This blog explains how AWS’s extension of VPC Traffic Mirroring to non-Nitro instances supports Darktrace’s real-time visibility and adaptive, autonomous defense for AWS cloud environments.
Darktrace's Cyber AI brings real-time visibility and adaptive, autonomous defense to your AWS cloud security strategy.
The platform continuously learns what normal behavior looks like for every user, device, and workload in your AWS environment. With this deep understanding of usual ‘patterns of life,’ Darktrace can recognize the subtle deviations that point to a threat, from account takeovers to critical misconfigurations.
This bespoke, real-time knowledge of usual activity allows Darktrace to spot the unknown and unpredictable threats that get through policy-based defenses – all without relying on any rules, signatures, or prior assumptions.
With Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) Traffic Mirroring, Darktrace’s self-learning AI can seamlessly access granular packet data in AWS cloud environments, helping the platform build a rich understanding of context. AWS’s recent announcement of the extension of VPC Traffic Mirroring to non-Nitro instance types now allows our customers to gain agentless Cyber AI defense across these instances as well.
Expanding VPC traffic mirroring to non-Nitro instances
Amazon VPC Traffic Mirroring replicates the network traffic from EC2 instances within VPCs and allows customers to leverage this traffic for Darktrace’s AI-driven threat detection and investigation. Darktrace’s Cyber AI learns ‘on the job’ what normal activity looks like in customer AWS environments, in part using the real-time visibility provided by VPC Traffic Mirroring. The platform continuously adapts as each customer’s business evolves, a critical feature given the speed and scale of development in the cloud.
Previously, customers could only enable VPC Traffic Mirroring on their Nitro-based EC2 instances. Now, AWS has announced that this seamless access to hundreds of features from network traffic is extended to select non-Nitro instance types, supporting Darktrace’s ability to easily learn the bespoke behavioral patterns of our customers’ Amazon VPCs.
Customers can now enable VPC Traffic Mirroring on additional instances types such as C4, D2, G3, G3s, H1, I3, M4, P2, P3, R4, X1 and X1e that use the Xen-based hypervisor.* This feature is available in all 20 regions where VPC Traffic Mirroring is currently supported.
Data exfiltration and destruction: Detects anomalous device connections and user access, as well as unusual resource deletion, modification, and movement;
Critical misconfigurations: Catches open S3 buckets, anomalous permission changes, and unusual activity around compliance-related data and devices;
Compromised credentials: Spots unusual logins, including brute force attempts and unusual login source/time, as well as unusual user behavior, from rule changes to password resets;
Insider threat and admin abuse: Identifies the subtle signs of malicious insiders – including sensitive file access, resource modification, role changes, and adding/deleting users.
Figure 1: Darktrace illuminates activity in AWS
Autonomous investigation and response for AWS cloud environments
The Darktrace Security Module for AWS provides additional visibility across AWS environments via interaction with AWS CloudTrail, allowing for AI-powered monitoring of management and administration activity. With this deep knowledge of how your business operates in the cloud, Darktrace delivers total coverage across all your AWS services, including:
The recently announced Version 5 of the Darktrace, which focuses on protecting the cloud and the remote workforce, further augments Darktrace’s coverage of AWS environments. Among many other exciting new features, Version 5 extends the reach of Cyber AI Analyst and Darktrace RESPOND to cloud environments like AWS VPCs.
Cyber AI Analyst augments the work of security teams by autonomously reporting on the full scope of security incidents and reduces triage time by up to 92%. Cyber AI Analyst can now also conduct on-demand investigations into users and devices of interest, ingest third-party alerts to trigger new investigations, and automatically feed AI-generated Incident Reports to any SIEM, SOAR, or downstream ticketing system.
Meanwhile, Darktrace RESPOND brings Autonomous Response to the critical infrastructure which AWS VPCs provide. Darktrace's responses are surgically precise and intelligently maintain normal business operations while stopping emerging threats in real time.**
“Darktrace's innovations are outstanding and have really meshed with our current needs as a security team, from the flexibility of our new cloud-delivered deployment to the extended visibility of the Darktrace Client Sensors.”
– CISO, Real Estate
We have also launched a dedicated user interface for visualization and intuitive analysis of cloud-based threats identified across AWS via the Darktrace Security Module.
