Maze ransomware targets a healthcare organization
Ransomware, with more severe consequences and against increasingly high-stakes targets, continues to cause chaos and disruption to organizations globally. Earlier this year saw a surge in a strain of ransomware known as ‘Maze’, which shut down operations at leading optical products provider Canon and wreaked havoc in Fortune 500 companies like Cognizant.
Ransomware targeting healthcare
Just last month, news of a woman in Germany dying after a ransomware attack on the Dusseldorf University Hospital hit the headlines, confirming that the threat to people is no longer theoretical.
Ransomware affects all industries but 2020 has seen cyber-criminals increasingly hit essential services like healthcare, local government and critical infrastructure – intentionally or as collateral damage. As the stakes rise, so too does the need to understand how to prevent these devastating and pervasive attacks.
Once deployed, ransomware can spread laterally through an organization’s digital infrastructure in seconds, taking entire systems offline in minutes. Attackers often strike at night or at weekends, when they know security teams’ response time will be slower. Machine-speed attacks require machine-speed defenses that can detect and respond to this threat without human guidance, and autonomously block the threat.
This blog explains how AI detects and stops ransomware by learning ‘normal’ across the digital estate – from email and SaaS applications to the network, cloud, IoT and industrial control systems – by looking at an example of a Maze ransomware attack caught by Darktrace in a customer’s environment.
Darktrace’s Immune System detected the threat as soon as it emerged, but as the Autonomous Response capability was configured in passive mode, neutralizing the threat still required human action. This means that attackers were able to move laterally across the organization at speed and began to encrypt files before the security team stepped in. In active mode, Antigena Network would have contained the activity in its earliest stages.
How does Darktrace detect ransomware like Maze?
As soon as Darktrace is deployed – whether virtually or on-premise – the AI begins to learn the ‘pattern of life’ for every user and device across the organization. This enables the technology to detect anomalous activity indicative of a cyber-threat. It does this without relying on hard-coded rules and signatures; an approach that requires a ‘Patient Zero’ before updating these lists and containing subsequent identical threats. When it comes to a novel instance of ransomware spreading across an organization and infecting hundreds of devices in seconds, such an approach becomes useless.
With an understanding of the organization’s ‘pattern of life’, Darktrace’s AI recognizes unusual activity in real time. Such activity might include:
ActivityDarktrace detectionsUnusual downloads from C2 serversEXE from Rare Destination / Masqueraded File TransferBrute forcing publicly accessible RDP serversIncoming RDP brute force modelsBrute forcing access to web portal user accounts with weak passwords or lacking MFAVarious brute force modelsC2 via Cobalt Strike / Empire PowershellSSL Beaconing to Rare Endpoint / Empire Powershell and Cobalt Strike modelsNetwork scanning for reconnaissance & EternalBlue exploitSuspicious Network Scan model known to download Advanced IP Scanner after successful exploitMimikatz usage for privilege escalationUnusual Admin SMB Session / Unusual RDP Admin Session (Procdump, PingCastle, and Bloodhound)Psexec / ‘Living off the Land’ for lateral movementUnusual Remote Command Execution / Unusual PSexec / Unusual DCE RPCData exfiltration to C2 serversData Sent to Rare Domain / Unusual Internal Download / Unusual External UploadEncryptionSuspicious SMB Activity / Additional File Extensions AppendedExfiltration of passwords through various cloud storage servicesData Sent to New External DomainRDP tunnels using NgrokOutbound RDP / Various beaconing models
In addition, Darktrace is able to identify attempts to brute force access on Internet-facing servers. It can also detect specific searches for passwords stored in plain text as well as various password manager databases.
Maze ransomware analysis
Figure 1: A timeline of the attack
Most recently, Darktrace’s AI detected a case of Maze ransomware targeting a healthcare organization. Darktrace’s Immune System spotted every stage of the attack lifecycle within seconds, and the Cyber AI Analyst immediately launched an automated investigation of the full incident, surfacing a natural-language, actionable summary for the security team.
The initial infection vector was spear phishing. Maze is frequently delivered to healthcare organizations using pandemic-themed phishing emails. Darktrace also offers AI-powered email security that understands normal behavior for every Microsoft 365 user and spots anomalies that are indicative of phishing, but in the absence of this protection, the emails were waved through by traditional gateways.
The attacker began engaging in network scanning activity and enumeration to escalate access within the Research and Development subnet. Darktrace’s AI detected a successful compromise of admin level credentials, unusual RDP activities and multiple Kerberos authentication attempts.
Darktrace detected the attacker uploading a domain controller, before batch files were written to multiple file shares, which were used for the encryption process.
