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Inside the SOC

How Darktrace’s SOC Helped Thwart a BEC Attack in its Early Stages

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18
Jul 2023
18
Jul 2023

What is Business Email Compromise (BEC)?

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is the practice of tricking an organization into transferring funds or sensitive data to a malicious actor.

Although at face value this type of attack may not carry the same gravitas as the more blockbuster, cloak-and-dagger type of attack such as ransomware [1], the costs of BEC actually dwarf that of ransomware [2]. Moreover, among UK organizations that reported a cyber breach in 2023, attacks related to BEC – namely phishing attacks, email impersonation, attempted hacking of online back accounts, and account takeover – were reported as the most disruptive, ahead of ransomware and other types of cyber-attack [3].  

What makes a BEC attack successful?

BEC attacks are so successful and damaging due to the difficulty of detection for traditional security systems, along with their ease of execution.  BEC does not require much technical sophistication to accomplish; rather, it exploits humans’ natural trust in known correspondents, via a phishing email for example, to induce them to perform a certain action.

How does a BEC attack work?

BEC attacks typically begin with a phishing email to an employee of an organization. Traditional email gateways may be unable to block the initial phishing email, as the email often appear to have been sent by a known correspondent, or it may contain minimal payload content.

The recipient’s interaction with the initial phishing email will likely result in the attacker gaining access to the user’s identity. Once access is obtained, the attacker may abuse the identity of the compromised user to obtain details of the user’s financial relations to the rest of the organization or its customers, eventually using these details to conduct further malicious email activity, such as sending out emails containing fraudulent wire transfer requests.  Today, the continued growth in adoption of services to support remote working, such as cloud file storage and sharing, means that the compromise of a single user’s email account can also grant access to a wide range of corporate sensitive information.

How to protect against BEC attacks

The rapid uptake of cloud-based infrastructure and software-as-a-service (SaaS) outpaces the adoption of skills and expertise required to secure it, meaning that security teams are often less prepared to detect and respond to cloud-based attacks.  

Alongside the adoption of security measures that specialize in anomaly-based detection and autonomous response, like Darktrace DETECT™ and Darktrace RESPOND™, it is extremely beneficial for organizations to have an around the clock security operations center (SOC) in place to monitor and investigate ongoing suspicious activity as it emerges.

In June 2023, Darktrace’s SOC alerted a customer to an active BEC attack within their cloud environment, following the successful detection of suspicious activity by Darktrace’s AI, playing a fundamental role in thwarting the attack in its early stages.

Darktrace Mitigates BEC Attack

Figure 1: Screenshot of the SaaS Console showing location information for the compromised SaaS account.  The ability to visualize the distance between these two locations enables a SOC Analyst to deduce that the simultaneous activity from London and Derby may represent impossible travel’.

It was suspected the attack began with a phishing email, as on the previous day the user had received a highly anomalous email from an external sender with which the organization had not previously communicated. However, the customer had configured Darktrace/Email™ in passive mode, which meant that Darktrace was not able to carry out any RESPOND actions on this anomalous email to prevent it from landing in the user’s inbox. Despite this, Darktrace/Apps was able to instantly detect the subsequent unusual login to the customer’s SaaS environment; its anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to recognize the anomalous behavior even though the malicious email had successfully reached the user.

Following the anomalous ExpressVPN login, Darktrace detected further account anomalies originating from another ExpressVPN IP (45.92.229[.]195), as the attacker accessed files over SharePoint.  Notably, Darktrace identified that the logins from ExpressVPN IPs were performed with the software Chrome 114, however, activity from the legitimate account owner prior to these unusual logins was performed using the software Chrome 102. It is unusual for a user to be using multiple browser versions simultaneously, therefore in addition to the observed impossible travel, this further implied the presence of different actors behind the simultaneous account activity.

Figure 2: Screenshot of the Event Log for the compromised SaaS account, showing simultaneous login and file access activity on the account from different browser versions, and thus likely from different devices.

Darktrace identified that the files observed during this anomalous activity referenced financial information and personnel schedules, suggesting that the attacker was performing internal reconnaissance to gather information about sensitive internal company procedures, in preparation for further fraudulent financial activity.