Self-Learning AI defense across the enterprise
Darktrace offers AI-driven defense of cloud infrastructure in AWS, as well as across SaaS applications, email, corporate networks, industrial systems, and remote endpoints. Taking a fundamentally unique approach, Darktrace provides the industry’s only self-learning platform that gives complete coverage and visibility across the organization.
This is a critical benefit, as businesses and workforces today are increasingly complex and dynamic. Darktrace can connect the dots between unusual behavior in disparate infrastructure areas and ensure cloud security is not siloed from the monitoring of the rest of the organization.
Darktrace’s adaptive and unified approach allows the solution to detect, investigate, and respond to the full range of threats facing the enterprise – even those unpredictable threats that move across dynamic and diverse environments.
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.
ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
VP of Technology
Andrew is a technical expert on cyber security and advises Darktrace’s strategic customers on advanced threat defense, AI and autonomous response. He has a background in threat analysis and research, and holds a first-class degree in physics from Oxford University and a first-class degree in philosophy from King’s College London. His comments on cyber security and the threat to critical national infrastructure have been reported in international media, including CNBC and the BBC World.
Gootloader Malware: Detecting and Containing Multi-Functional Threats with Darktrace
What is multi-functional malware?
While traditional malware variants were designed with one specific objective in mind, the emergence of multi-functional malware, such as loader malware, means that organizations are likely to be confronted with multiple malicious tools and strains of malware at once. These threats often have non-linear attack patterns and kill chains that can quickly adapt and progress quicker than human security teams are able to react. Therefore, it is more important than ever for organizations to adopt an anomaly approach to combat increasingly versatile and fast-moving threats.
Example of Multi-functional malware
One example of a multi-functional malware recently observed by Darktrace can be seen in Gootloader, a multi-payload loader variant that has been observed in the wild since 2020. It is known to primarily target Windows-based systems across multiple industries in the US, Canada, France, Germany, and South Korea .
How does Gootloader malware work?
Once installed on a target network, Gootloader can download additional malicious payloads that allow threat actors to carry out a range of harmful activities, such as stealing sensitive information or encrypting files for ransom.
The Gootloader malware is known to infect networks via search engine optimization (SEO) poisoning, directing users searching for legitimate documents to compromised websites hosting a malicious payload masquerading as the desired file.
If the malware remains undetected, it paves the way for a second stage payload known as Gootkit, which functions as a banking trojan and information-stealer, or other malware tools including Cobalt Strike and Osiris .
Darktrace detection of Gootloader malware
In late 2023, Darktrace observed one instance of Gootloader affecting a customer in the US. Thanks to its anomaly-focused approach, Darktrace DETECT™ quickly identified the anomalous activity surrounding this emerging attack and brought it to the immediate attention of the customer’s security team. All the while, Darktrace RESPOND™ was in place and able to autonomously intervene, containing the suspicious activity and ensuring the Gootloader compromise could not progress any further.
In September 2023, Darktrace identified an instance of the Gootloader malware attempting to propagate within the network of a customer in the US. Darktrace identified the first indications of the compromise when it detected a device beaconing to an unusual external location and performing network scanning. Following this, the device was observed making additional command-and-control (C2) connections, before finally downloading an executable (.exe) file which likely represented the download of a further malicious payload.
As this customer had subscribed to the Proactive Notification Service (PTN), the suspicious activity was escalated to the Darktrace Security Operations Center (SOC) for further investigation by Darktrace’s expert analysts. The SOC team were able to promptly triage the incident and advise urgent follow-up actions.
Gootloader Attack Overview
Initial Beaconing and Scanning Activity
On September 21, 2023, Darktrace observed the first indications of compromise on the network when a device began to make regular connections to an external endpoint that was considered extremely rare for the network, namely ‘analyzetest[.]ir’.
Although the endpoint did not overtly seem malicious in nature (it appeared to be related to laboratory testing), Darktrace recognized that it had never previously been seen on the customer’s network and therefore should be treated with caution. This initial beaconing activity was just the beginning of the malicious C2 communications, with several additional instances of beaconing detected to numerous suspicious endpoints, including funadhoo.gov[.]mv, tdgroup[.]ru’ and ‘army.mil[.]ng.
Soon thereafter, Darktrace detected the device performing internal reconnaissance, with an unusually large number of connections to other internal locations observed. This scanning activity appeared to primarily be targeting the SMB protocol by scanning port 445.