An infected device then connected to a suspicious domain that is associated to Maze mazedecrypt[.]top and the TOR browser bundle was downloaded, likely for C2 purposes. A large volume of sensitive data from the R&D subnet was then uploaded to a rare domain. This is typical of Maze ransomware, which is seen as a ‘double threat’ in that it not only seeks to encrypt critical files but also sends a copy of them back to the attacker.
This form of attack, also known as doxware, then provides the attacker with leverage in the possible event that the organization refused to pay the ransom – they can sell the data on the Dark Web, or threaten to leak intellectual property to competitors, for instance.
Real-time automated investigations with Cyber AI Analyst
Throughout the attack lifecycle, multiple high-fidelity alerts were generated by Darktrace AI and this prompted the Cyber AI Analyst to automatically launch an investigation in the background, stitching together the different events into a single, comprehensive security incident, which it then displayed for human review in a single screen.
Figure 2: The data exfiltration to a rare external domain
Figure 3: Darktrace’s user interface highlighting the unusual activity and model breaches on a domain controller directly linked with the ransomware attack
Targeted, double-threat attacks like Maze ransomware are on the rise and extremely dangerous – and they are increasingly targeting high-stakes environments. Thousands of organizations are turning to AI, not only to detect and investigate on ransomware intrusions as demonstrated above, but to autonomously respond to events as they occur. Ransomware attacks like these show organizations why autonomous response in active mode is not just a nice to have – but necessary – as fast-moving threats demand machine-speed responses.
In a previous blog, we looked at a novel zero-day ransomware attack that slipped through legacy security tools – but Antigena Network was configured in active mode, autonomously stopping the threat in its tracks. This unique capability is becoming crucial for organizations in every industry who find themselves targeted by increasingly sophisticated attack methods.
Thanks to Darktrace analyst Adam Stevens for his insights on the above threat find.
Learn more about Autonomous Response
Darktrace model detections
- Device / Suspicious Network Scan Activity
- Device / Network Scan
- Device / ICMP Address Scan
- Unusual Activity / Unusual Internal Connections
- Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches
- Experimental / Executable Uploaded to DC
- Compromise / Ransomware::Suspicious SMB Activity
- Compromise / Ransomware::Ransom or Offensive Words Written to SMB
- Compliance / SMB Drive Write
- Compliance / High Priority Compliance Model Breach
- Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration
- Device / Suspicious File Writes to Multiple Hidden SMB Shares
- Device / New or Unusual Remote Command Execution
- Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control
- Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration
- Experimental / Possible RPC Execution
- Anomalous Connection / High Volume of New or Uncommon Service Control
- Experimental / Possible Ransom Note
- Anomalous File / Internal::Additional Extension Appended to SMB File
- Compliance / Tor Package Download
- Device / Suspicious Domain
- Device / Long Agent Connection to New Endpoint
- Anomalous Connection / Data Sent to Rare Domain
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Inside the SOC
How Abuse of ‘PerfectData Software’ May Create a Perfect Storm: An Emerging Trend in Account Takeovers
Amidst the ever-changing threat landscape, new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) seem to emerge daily, creating extreme challenges for security teams. The broad range of attack methods utilized by attackers seems to present an insurmountable problem: how do you defend against a playbook that does not yet exist?
Faced with the growing number of novel and uncommon attack methods, it is essential for organizations to adopt a security solution able to detect threats based on their anomalies, rather than relying on threat intelligence alone.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed an emerging trend in the use of an application known as ‘PerfectData Software’ for probable malicious purposes in several Microsoft 365 account takeovers.
Using its anomaly-based detection, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to identify the activity chain surrounding the use of this application, potentially uncovering a novel piece of threat actor tradecraft in the process.
Microsoft 365 Intrusions
In recent years, Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) suite, Microsoft 365, along with its built-in identity and access management (IAM) service, Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), have been heavily targeted by threat actors due to their near-ubiquitous usage across industries. Four out of every five Fortune 500 companies, for example, use Microsoft 365 services .
Malicious actors typically gain entry to organizations’ Microsoft 365 environments by abusing either stolen account credentials or stolen session cookies . Once inside, actors can access sensitive data within mailboxes or SharePoint repositories, and send out emails or Teams messages. This activity can often result in serious financial harm, especially in cases where the malicious actor’s end-goal is to elicit fraudulent transactions.
Darktrace regularly observes malicious actors behaving in predictable ways once they gain access to customer Microsoft 365 environment. One typical example is the creation of new inbox rules and sending deceitful emails intended to convince recipients to carry out subsequent actions, such as following a malicious link or providing sensitive information. It is also common for actors to register new applications in Azure AD so that they can be used to conduct follow-up activities, like mass-mailing or data theft. The registration of applications in Azure AD therefore seems to be a relatively predictable threat actor behavior . Darktrace DETECT understands that unusual application registrations in Azure AD may constitute a deviation in expected behavior, and therefore a possible indicator of account compromise.