Although the actions taken by the attacker were mostly passive, Darktrace/Apps chained together the multiple anomalies to understand that this pattern of activity was indicative of movement along the cyber kill chain. The multiple model breaches generated by the ongoing unusual activity triggered an Enhanced Monitoring model breach that was escalated to Darktrace’s SOC as the customer had subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service.  Enhanced Monitoring models detect activities that are more likely to be indicative of compromise.  

Subsequently, Darktrace’s SOC triaged the activity detected on the SaaS account and sent a PTN alert to the customer, advising urgent follow up action.  The encrypted alert contained relevant technical details of the incident that were summarized by an expert Darktrace Analyst, along with recommendations to the customer’s internal SOC team to take immediate action.  Upon receipt and validation of the alert, the customer used Darktrace RESPOND to perform a manual force logout and block access from the external ExpressVPN IP.

Had Darktrace RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode, it would have immediately taken action to disable the account after ongoing anomalies were detected from it. However, as the customer only had RESPOND configured in the manual human confirmation model, the expertise of Darktrace’s SOC team was critical in enabling the customer to react and prevent further escalation of post-compromise activity.  Evidence of further attempts to access the compromised account were observed hours after RESPOND actions were taken, including failed login attempts from another rare external IP, this time associated with the VPN service NordVPN.

Figure 3: Timeline of attack and response actions from Darktrace SOC and Darktrace RESPOND.

Because the customer had subscribed to Darktrace’s PTN service, they were able to further leverage the expertise of Darktrace’s global team of cyber analysts and request further analysis of which files were accessed by the legitimate account owner versus the attacker.  This information was shared securely within the same Customer Portal ticket that was automatically opened on behalf of the customer when the PTN was alerted, allowing the customer’s security team to submit further queries and feedback, and request assistance to further investigate this alert within Darktrace. A similar service called Ask the Expert (ATE) exists for customers to draw from the expertise of Darktrace’s analysts at any time, not just when PTNs are alerted.

Conclusion

The growing prevalence and impact of BEC attacks amid the shift to cloud-based infrastructure means that already stretched internal security teams may not have the sufficient human capacity to detect and respond to these threats.

Darktrace’s round-the-clock SOC thwarted a BEC attack that had the potential to result in significant financial and reputational damage to the legal services company, by alerting the customer to high priority activity during the early stages of the attack and sharing actionable insights that the customer could use to prevent further escalation.  Following the confirmed compromise, the support and in-depth analysis provided by Darktrace’s SOC on the files accessed by the attacker enabled the customer to effectively report this breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office, to maintain compliance with UK data protection regulations. [4].  

Although the attacker used IP addresses that were local to the customer’s country of operations and did not perform overtly noisy actions during reconnaissance, Darktrace was able to identify that this activity deviated from the legitimate user’s typical pattern of life, triggering model breaches at each stage of the attack as it progressed from initial access to internal reconnaissance. While Darktrace RESPOND triggered an action that would have prevented the attack autonomously, the customer’s configuration meant that Darktrace’s SOC had an even more significant role in alerting the customer directly to take manual action.

Credit to: Sam Lister, Senior Analyst, for his contributions to this blog.

Appendices

Darktrace DETECT/Apps Models Breached:

  • SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use
  • SaaS / Compromise / Login From Rare Endpoint While User Is Active
  • SaaS / Unusual Activity / Activity from Multiple Unusual IPs
  • SaaS / Unusual Activity / Multiple Unusual SaaS Activities
  • SaaS / Access / Suspicious Login Attempt
  • SaaS / Compromise / SaaS Anomaly Following Anomalous Login (Enhanced Monitoring Model)

Darktrace RESPOND/Apps Models Breached:

  • Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Unusual Activity Block
  • Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Tactic Techniques
Reconnaissance • T1598 – Phishing for Information
Initial Access • T1078.004 – Valid Accounts: Cloud Accounts
Collection • T1213.002 – Data from Information Repositories: Sharepoint

References

[1] Rand, D. (2022, November 10). Why Business Email Compromise Costs Companies More Than Ransomware Attacks. Retrieved from Tanium: https://www.tanium.com/blog/whybusiness-email-compromise-costs-companies-more-than-ransomware-attacks/

[2] Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022). 2022 IC3 Report. Retrieved from IC3.gov: https://www.ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2022_IC3Report.pdf

