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Insider threats, supply chains, and IoT: Breaking down a modern-day cyber-attack

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03
May 2021
03
May 2021
The threat landscape is not what it was. Sprawling IoT ecosystems and globalized supply chains offer many opportunities for threat actors. Darktrace detects these vectors on a daily basis, sometimes in the very same attack.

It’s ten to five on a Friday afternoon. A technician has come in to perform a routine check on an electronic door. She enters the office with no issues – she works for a trusted third-party vendor, employees see her every week. She opens her laptop and connects to the Door Access Control Unit, a small Internet of Things (IoT) device used to operate the smart lock. Minutes later, trojans have been downloaded onto the company network, a crypto-mining operation has begun, and there is evidence of confidential data being exfiltrated. Where did things go wrong?

Threats in a business: A new dawn surfaces

As organizations keep pace with the demands of digital transformation, the attack surface has become broader than ever before. There are numerous points of entry for a cyber-criminal – from vulnerabilities in IoT ecosystems, to blind spots in supply chains, to insiders misusing their access to the business. Darktrace sees these threats every day. Sometimes, like in the real-world example above, which will be examined in this blog, they can occur in the very same attack.

Insider threats can use their familiarity and level of access to a system as a critical advantage when evading detection and launching an attack. But insiders don’t necessarily have to be malicious. Every employee or contractor is a potential threat: clicking on a phishing link or accidentally releasing data often leads to wide-scale breaches.

At the same time, connectivity in the workspace – with each IoT device communicating with the corporate network and the Internet on its own IP address – is an urgent security issue. Access control systems, for example, add a layer of physical security by tracking who enters the office and when. However, these same control systems imperil digital security by introducing a cluster of sensors, locks, alarm systems, and keypads, which hold sensitive user information and connect to company infrastructure.

Furthermore, a significant proportion of IoT devices are built without security in mind. Vendors prioritize time-to-market and often don’t have the resources to invest in baked-in security measures. Consider the number of start-ups which manufacture IoT – over 60% of home automation companies have fewer than ten employees.

Insider threat detected by Cyber AI

In January 2021, a medium-sized North American company suffered a supply chain attack when a third-party vendor connected to the control unit for a smart door.

Figure 1: The attack lasted 3.5 hours in total, commencing 16:50 local time.

The technician from the vendor’s company had come in to perform scheduled maintenance. They had been authorized to connect directly to the Door Access Control Unit, yet were unaware that the laptop they were using, brought in from outside of the organization, had been infected with malware.

As soon as the laptop connected with the control unit, the malware detected an open port, identified the vulnerability, and began moving laterally. Within minutes, the IoT device was seen making highly unusual connections to rare external IP addresses. The connections were made using HTTP and contained suspicious user agents and URIs.

Darktrace then detected that the control unit was attempting to download trojans and other payloads, including upsupx2.exe and 36BB9658.moe. Other connections were used to send base64 encoded strings containing the device name and the organization’s external IP address.

Cryptocurrency mining activity with a Monero (XMR) CPU miner was detected shortly afterwards. The device also utilized an SMB exploit to make external connections on port 445 while searching for vulnerable internal devices using the outdated SMBv1 protocol.

One hour later, the device connected to an endpoint related to the third-party remote access tool TeamViewer. After a few minutes, the device was seen uploading over 15 MB to a 100% rare external IP.

Figure 2: Timeline of the connections made by an example device on the days around an incident (blue). The connections associated with the compromise are a significant deviation from the device’s normal pattern of life, and result in multiple unusual activity events and repeated model breaches (orange).

Security threats in the supply chain

Cyber AI flagged the insider threat to the customer as soon as the control unit had been compromised. The attack had managed to bypass the rest of the organization’s security stack, for the simple reason that it was introduced directly from a trusted external laptop, and the IoT device itself was managed by the third-party vendor, so the customer had little visibility over it.