These registrations of applications in Azure AD are evidenced by creations of, as well as assignments of permissions to, Service Principals in Azure AD. Darktrace has detected a growing trend in actors creating and assigning permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. Further investigation of this Azure AD activity revealed it to be part of an ongoing account takeover.
‘PerfectData Software’ Activity
Darktrace observed variations of the following pattern of activity relating to an application named ‘PerfectData Software’ within its customer base:
- Actor signs in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint associated with a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
- Actor registers an application called 'PerfectData Software' with Azure AD, and then grants permissions to the application
- Actor accesses mailbox data and creates inbox rule
In two separate incidents, malicious actors were observed conducting their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services (HideMyAss (HMA) VPN and Surfshark VPN, respectively) and from endpoints within the Autonomous System AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed a malicious actor signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from a Kuwait-based IP address within the Autonomous System, AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o. This IP address is associated with the VPN service, HMA VPN. Over the next couple of days, an actor (likely the same malicious actor) signed in to the account several more times from two different Nigeria-based endpoints, as well as a VPS-related endpoint and a HMA VPN endpoint.
During their login sessions, the actor performed a variety of actions. First, they created and assigned permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. This Service Principal creation represents the registration of an application called ‘PerfectData Software’ in Azure AD. Although the reason for registering this application is unclear, within a few days the actor registered and granted permission to another application, ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’, and created a new inbox rule names ‘s’ on the mailbox of the hijacked account. This inbox rule moved emails meeting certain conditions to a folder named ‘RSS Subscription. The ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’ application was likely registered by the actor to facilitate mass-mailing activity.
Immediately after these actions, Darktrace detected the actor sending out thousands of malicious emails from the account. The emails included an attachment named ‘Credit Transfer Copy.html’, which contained a suspicious link. Further investigation revealed that the customer’s network had received several fake invoice emails prior to this initial intrusion activity. Additionally, there was an unusually high volume of failed logins to the compromised account around the time of the initial access.
In a separate case also observed by Darktrace in March 2023, a malicious actor was observed signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint within the Autonomous System, AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON. The endpoint appears to be related to the VPN service, Surfshark VPN. This login was followed by several failed and successful logins from a VPS-related within the Autonomous System, AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01. The actor was then seen registering and assigning permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’. As with the previous example, the motives for this registration are unclear. The actor proceeded to log in several more times from a Surfshark VPN endpoint, however, they were not observed carrying out any further suspicious activity.
It was not clear in either of these examples, nor in fact any of cases observed by Darktrace, why actors had registered and assigned permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’, and there do not appear to be any open-source intelligence (OSINT) resources or online literature related to the malicious usage of an application by that name. That said, there are several websites which appear to provide email migration and data recovery/backup tools under the moniker ‘PerfectData Software’.
It is unclear whether the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ by malicious actors observed on the networks of Darktrace customers was one of these tools. However, given the nature of the tools, it is possible that the actors intended to use them to facilitate the exfiltration of email data from compromises mailboxes.
If the legitimate software ‘PerfectData’ is the application in question in these incidents, it is likely being purchased and misused by attackers for malicious purposes. It is also possible the application referenced in the incidents is a spoof of the legitimate ‘PerfectData’ software designed to masquerade a malicious application as legitimate.
Cases of ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains detected by Darktrace typically began with an actor signing into an internal user’s Microsoft 365 account from a VPN or VPS-related endpoint. These login events, along with the suspicious email and/or brute-force activity which preceded them, caused the following DETECT models to breach:
- SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use
- SaaS / Access / Suspicious Login Attempt
- SaaS / Compromise / Login From Rare Following Suspicious Login Attempt(s)
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Unusual Location for SaaS and Email Activity
Subsequent activities, including inbox rule creations, registration of applications in Azure AD, and mass-mailing activity, resulted in breaches of the following DETECT models.
- SaaS / Admin / OAuth Permission Grant
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Logic Following OAuth Grant
- SaaS / Admin / New Application Service Principal
- IaaS / Admin / Azure Application Administration Activities
- SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Suspicious Internal Exchange Activity
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Possible Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Suspicious Login and Suspicious Outbound Email(s)
In cases where Darktrace RESPOND™ was enabled in autonomous response mode, ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains resulted in breaches of the following RESPOND models:
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
In response to these model breaches, Darktrace RESPOND took immediate action, performing aggressive, inhibitive actions, such as forcing the actor to log out of the SaaS platform, and disabling the user entirely. When applied autonomously, these RESPOND actions would seriously impede an attacker’s progress and minimize network disruption.
In addition, Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst was able to autonomously investigate registrations of the ‘PerfectData Software’ application and summarized its findings into digestible reports.
Due to the widespread adoption of Microsoft 365 services in the workplace and continued emphasis on a remote workforce, account hijackings now pose a more serious threat to organizations around the world than ever before. The cases discussed here illustrate the tendency of malicious actors to conduct their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services, while also registering new applications, like PerfectData Software, with malicious intent.