[3] Department for Science, Innovation & Technology. (2023, April 19). Cyber security breaches survey 2023. Retrieved from gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/cyber-security-breaches-survey-2023/cybersecurity-breaches-survey-2023

[4] ICO. (2023). Personal data breaches: a guide. Retrieved from Information Commissioner's Office: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/report-a-breach/personal-data-breach/personal-data-breaches-a-guide/#whatbreachesdo

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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.
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Inside the SOC

Protecting Prospects: How Darktrace Detected an Account Hijack Within Days of Deployment

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28
Sep 2023

Cloud Migration Expanding the Attack Surface

Cloud migration is here to stay – accelerated by pandemic lockdowns, there has been an ongoing increase in the use of public cloud services, and Gartner has forecasted worldwide public cloud spending to grow around 20%, or by almost USD 600 billion [1], in 2023. With more and more organizations utilizing cloud services and moving their operations to the cloud, there has also been a corresponding shift in malicious activity targeting cloud-based software and services, including Microsoft 365, a prominent and oft-used Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

With the adoption and implementation of more SaaS products, the overall attack surface of an organization increases – this gives malicious actors additional opportunities to exploit and compromise a network, necessitating proper controls to be in place. This increased attack surface can leave organization’s open to cyber risks like cloud misconfigurations, supply chain attacks and zero-day vulnerabilities [2]. In order to achieve full visibility over cloud activity and prevent SaaS compromise, it is paramount for security teams to deploy sophisticated security measures that are able to learn an organization’s SaaS environment and detect suspicious activity at the earliest stage.

Darktrace Immediately Detects Hijacked Account

In May 2023, Darktrace observed a chain of suspicious SaaS activity on the network of a customer who was about to begin their trial of Darktrace/Cloud™ and Darktrace/Email™. Despite being deployed on the network for less than a week, Darktrace DETECT™ recognized that the legitimate SaaS account, belonging to an executive at the organization, had been hijacked. Darktrace/Email was able to provide full visibility over inbound and outbound mail and identified that the compromised account was subsequently used to launch an internal spear-phishing campaign.

If Darktrace RESPOND™ were enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of this compromise, it would have been able to take swift preventative action to disrupt the account compromise and prevent the ensuing phishing attack.

Account Hijack Attack Overview

Unusual External Sources for SaaS Credentials

On May 9, 2023, Darktrace DETECT/Cloud detected the first in a series of anomalous activities performed by a Microsoft 365 user account that was indicative of compromise, namely a failed login from an external IP address located in Virginia.

Figure 1: The failed login notice, as seen in Darktrace DETECT/Cloud. The notice includes additional context about the failed login attempt to the SaaS account.

Just a few minutes later, Darktrace observed the same user credential being used to successfully login from the same unusual IP address, with multi-factor authentication (MFA) requirements satisfied.

Figure 2: The “Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use” model breach summary, showing the successful login to the SaaS user account (with MFA), from the rare external IP address.

A few hours after this, the user credential was once again used to login from a different city in the state of Virginia, with MFA requirements successfully met again. Around the time of this activity, the SaaS user account was also observed previewing various business-related files hosted on Microsoft SharePoint, behavior that, taken in isolation, did not appear to be out of the ordinary and could have represented legitimate activity.

The following day, May 10, however, there were additional login attempts observed from two different states within the US, namely Texas and Florida. Darktrace understood that this activity was extremely suspicious, as it was highly improbable that the legitimate user would be able to travel over 2,500 miles in such a short period of time. Both login attempts were successful and passed MFA requirements, suggesting that the malicious actor was employing techniques to bypass MFA. Such MFA bypass techniques could include inserting malicious infrastructure between the user and the application and intercepting user credentials and tokens, or by compromising browser cookies to bypass authentication controls [3]. There have also been high-profile cases in the recent years of legitimate users mistakenly (and perhaps even instinctively) accepting MFA prompts on their token or mobile device, believing it to be a legitimate process despite not having performed the login themselves.

New Email Rule

On the evening of May 10, following the successful logins from multiple US states, Darktrace observed the Microsoft 365 user creating a new inbox rule, named “.’, in Microsoft Outlook from an IP located in Florida. Threat actors are often observed naming new email rules with single characters, likely to evade detection, but also for the sake of expediency so as to not expend any additional time creating meaningful labels.

