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Inside the SOC

Phishing with QR Codes: How Darktrace Detected and Blocked the Bait

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06
Jul 2023
06
Jul 2023
This blog explores Darktrace’s successful detection of a recent phishing campaign against a tech customer, which employed a relatively novel technique – QR Code exploitation. Thanks to Darktrace/Email the attack was thwarted in the first instance.

What is a QR Code?

Invented by a Japanese company in 1994 to label automobile parts, Quick Response codes, best known as QR codes, are rapidly becoming ubiquitous everywhere in the world. Their design, inspired by the board and black and white pieces of the game of Go, permits the storage of more information than regular barcodes and to access that information more quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to their increased popularity as it conveniently replaced physical media of all types for the purpose of content sharing. It is now common to see them in restaurant menus, plane tickets, advertisements and even in stickers containing minimal to no text pasted on lamp posts and other surfaces, enticing passers-by to scan its content. 

QR Code Phishing Attacks (Quishing)

Recently, threat actors have been identified using QR codes too to embed malicious URLs leading the unsuspecting user to compromised websites containing malware or designed to harvest credentials. In the past month, Darktrace has observed an increase in the number of phishing emails leveraging malicious QR codes for malware distribution and/or credential harvesting, a new form of social engineering attack labelled “Quishing” (i.e., QR code phishing).

Between June 13 and June 22, 2023, Darktrace protected a tech company against one such Quishing attack when five of its senior employees were sent malicious emails impersonating the company’s IT department. The emails contained a QR code that led to a login page designed to harvest the credentials of these senior staff members. Fortunately for the customer, Darktrace/Email thwarted this phishing campaign in the first instance and the emails never reached the employee inboxes. 

Trends in Quishing Attacks

The Darktrace/Email team have noticed a recent and rapid increase in QR code abuse, suggesting that it is a growing tactic used by threat actors to deliver malicious payload links. This trend has also been observed by other security solutions [1] [2] [3] [4]. The Darktrace/Email team has identified malicious emails abusing QR codes in multiple ways. Examples include embedded image links which load a QR code and QR code images being delivered as attachments, such as those explored in this case study. Darktrace/Email is continually refining its detection of malicious QR codes and QR code extraction capabilities so that it can detect and block them regardless of their size and location within the email.   

Quishing Attack Overview

The attack consisted of five emails, each sent from different sender and envelope addresses, displayed common points between them. The emails all conveyed a sense of urgency, either via the use of words such as “urgent”, “now”, “required” or “important” in the subject field or by marking the email as high priority, thus making the recipient believe the message is pressing and requires immediate attention. 

Additionally, the subject of three of the emails directly referred to two factor authentication (2FA) enabling or QR code activation. Another particularity of these emails was that three of them attempted to impersonate the internal IT team of the company by inserting the company domain alongside strings, such as “it-desk” and “IT”, into the personal field of the emails. Email header fields like this are often abused by attackers to trick users by pretending to be an internal department or senior employee, thus avoiding more thorough validation checks. Both instilling a sense of urgency and including a known domain or name in the personal field are techniques that help draw attention to the email and maximize the chances that it is opened and engaged by the recipient. 

However, threat actors also need to make sure that the emails actually reach the intended inboxes, and this can be done in several ways. In this case, several tactics were employed. Two of the five emails were sent from legitimate sender addresses that successfully passed SPF validation, suggesting they were sent from compromised accounts. SPF is a standard email authentication method that tells the receiving email servers whether emails have been sent from authorized servers for a given domain. Without SPF validation, emails are more likely to be categorized as spam and be sent to the junk folder as they do not come from authorized sources.

Another of the malicious emails, which also passed SPF checks, used a health care facility company domain in the header-from address field but was actually sent from a different domain (i.e., envelope domain), which lowers the value of the SPF authentication. However, the envelope domain observed in this instance belonged to a company recently acquired by the tech company targeted by the campaign.

This shows a high level of targeting from the attackers, who likely hoped that this detail would make the email more familiar and less suspicious. In another case, the sender domain (i.e., banes-gn[.]com) had been created just 6 days prior, thus lowering the chances of there being open-source intelligence (OSINT) available on the domain. This reduces the chances of the email being detected by traditional email security solutions relying on signatures and known-bad lists.