While it was unclear exactly why the malicious actors were using ‘PerfectData Software’ as part of their account hijacking, it is clear that either the legitimate or spoofed version of the application is becoming an very likely emergent piece of threat actor tradecraft.
Darktrace DETECT’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to recognize that the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ represented a deviation in the SaaS user’s expected behavior. While Darktrace RESPOND, when enabled in autonomous response mode, was able to quickly take preventative action against threat actors, blocking the potential use of the application for data exfiltration or other nefarious purposes.
MITRE ATT&CK Mapping
• T1598 – Phishing for Information
• T1110 – Brute Force
• T1078.004 – Valid Accounts: Cloud Accounts
Command and Control:
• T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer
• T1098.003 – Account Manipulation: Additional Cloud Roles
• T1114 – Email Collection
• T1564.008 – Hide Artifacts: Email Hiding Rules
• T1534 – Internal Spearphishing
Unusual Source IPs
• 5.62.60[.]202 (AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o.)
• 160.152.10[.]215 (AS37637 Smile-Nigeria-AS)
• 197.244.250[.]155 (AS37705 TOPNET)
• 169.159.92[.]36 (AS37122 SMILE)
• 45.62.170[.]237 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
• 92.38.180[.]49 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A)
• 129.56.36[.]26 (AS327952 AS-NATCOM)
• 92.38.180[.]47 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A.)
• 107.179.20[.]214 (AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON)
• 45.62.170[.]31 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
Darktrace Integrates Self-Learning AI with Amazon Security Lake to Support Security Investigations
Darktrace has deepened its relationship with AWS by integrating its detection and response capabilities with Amazon Security Lake.
This development will allow mutual customers to seamlessly combine Darktrace AI’s bespoke understanding of their organization with the Threat Intelligence offered by other security tools, and investigate all of their alerts in one central location.
This integration will improve the value security teams get from both products, streamlining analyst workflows and improving their ability to detect and respond to the full spectrum of known and unknown cyber-threats.
How Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake augment security teams
Amazon Security Lake is a newly-released service that automatically centralizes an organization’s security data from cloud, on-premises, and custom sources into a customer owned purpose-built data lake. Both Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake support the Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF), an open standard to simplify, combine, and analyze security logs.
Customers can store security logs, events, alerts, and other relevant data generated by various AWS services and security tools. By consolidating security data in a central lake, organizations can gain a holistic view of their security posture, perform advanced analytics, detect anomalies and open investigations to improve their security practices.
With Darktrace DETECT and RESPOND AI engines covering all assets across IT, OT, network, endpoint, IoT, email and cloud, organizations can augment the value of their security data lakes by feeding Darktrace’s rich and context-aware datapoints to Amazon Security Lake.
Amazon Security Lake empowers security teams to improve the protection of your digital estate:
- Quick and painless data normalization
- Fast-tracks ability to investigate, triage and respond to security events
- Broader visibility aids more effective decision-making
- Surfaces and prioritizes anomalies for further investigation
- Single interface for seamless data management
How will Darktrace customers benefit?
Across the Cyber AI Loop, all Darktrace solutions have been architected with AWS best practices in mind. With this integration, Darktrace is bringing together its understanding of ‘self’ for every organization with the centralized data visibility of the Amazon Security Lake. Darktrace’s unique approach to cyber security, powered by groundbreaking AI research, delivers a superior dataset based on a deep and interconnected understanding of the enterprise.
Where other cyber security solutions are trained to identify threats based on historical attack data and techniques, Darktrace DETECT gains a bespoke understanding of every digital environment, continuously analyzing users, assets, devices and the complex relationships between them. Our AI analyzes thousands of metrics to reveal subtle deviations that may signal an evolving issue – even unknown techniques and novel malware. It distinguishes between malicious and benign behavior, identifying harmful activity that typically goes unnoticed. This rich dataset is fed into RESPOND, which takes precise action to neutralize threats against any and every asset, no matter where data resides.
Both DETECT and RESPOND are supported by Darktrace Self-Learning AI, which provides full, real-time visibility into an organization’s systems and data. This always-on threat analysis already makes humans better at cyber security, improving decisions and outcomes based on total visibility of the digital ecosystem, supporting human performance with AI coverage and empowering security teams to proactively protect critical assets.
Converting Darktrace alerts to the Amazon Security Lake Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF) supplies the Security Operations Center (SOC) and incident response team with contextualized data, empowering them to accelerate their investigation, triage and response to potential cyber threats.
Darktrace is available for purchase on the AWS Marketplace.
Learn more about how Darktrace provides full-coverage, AI-powered cloud security for AWS, or see how our customers use Darktrace in their AWS cloud environments.