Within seconds of DETECT’s detection of this suspicious SMB scanning activity, Darktrace RESPOND moved to contain the compromise by blocking the device from connecting to port 445 and enforcing its ‘pattern of life’. Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI enables it to learn a device’s normal behavior and recognize if it deviates from this; by enforcing a pattern of life on an affected device, malicious activity is inhibited but the device is allowed to continue its expected activity, minimizing disruption to business operations.
Following the initial detection of this anomalous activity, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst launched an autonomous investigation into the beaconing and scanning activity and was able to connect these seemingly separate events into one incident. AI Analyst analyzes thousands of connections to hundreds of different endpoints at machine speed and then summarizes its findings in a single pane of glass, giving customers the necessary information to assess the threat and begin remediation if necessary. This significantly lessens the burden for human security teams, saving them previous time and resources, while ensuring they maintain full visibility over any suspicious activity on their network.
Darktrace continued to observe the device carrying out beaconing activity over the next few days, likely representing threat actors attempting to establish communication with their malicious infrastructure and setting up a foothold within the customer’s environment. In one such example, the device was seen connecting to the suspicious endpoint ‘fysiotherapie-panken[.]nl’. Multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors reported this endpoint to be a known malware delivery host .
Once again, Darktrace RESPOND was in place to quickly intervene in response to these suspicious external connection attempts. Over the course of several days, RESPOND blocked the offending device from connecting to suspicious endpoints via port 443 and enforced its pattern of life. These autonomous actions by RESPOND effectively mitigated and contained the attack, preventing it from escalating further along the kill chain and providing the customer’s security team crucial time to take act and employ their own remediation.
Possible Payload Retrieval
A few days later, on September 26, 2023, Darktrace observed the affected device attempting to download a Windows Portable Executable via file transfer protocol (FTP) from the external location ‘ftp2[.]sim-networks[.]com’, which had never previously been seen on the network. This download likely represented the next step in the Gootloader infection, wherein additional malicious tooling is downloaded to further cement the malicious actors’ control over the device. In response, Darktrace RESPOND immediately blocked the device from making any external connections, ensuring it could not download any suspicious files that may have rapidly escalated the attackers’ efforts.
The observed combination of beaconing activity and a suspicious file download triggered an Enhanced Monitoring breach, a high-fidelity DETECT model designed to detect activities that are more likely to be indicative of compromise. These models are monitored by the Darktrace SOC round the clock and investigated by Darktrace’s expert team of analysts as soon as suspicious activity emerges.
In this case, Darktrace’s SOC triaged the emerging activity and sent an additional notice directly to the customer’s security team, informing them of the compromise and advising on next steps. As this customer had subscribed to Darktrace’s Ask the Expert (ATE) service, they also had a team of expert analysts available to them at any time to aid their investigations.
Loader malware variants such as Gootloader often lay the groundwork for further, potentially more severe threats to be deployed within compromised networks. As such, it is crucial for organizations and their security teams to identify these threats as soon as they emerge and ensure they are effectively contained before additional payloads, like information-stealing malware or ransomware, can be downloaded.
In this instance, Darktrace demonstrated its value when faced with a multi-payload threat by detecting Gootloader at the earliest stage and responding to it with swift targeted actions, halting any suspicious connections and preventing the download of any additional malicious tooling.
Darktrace DETECT recognized that the beaconing and scanning activity performed by the affected device represented a deviation from its expected behavior and was indicative of a potential network compromise. Meanwhile, Darktrace RESPOND ensured that any suspicious activity was promptly shut down, buying crucial time for the customer’s security team to work with Darktrace’s SOC to investigate the threat and quarantine the compromised device.
Credit to: Ashiq Shafee, Cyber Security Analyst, Qing Hong Kwa, Senior Cyber Analyst and Deputy Analyst Team Lead, Singapore
After analyzing the observed threats and trends that have affected customers across the Darktrace fleet in the second half of 2023, the Darktrace Threat Research team have made a series of predictions. These assessments highlight the threats that are expected to impact Darktrace customers and the wider threat landscape in 2024.
1. Initial access broker malware, especially loader malware, is likely to be a prominent threat.
Initial access malware such as loaders, information stealers, remote access trojans (RATs), and downloaders, will probably remain some of the most relevant threats to most organizations, especially when noted in the context that many are interoperable, tailorable Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) tools.