Darktrace Detects Quishing Attack

Despite its novelty, the domain was detected and assessed as highly suspicious by Darktrace. Darktrace/Email was able to recognize all of the emails as spoofing and impersonation attempts and applied the relevant tags to them, namely “IT Impersonation” and “Fake Account Alert”, depending on the choice of personal field and subject. The senders of the five emails had no prior history or association with the recipient nor the company as no previous correspondence had been observed between the sender and recipient. The tags applied informed on the likely intent and nature of the suspicious indicators present in the email, as shown in Figure 1. 

Darktrace/Email UI
Figure 1: Email log overview page, displaying important information clearly and concisely. 

Quishing Attack Tactics

Minimal Plain Text

Another characteristic shared by these emails was that they had little to no text included in the body of the email and they did not contain a plain text portion, as shown in Figure 2. For most normal emails sent by email clients and most automated programs, an email will contain an HTML component and a text component, in addition to any potential attachments present. All the emails had one image attachment, suggesting the bulk of the message was displayed in the image rather than the email body. This hinders textual analysis and filtering of the email for suspicious keywords and language that could reveal its phishing intent. Additionally, the emails were well-formatted and used the logo of the well-known corporation Microsoft, suggesting some level of technical ability on the part of the attackers. 

Figure 2: Email body properties giving additional insights into the content of the email. 

Attachment and link payloads

The threat actors employed some particularly innovative and novel techniques with regards to the attachments and link payloads within these emails. As previously stated, all emails contained an image attachment and one or two links. Figure 3 shows that Darktrace/Email detected that the malicious links present in these emails were located in the attachments, rather than the body of the email. This is a technique often employed by threat actors to bypass link analysis by security gateways. Darktrace/Email was also able to detect this link as a QR code link, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3: Further properties and metrics regarding the location of the link within the email. 
Figure 4: Darktrace/Email analyses multiple metrics and properties related to links, some of which are detailed here. 

The majority of the text, as well as the malicious payload, was contained within the image attachment, which for one of the emails looked like this: 

example of quishing email
Figure 5: Redacted screenshot of the image payload contained in one of the emails. 

Convincing Appearance

As shown, the recipient is asked to setup 2FA authentication for their account within two days if they don’t want to be locked out. The visual formatting of the image, which includes a corporate logo and Privacy Statement and Acceptable Use Policy notices, is well balanced and convincing. The payload, in this case the QR code containing a malicious link, is positioned in the centre so as to draw attention and encourage the user to scan and click. This is a type of email employees are increasingly accustomed to receiving in order to log into corporate networks and applications. Therefore, recipients of such malicious emails might assume represents expected business activity and thus engage with the QR code without questioning it, especially if the email is claiming to be from the IT department.  

Malicious Redirection

Two of the Quishing emails contained links to legitimate file storage and sharing solutions Amazon Web Services (AWS) and and InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), whose domains are less likely to be blocked by traditional security solutions. Additionally, the AWS domain link contained a redirect to a different domain that has been flagged as malicious by multiple security vendors [5]. Malicious redirection was observed in four of the five emails, initially from well-known and benign services’ domains such as bing[.]com and login[.]microsoftonline[.]com. This technique allows attackers to hide the real destination of the link from the user and increase the likelihood that the link is clicked. In two of the emails, the redirect domain had only recently been registered, and in one case, the redirect domain observed was hosted on the new .zip top level domain (i.e., docusafe[.]zip). The domain name suggests it is attempting to masquerade as a compressed file containing important documentation. As seen in Figure 6, a new Darktrace/Email feature allows customers to safely view the final destination of the link, which in this case was a seemingly fake Microsoft login page which could be used to harvest corporate credentials.

Figure 6: Safe preview available from the Darktrace/Email Console showing the destination webpage of one of the redirect links observed.

Gathering Account Credentials

Given the nature of the landing page, it is highly likely that this phishing campaign had the objective of stealing the recipients’ credentials, as further indicated by the presence of the recipients’ email addresses in the links. Additionally, these emails were sent to senior employees, likely in an attempt to gather high value credentials to use in future attacks against the company. Had they succeeded, this would have represented a serious security incident, especially considering that 61% of attacks in 2023 involved stolen or hacked credentials according to Verizon’s 2023 data breach investigations report [6]. However, these emails received the highest possible anomaly score (100%) and were held by Darktrace/Email, thus ensuring that their intended recipients were never exposed to them. 