In this case the newly created email rules included several suspicious properties, including ‘AlwaysDeleteOutlookRulesBlob’, ‘StopProcessingRules’ and “MoveToFolder”.

Firstly, ‘AlwaysDeleteOutlookRulesBlob’ suppresses or hides warning messages that typically appear if modifications to email rules are made [4]. In this case, it is likely the malicious actor was attempting to implement this property to obfuscate the creation of new email rules.

The ‘StopProcessingRules’ rule meant that any subsequent email rules created by the legitimate user would be overridden by the email rule created by the malicious actor [5]. Finally, the implementation of “MoveToFolder” would allow the malicious actor to automatically move all outgoing emails from the “Sent” folder to the “Deleted Items” folder, for example, further obfuscating their malicious activities [6]. The utilization of these email rule properties is frequently observed during account hijackings as it allows attackers to delete and/or forward key emails, delete evidence of exploitation and launch phishing campaigns [7].

In this incident, the new email rule would likely have enabled the malicious actor to evade the detection of traditional security measures and achieve greater persistence using the Microsoft 365 account.

Figure 3: Screenshot of the “New Email Rule” model breach. The Office365 properties associated with the newly modified Microsoft Outlook inbox rule, “.”, are highlighted in red.

Account Update

A few hours after the creation of the new email rule, Darktrace observed the threat actor successfully changing the Microsoft 365 user’s account password, this time from a new IP address in Texas. As a result of this action, the attacker would have locked out the legitimate user, effectively gaining full access over the SaaS account.

Figure 4: The model breach event log showing the user password and token change updates performed by the compromised SaaS account.

Phishing Emails

The compromised SaaS account was then observed sending a high volume of suspicious emails to both internal and external email addresses. Darktrace was able to identify that the emails attempting to impersonate the legitimate service DocuSign and contained a malicious link prompting users to click on the text “Review Document”. Upon clicking this link, users would be redirected to a site hosted on Adobe Express, namely hxxps://express.adobe[.]com/page/A9ZKVObdXhN4p/.

Adobe Express is a free service that allows users to create web pages which can be hosted and shared publicly; it is likely that the threat actor here leveraged the service to use in their phishing campaign. When clicked, such links could result in a device unwittingly downloading malware hosted on the site, or direct unsuspecting users to a spoofed login page attempting to harvest user credentials by imitating legitimate companies like Microsoft.

Figure 5: Screenshot of the phishing email, containing a malicious link hidden behind the “Review Document” text. The embedded link directs to a now-defunct page that was hosted on Adobe Express.

The malicious site hosted on Adobe Express was subsequently taken down by Adobe, possibly in response to user reports of maliciousness. Unfortunately though, platforms like this that offer free webhosting services can easily and repeatedly be abused by malicious actors. Simply by creating new pages hosted on different IP addresses, actors are able to continue to carry out such phishing attacks against unsuspecting users.

In addition to the suspicious SaaS and email activity that took place between May 9 and May 10, Darktrace/Email also detected the compromised account sending and receiving suspicious emails starting on May 4, just two days after Darktrace’s initial deployment on the customer’s environment. It is probable that the SaaS account was compromised around this time, or even prior to Darktrace’s deployment on May 2, likely via a phishing and credential harvesting campaign similar to the one detailed above.

Figure 6: Event logs of the compromised SaaS user, here seen breaching several Darktrace/Email model breaches on 4th May.

Darktrace Coverage

As the customer was soon to begin their trial period, Darktrace RESPOND was set in “human confirmation” mode, meaning that any preventative RESPOND actions required manual application by the customer’s security team.

If Darktrace RESPOND had been enabled in autonomous response mode during this incident, it would have taken swift mitigative action by logging the suspicious user out of the SaaS account and disabling the account for a defined period of time, in doing so disrupting the attack at the earliest possible stage and giving the customer the necessary time to perform remediation steps.  As it was, however, these RESPOND actions were suggested to the customer’s security team for them to manually apply.

Figure 7: Example of Darktrace RESPOND notices, in response to the anomalous user activity.