These types of malware often serve as a gateway for threat actors to compromise a target network before launching subsequent, and often more severe, attacks. Would-be cyber criminals are now able to purchase and deploy these malware without the need for technical expertise.
2. Infrastructure complexity will increase SaaS attacks and leave cloud environments vulnerable.
The increasing reliance on SaaS solutions and platforms for business operations, coupled with larger attack surfaces than ever before, make it likely that attackers will continue targeting organizations’ cloud environments with account takeovers granting unauthorized access to privileged accounts. These account hijacks can be further exploited to perform a variety of nefarious activities, such as data exfiltration or launching phishing campaigns.
It is paramount for organizations to not only fortify their SaaS environments with security strategies including multifactor authentication (MFA), regular monitoring of credential usage, and strict access control, but moreover augment SaaS security using anomaly detection.
3. The prevalence and evolution of ransomware will surge.
The Darktrace Threat Research team anticipates a surge in Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) attacks, marking a shift away from conventional ransomware. The uptick in RaaS observed in 2023 evidences that ransomware itself is becoming increasingly accessible, lowering the barrier to entry for threat actors. This surge also demonstrates how lucrative RaaS is for ransomware operators in the current threat landscape, further reinforcing a rise in RaaS.
This development is likely to coincide with a pivot away from traditional encryption-centric ransomware tactics towards more sophisticated and advanced extortion methods. Rather than relying solely on encrypting a target’s data for ransom, malicious actors are expected to employ double or even triple extortion strategies, encrypting sensitive data but also threatening to leak or sell stolen data unless their ransom demands are met.
4. Threat actors will continue to rely on living-off-the-land techniques.
With evolving sophistication of security tools and greater industry adoption of AI techniques, threat actors have focused more and more on living-off-the-land. The extremely high volume of vulnerabilities discovered in 2023 highlights threat actors’ persistent need to compromise trusted organizational mechanisms and infrastructure to gain a foothold in networks. Although inbox intrusions remain prevalent, the exploitation of edge infrastructure has demonstrably expanded compared to previously endpoint-focused attacks.
Given the prevalence of endpoint evasion techniques and the high proportion of tactics utilizing native programs, threat actors will likely progressively live off the land, even utilizing new techniques or vulnerabilities to do so, rather than relying on unidentified malicious programs which evade traditional detection.
5. The “as-a-Service” marketplace will contribute to an increase in multi-phase compromises.
With the increasing “as-a-Service” marketplaces, it is likely that organizations will face more multi-phase compromises, where one strain of malware is observed stealing information and that data is sold to additional threat actors or utilized for second and/or third-stage malware or ransomware.
This trend builds on the concept of initial access brokers but utilizes basic browser scraping and data harvesting to make as much profit throughout the compromise process as possible. This will likely result in security teams observing multiple malicious tools and strains of malware during incident response and/or multi-functional malware, with attack cycles and kill chains morphing into less linear and more abstract chains of activity. This makes it more essential than ever for security teams to apply an anomaly approach to stay ahead of asymmetric threats.
6. Generative AI will let attackers phish across language barriers.
Classic phishing scams play a numbers game, targeting as many inboxes as possible and hoping that some users take the bait, even if there are spelling and grammar errors in the email. Now, Generative AI has reduced the barrier for entry, so malicious actors do not have to speak English to produce a convincing phishing email.
In 2024, we anticipate this to extend to other languages and regions. For example, many countries in Asia have not yet been greatly impacted by phishing. Yet Generative AI continues to develop, with improved data input yielding improved output. More phishing emails will start to be generated in various languages with increasing sophistication.
7. AI regulation and data privacy rules will stifle AI adoption.
AI regulation, like the European Union’s AI Act and NIS2, is starting to be implemented around the world. As policies continue to come out about AI and data privacy, practical and pragmatic AI adoption becomes more complex.
Businesses will likely have to take a second look at AI they are adopting into their tech stacks to consider what may happen if a tool is suddenly deprecated because it is no longer fit for purpose or loses the approvals in place. Many will also have to use completely different supply chain evaluations from their usual ones based on developing compliance registrars. This increased complication may make businesses reticent to adopt innovative AI solutions as legislation scrambles to keep up.