Looking at the indicators of compromise (IoCs) identified in this campaign, it appears that several of the IPs associated with the link payloads have been involved in previous phishing campaigns. Exploring the relations tab for these IPs in Virus Total, some of the communicating files appear to be .eml files and others have generic filenames including strings such as “invoice” “remittance details” “statement” “voice memo”, suggesting they have been involved in other phishing campaigns seemingly related to payment solicitation and other fraud attempts.

Figure 7: Virus Total’s relations tab for the IP 209.94.90[.]1 showing files communicating with the IP. 

Conclusion

Even though the authors of this Quishing campaign used all the tricks in the book to ensure that their emails would arrive unactioned by security tools to the targeted high value recipients’ inboxes, Darktrace/Email was able to immediately recognize the phishing attempts for what they were and block the emails from reaching their destination. 

This campaign used both classic and novel tactics, techniques, and procedures, but ultimately were detected and thwarted by Darktrace/Email. It is yet another example of the increasing attack sophistication mentioned in a previous Darktrace blog [7], wherein the attack landscape is moving from low-sophistication, low-impact, and generic phishing tactics to more targeted, sophisticated and higher impact attacks. Darktrace/Email does not rely on historical data nor known-bad lists and is best positioned to protect organizations from these highly targeted and sophisticated attacks.

References

[1] https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/opinions/qr-codes-vulnerability-cybercrimes/ 

[2] https://www.helpnetsecurity.com/2023/03/21/qr-scan-scams/ 

[3] https://www.techtarget.com/searchsecurity/feature/Quishing-on-the-rise-How-to-prevent-QR-code-phishing 

[4] https://businessplus.ie/tech/qr-code-phishing-hp/ 

[5] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/fistulacure.com

[6] https://www.verizon.com/business/en-gb/resources/reports/dbir/ ; https://www.verizon.com/business/en-gb/resources/reports/dbir/