Nevertheless, with Darktrace DETECT/Cloud in place, visibility over the anomalous cloud-based activities was significantly increased, enabling the swift identification of the chain of suspicious activities involved in this compromise.

In this case, the prospective customer reached out to Darktrace directly through the Ask the Expert (ATE) service. Darktrace’s expert analyst team then conducted a timely and comprehensive investigation into the suspicious activity surrounding this SaaS compromise, and shared these findings with the customer’s security team.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this example of SaaS account compromise highlights Darktrace’s unique ability to learn an organization’s digital environment and recognize activity that is deemed to be unexpected, within a matter of days.

Due to the lack of obvious or known indicators of compromise (IoCs) associated with the malicious activity in this incident, this account hijack would likely have gone unnoticed by traditional security tools that rely on a rules and signatures-based approach to threat detection. However, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI enables it to detect the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that could be indicative of an ongoing compromise.

Despite being newly deployed on a prospective customer’s network, Darktrace DETECT was able to identify unusual login attempts from geographically improbable locations, suspicious email rule updates, password changes, as well as the subsequent mounting of a phishing campaign, all before the customer’s trial of Darktrace had even begun.

When enabled in autonomous response mode, Darktrace RESPOND would be able to take swift preventative action against such activity as soon as it is detected, effectively shutting down the compromise and mitigating any subsequent phishing attacks.

With the full deployment of Darktrace’s suite of products, including Darktrace/Cloud and Darktrace/Email, customers can rest assured their critical data and systems are protected, even in the case of hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Credit: Samuel Wee, Senior Analyst Consultant & Model Developer

Appendices

References

[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2022-10-31-gartner-forecasts-worldwide-public-cloud-end-user-spending-to-reach-nearly-600-billion-in-2023

[2] https://www.upguard.com/blog/saas-security-risks

[3] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security/blog/2022/11/16/token-tactics-how-to-prevent-detect-and-respond-to-cloud-token-theft/

[4] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/powershell/module/exchange/disable-inboxrule?view=exchange-ps

[5] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/dotnet/api/microsoft.exchange.webservices.data.ruleactions.stopprocessingrules?view=exchange-ews-api

[6] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/dotnet/api/microsoft.exchange.webservices.data.ruleactions.movetofolder?view=exchange-ews-api

[7] https://blog.knowbe4.com/check-your-email-rules-for-maliciousness

Darktrace Model Detections

Darktrace DETECT/Cloud and RESPOND Models Breached:

SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use

SaaS / Unusual Activity / Multiple Unusual External Sources for SaaS Credential

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Unusual Activity Block (RESPOND Model)

SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block

SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule (Enhanced Monitoring Model)

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block (RESPOND Model)

SaaS / Compromise / SaaS Anomaly Following Anomalous Login (Enhanced Monitoring Model)

SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Account Update

Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block (RESPOND Model)

IoC – Type – Description & Confidence

hxxps://express.adobe[.]com/page/A9ZKVObdXhN4p/ - Domain – Probable Phishing Page (Now Defunct)

37.19.221[.]142 – IP Address – Unusual Login Source

35.174.4[.]92 – IP Address – Unusual Login Source

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Tactic - Techniques

INITIAL ACCESS, PRIVILEGE ESCALATION, DEFENSE EVASION, PERSISTENCE

T1078.004 – Cloud Accounts

DISCOVERY

T1538 – Cloud Service Dashboards

CREDENTIAL ACCESS

T1539 – Steal Web Session Cookie

RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT

T1586 – Compromise Accounts

PERSISTENCE

T1137.005 – Outlook Rules

Probability yardstick used to communicate the probability that statements or explanations given are correct.
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Min Kim
Cyber Security Analyst

Blog

Email

Darktrace/Email in Action: Why AI-Driven Email Security is the Best Defense Against Sustained Phishing Campaigns

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26
Sep 2023

Stopping the bad while allowing the good

Since its inception, email has been regarded as one of the most important tools for businesses, revolutionizing communication and allowing global teams to become even more connected. But besides organizations heavily relying on email for their daily operations, threat actors have also recognized that the inbox is one of the easiest ways to establish an initial foothold on the network.

