanding of the human behind the email address allowed Darktrace’s AI to uniquely identify this series of emails as highly threatening. The technology recognized that the links and domains were highly unusual, not only in the context of the recipients’ normal behavior, but the ‘pattern of life’ of their peer group and the organization at large.

An unprecedented convergence of personal and professional

While IT and compliance teams are having to find ways to keep digital environments secure in remote working conditions, users are also changing their own behavior – not only in terms of devices and tools accessed, but also in what content and files are consumed and interacted with. This convergence of the personal and the professional, and the resulting expansion in the attack surface, presents a new set of challenges to security teams. Compromised email credentials and hijacked accounts become even harder to spot.

Securing these environments requires technology that can adapt to the new way of working, without having to explicitly reconfigure or re-write the rules. Digital activity has changed overnight, and will only continue to change – security tools that cannot adapt and grow with that change will fast become redundant. By continuously learning and evolving its understanding of every user and device, AI is being relied upon to protect workers, especially as we now shift our behavior to use more cloud-based communication and collaboration tools.

Adaptive AI-powered attacks

A recent Forrester report found that over half of security professionals expect AI-augmented cyber-attacks to be made evident to the public within the next twelve months. One way this is likely to manifest itself is with the automation of well-crafted spear phishing campaigns.

As attackers use AI to better understand the type of content that each user interacts with, along with the prevalent emotions that drive each individual user, malware or malicious links can be masked in content that is highly targeted to specific users. Individuals who are actively seeking information on particular topics, or are more likely to share and forward light-hearted, humorous content may be targeted more frequently or aggressively.

Using AI to study the target, hackers can leverage insights at a speed and scale never seen before. With sophisticated domain spoofing, indiscriminate writing styles, and carefully hidden malicious links, human analysts and traditional security tools alike will stand little chance.

To prepare for this next wave of attacks, security teams themselves are relying on AI that analyzes emails in light of behaviors across email platforms and the organization at large. Rather than analyzing emails in isolation and at a single point in time, Cyber AI correlates insights over time, and continuously revisits emails many thousands of times as new evidence emerges.

While traditional defenses ask whether elements of an email have been observed in historical attacks, Antigena Email is the only solution that can reliably ask whether it would be unusual for a recipient to interact with a given email in the context of their normal ‘pattern of life’, as well as that of their peers and the wider organization. This contextual knowledge allows the AI to make highly accurate decisions and neutralize the full range of email attacks – from ‘clean’ spoofing emails that seek to wire a fraudulent payment to sophisticated spear phishing attempts.

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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