[7] https://darktrace.com/blog/shifting-email-conversation 

Darktrace Model Detections 

Association models

No Sender or Content Association

New Sender

Unknown Sender

Low Sender Association

Link models

Focused Link to File Storage

Focused Rare Classified Links

New Unknown Hidden Redirect

High Risk Link + Low Sender Association

Watched Link Type

High Classified Link

File Storage From New

Hidden Link To File Storage

New Correspondent Classified Link

New Unknown Redirect

Rare Hidden Classified Link

Rare Hidden Link

Link To File Storage

Link To File Storage and Unknown Sender

Open Redirect

Unknown Sender Isolated Rare Link

Visually Prominent Link

Visually Prominent Link Unexpected For Sender

Low Link Association

Low Link Association and Unknown Sender

Spoof models

Fake Support Style

External Domain Similarities

Basic Known Entity Similarities

Unusual models

Urgent Request Banner

Urgent Request Banner + Basic Suspicious Sender

Very Young Header Domain

Young Header Domain

Unknown User Tracking

Unrelated Personal Name Address

Unrelated Personal Name Address + Freemail

Unusual Header TLD

Unusual Connection From Unknown

Unbroken Personal

Proximity models

Spam + Unknown Sender

Spam

Spam models

Unlikely Freemail Correspondence

Unlikely Freemail Personalization

General Indicators models

Incoming Mail Security Warning Message

Darktrace Model Tags

Credential Harvesting

Internal IT Impersonation

Multistage payload

Lookalike Domain

Phishing Link

Email Account Takeover

Fake Account Alert

Low Mailing History

No Association

Spoofing Indicators

Unknown Correspondent

VIP

Freemail

IoC - Type - Description & Confidence

fistulacure[.]com

domain

C2 Infrastructure

docusafe[.]zip

domain

Possible C2 Infrastructure

mwmailtec[.]com

domain

Possible C2 Infrastructure

czeromedia[.]com

domain

Possible C2 Infrastructure

192.40.165[.]109

IP address

Probable C2 Infrastructure

209.94.90[.]1

IP address

C2 Infrastructure

52.61.107[.]58

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

40.126.32[.]133

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

211.63.158[.]157

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

119.9.27[.]129

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.25.204[.]33

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

40.107.8[.]107

IP address

Probable C2 Infrastructure

40.107.212[.]111

IP address

Possible Infrastructure

27.86.113[.]2

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

192.40.191[.]19

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

157.205.202[.]217

IP address

Possible C2 Infrastructure

a31f1f6063409ecebe8893e36d0048557142cbf13dbaf81af42bf14c43b12a48

SHA256 hash

Possible Malicious File

4c4fb35ab6445bf3749b9d0ab1b04f492f2bc651acb1bbf7af5f0a47502674c9

SHA256 hash

Possible Malicious File

f9c51d270091c34792b17391017a09724d9a7890737e00700dc36babeb97e252

SHA256 hash

Possible Malicious File

9f8ccfd616a8f73c69d25fd348b874d11a036b4d2b3fc7dbb99c1d6fa7413d9a

SHA256 hash

Possible Malicious File

b748894348c32d1dc5702085d70d846c6dd573296e79754df4857921e707c439

SHA256 hash

Possible Malicious File

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.
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ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
Alexandra Sentenac
Cyber Analyst
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Inside the SOC

Sliver C2: How Darktrace Provided a Sliver of Hope in the Face of an Emerging C2 Framework

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17
Apr 2024

Offensive Security Tools

As organizations globally seek to for ways to bolster their digital defenses and safeguard their networks against ever-changing cyber threats, security teams are increasingly adopting offensive security tools to simulate cyber-attacks and assess the security posture of their networks. These legitimate tools, however, can sometimes be exploited by real threat actors and used as genuine actor vectors.

What is Sliver C2?

Sliver C2 is a legitimate open-source command-and-control (C2) framework that was released in 2020 by the security organization Bishop Fox. Silver C2 was originally intended for security teams and penetration testers to perform security tests on their digital environments [1] [2] [5]. In recent years, however, the Sliver C2 framework has become a popular alternative to Cobalt Strike and Metasploit for many attackers and Advanced Persistence Threat (APT) groups who adopt this C2 framework for unsolicited and ill-intentioned activities.

The use of Sliver C2 has been observed in conjunction with various strains of Rust-based malware, such as KrustyLoader, to provide backdoors enabling lines of communication between attackers and their malicious C2 severs [6]. It is unsurprising, then, that it has also been leveraged to exploit zero-day vulnerabilities, including critical vulnerabilities in the Ivanti Connect Secure and Policy Secure services.

In early 2024, Darktrace observed the malicious use of Sliver C2 during an investigation into post-exploitation activity on customer networks affected by the Ivanti vulnerabilities. Fortunately for affected customers, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to recognize the suspicious network-based connectivity that emerged alongside Sliver C2 usage and promptly brought it to the attention of customer security teams for remediation.

How does Silver C2 work?

Given its open-source nature, the Sliver C2 framework is extremely easy to access and download and is designed to support multiple operating systems (OS), including MacOS, Windows, and Linux [4].

Sliver C2 generates implants (aptly referred to as ‘slivers’) that operate on a client-server architecture [1]. An implant contains malicious code used to remotely control a targeted device [5]. Once a ‘sliver’ is deployed on a compromised device, a line of communication is established between the target device and the central C2 server. These connections can then be managed over Mutual TLS (mTLS), WireGuard, HTTP(S), or DNS [1] [4]. Sliver C2 has a wide-range of features, which include dynamic code generation, compile-time obfuscation, multiplayer-mode, staged and stageless payloads, procedurally generated C2 over HTTP(S) and DNS canary blue team detection [4].

Why Do Attackers Use Sliver C2?

Amidst the multitude of reasons why malicious actors opt for Sliver C2 over its counterparts, one stands out: its relative obscurity. This lack of widespread recognition means that security teams may overlook the threat, failing to actively search for it within their networks [3] [5].

Although the presence of Sliver C2 activity could be representative of authorized and expected penetration testing behavior, it could also be indicative of a threat actor attempting to communicate with its malicious infrastructure, so it is crucial for organizations and their security teams to identify such activity at the earliest possible stage.