Today, not only are phishing campaigns and social engineering attacks becoming more prevalent, but the level of sophistication of these attacks are also increasing with the help of generative AI tools that allow for the creation of hyper-realistic emails with minimal errors, effectively lowering the barrier to entry for threat actors. These diverse and stealthy types of attacks evade traditional email security tools based on rules and signatures, because they are less likely to contain the low-sophistication markers of a typical phishing attack.  

In a situation where the sky is the limit for attackers and security teams are lean, how can teams equip themselves to tackle these threats? How can they accurately detect increasingly realistic malicious emails and neutralize these threats before it is too late? And importantly, how can email security block these threats while allowing legitimate emails to flow freely?

Instead of relying on past attack data, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI detects the slightest deviation from a user’s pattern of life and responds autonomously to contain potential threats, stopping novel attacks in their tracks before damage is caused. It doesn’t define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ like traditional email tools, rather it understands each user and what is normal for them – and what’s not.

This blog outlines how Darktrace/Email™ used its understanding of ‘normal’ to accurately detect and respond to a sustained phishing campaign targeting a real-life company.

Responding to a sustained phishing attack

Over the course of 24 hours, Darktrace detected multiple emails containing different subjects, all from different senders to different recipients in one organization. These emails were sent from different IP addresses, but all came from the same autonomous system number (ASN).

Figure 1: The sender freemail addresses and subject lines all followed a certain format. The subject lines followed the format of “<First name> <Last name>”, possibly to induce curiosity. The senders were all freemail accounts and contained first names, last names and some numbers, showing the attempts to make these email addresses appear legitimate.

The emails themselves had many suspicious indicators. All senders had no prior association with the recipient, and the emails generated a high general inducement score. This score is generated by structural and non-specific content analysis of the email – a high score indicates that the email is trying to induce the recipient into taking a particular action, which may lead to account compromise.

Additionally, each email contained a visually prominent link to a file storage service, hidden behind a shortened bit.ly link. The similarities across all these emails pointed to a sustained campaign targeting the organization by a single threat actor.

Figure 2: One of the emails is shown above. Like all the other emails, it contained a highly suspicious and shortened link.
Figure 3: In another one of the emails, the link observed had similar characteristics. But this email stands out from the rest. The sender's name seems to be randomly set – the 3 alphabets are close to each other on the keyboard.

With all these suspicious indicators, many models were breached. This drove up the anomaly score, causing Darktrace/Email to hold all suspicious emails from the recipients’ inboxes, safeguarding the recipients from potential account compromise and disallowing the threats from taking hold in the network.

Imagining a phishing attack without Darktrace/Email

So what could have happened if Darktrace had not withheld these emails, and the recipients had clicked on the links? File storage sites have a wide variety of uses that allow attackers to be creative in their attack strategy. If the user had clicked on the shortened link, the possible consequences are numerous. The link could have led to a login page for unsuspecting victims to input their credentials, or it could have hosted malware that would automatically download if the link was clicked. With the compromised credentials, threat actors could even bypass MFA, change email rules, or gain privileged access to a network. The downloaded malware might also be a keylogger, leading to cryptojacking, or could open a back door for threat actors to return to at a later time.

Figure 4: Darktrace/Email highlights suspicious link characteristics and provides an option to preview the pages.
Figure 5: At the point of writing, both links could not be reached. This could be because they were one-time unique links created specifically for the user, and can no longer be accessed once the campaign has ceased.

The limits of traditional email security tools

Secure email gateways (SEGs) and static AI security tools may have found it challenging to detect this phishing campaign as malicious. While Darktrace was able to correlate these emails to determine that a sustained phishing campaign was taking place, the pattern among these emails is far too generic for specific rules as set in traditional security tools. If we take the characteristic of the freemail account sender as an example, setting a rule to block all emails from freemail accounts may lead to more legitimate emails being withheld, since these addresses have a variety of uses.

With these factors in mind, these emails could have easily slipped through traditional security filters and led to a devastating impact on the organization.

Conclusion

As threat actors step up their attacks in sophistication, prioritizing email security is more crucial than ever to preserving a safe digital environment. In response to these challenges, Darktrace/Email offers a set-and-forget solution that continuously learns and adapts to changes in the organization.  

Through an evolving understanding of every environment in which it is deployed, its threat response becomes increasingly precise in neutralizing only the bad, while allowing the good – delivering email security that doesn’t come at the expense of business growth.

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