Traditional security tools are ineffective against supply chain attacks such as this. From the SolarWinds hack to Vendor Email Compromise, 2021 has put the nail in the coffin for signature-based security – proving that we cannot rely on yesterday’s attacks to predict tomorrow’s threats.

International supply chains and the sheer number of different partners and suppliers which modern organizations work with thus pose a serious security dilemma: how can we allow external vendors onto our network and keep an airtight system?

The first answer is zero-trust access. This involves treating every device as malicious, inside and outside the corporate network, and demanding verification at all stages. The second answer is visibility and response. Security products must shed a clear light into cloud and IoT infrastructure, and react autonomously as soon as subtle anomalies emerge across the enterprise.

IoT investigated

Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst reported on every stage of the attack, including the download of the first malicious executable file.

Figure 3: Example of Cyber AI Analyst detecting anomalous behavior on a device, including C2 connectivity and suspicious file downloads.

Cyber AI Analyst investigated the C2 connectivity, providing a high-level summary of the activity. The IoT device had accessed suspicious MOE files with randomly generated alphanumeric names.

Figure 4: A Cyber AI Analyst summary of C2 connectivity for a device.

Not only did the AI detect every stage of the activity, but the customer was also alerted via a Proactive Threat Notification following a high scoring model breach at 16:59, just minutes after the attack had commenced.

Stranger danger

Third parties coming in to tweak device settings and adjust the network can have unintended consequences. The hyper-connected world which we’re living in, with the advent of 5G and Industry 4.0, has become a digital playground for cyber-criminals.

In the real-world case study above, the IoT device was unsecured and misconfigured. With rushed creations of IoT ecosystems, intertwining supply chains, and a breadth of individuals and devices connecting to corporate infrastructure, modern-day organizations cannot expect simple security tools which rely on pre-defined rules to stop insider threats and other advanced cyber-attacks.

The organization did not have visibility over the management of the Door Access Control Unit. Despite this, and despite no prior knowledge of the attack type or the vulnerabilities present in the IoT device, Darktrace detected the behavioral anomalies immediately. Without Cyber AI, the infection could have remained on the customer’s environment for weeks or months, escalating privileges, silently crypto-mining, and exfiltrating sensitive company data.

Thanks to Darktrace analyst Grace Carballo for her insights on the above threat find.

Learn more about insider threats

Darktrace model detections:

  • Anomalous File/Anomalous Octet Stream
  • Anomalous Connection/New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
  • Unusual Activity/Unusual External Connectivity
  • Device/Increased External Connectivity
  • Anomalous Server Activity/Outgoing from Server
  • Device/New User Agent and New IP
  • Compliance/Cryptocurrency Mining Activity
  • Compliance/External Windows Connectivity
  • Anomalous File/Multiple EXE from Rare External Locations
  • Anomalous File/EXE from Rare External Location
  • Device/Large Number of Model Breaches
  • Anomalous File/Internet Facing System File Download
  • Device/Initial Breach Chain Compromise
  • Device/SMB Session Bruteforce
  • Device/Network Scan- Low Anomaly Score
  • Device/Large Number of Connections to New Endpoint
  • Anomalous Server Activity/Outgoing from Server
  • Compromise/Beacon to Young Endpoint
  • Anomalous Server Activity/Rare External from Server
  • Device/Multiple C2 Model Breaches
  • Compliance/Remote Management Tool on Server
  • Anomalous Connection/Data Sent to New External Device


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
Brianna Leddy
Director of Analysis

Based in San Francisco, Brianna is Director of Analysis at Darktrace. She joined the analyst team in 2016 and has since advised a wide range of enterprise customers on advanced threat hunting and leveraging Self-Learning AI for detection and response. Brianna works closely with the Darktrace SOC team to proactively alert customers to emerging threats and investigate unusual behavior in enterprise environments. Brianna holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

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Email

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

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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

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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

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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

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About the author
Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
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