Darktrace’s Coverage of Sliver C2 Activity

Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection means that it does not explicitly attempt to attribute or distinguish between specific C2 infrastructures. Despite this, Darktrace was able to connect Sliver C2 usage to phases of an ongoing attack chain related to the exploitation of zero-day vulnerabilities in Ivanti Connect Secure VPN appliances in January 2024.

Around the time that the zero-day Ivanti vulnerabilities were disclosed, Darktrace detected an internal server on one customer network deviating from its expected pattern of activity. The device was observed making regular connections to endpoints associated with Pulse Secure Cloud Licensing, indicating it was an Ivanti server. It was observed connecting to a string of anomalous hostnames, including ‘cmjk3d071amc01fu9e10ae5rt9jaatj6b.oast[.]live’ and ‘cmjft14b13vpn5vf9i90xdu6akt5k3pnx.oast[.]pro’, via HTTP using the user agent ‘curl/7.19.7 (i686-redhat-linux-gnu) libcurl/7.63.0 OpenSSL/1.0.2n zlib/1.2.7’.

Darktrace further identified that the URI requested during these connections was ‘/’ and the top-level domains (TLDs) of the endpoints in question were known Out-of-band Application Security Testing (OAST) server provider domains, namely ‘oast[.]live’ and ‘oast[.]pro’. OAST is a testing method that is used to verify the security posture of an application by testing it for vulnerabilities from outside of the network [7]. This activity triggered the DETECT model ‘Compromise / Possible Tunnelling to Bin Services’, which breaches when a device is observed sending DNS requests for, or connecting to, ‘request bin’ services. Malicious actors often abuse such services to tunnel data via DNS or HTTP requests. In this specific incident, only two connections were observed, and the total volume of data transferred was relatively low (2,302 bytes transferred externally). It is likely that the connections to OAST servers represented malicious actors testing whether target devices were vulnerable to the Ivanti exploits.

The device proceeded to make several SSL connections to the IP address 103.13.28[.]40, using the destination port 53, which is typically reserved for DNS requests. Darktrace recognized that this activity was unusual as the offending device had never previously been observed using port 53 for SSL connections.

Model Breach Event Log displaying the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breaching in response to the unusual use of port 53.
Figure 1: Model Breach Event Log displaying the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breaching in response to the unusual use of port 53.

Figure 2: Model Breach Event Log displaying details pertaining to the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breach, including the 100% rarity of the port usage.
Figure 2: Model Breach Event Log displaying details pertaining to the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breach, including the 100% rarity of the port usage.

Further investigation into the suspicious IP address revealed that it had been flagged as malicious by multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors [8]. In addition, OSINT sources also identified that the JARM fingerprint of the service running on this IP and port (00000000000000000043d43d00043de2a97eabb398317329f027c66e4c1b01) was linked to the Sliver C2 framework and the mTLS protocol it is known to use [4] [5].

An Additional Example of Darktrace’s Detection of Sliver C2

However, it was not just during the January 2024 exploitation of Ivanti services that Darktrace observed cases of Sliver C2 usages across its customer base.  In March 2023, for example, Darktrace detected devices on multiple customer accounts making beaconing connections to malicious endpoints linked to Sliver C2 infrastructure, including 18.234.7[.]23 [10] [11] [12] [13].

Darktrace identified that the observed connections to this endpoint contained the unusual URI ‘/NIS-[REDACTED]’ which contained 125 characters, including numbers, lower and upper case letters, and special characters like “_”, “/”, and “-“, as well as various other URIs which suggested attempted data exfiltration:

‘/upload/api.html?c=[REDACTED] &fp=[REDACTED]’

  • ‘/samples.html?mx=[REDACTED] &s=[REDACTED]’
  • ‘/actions/samples.html?l=[REDACTED] &tc=[REDACTED]’
  • ‘/api.html?gf=[REDACTED] &x=[REDACTED]’
  • ‘/samples.html?c=[REDACTED] &zo=[REDACTED]’

This anomalous external connectivity was carried out through multiple destination ports, including the key ports 443 and 8888.

Darktrace additionally observed devices on affected customer networks performing TLS beaconing to the IP address 44.202.135[.]229 with the JA3 hash 19e29534fd49dd27d09234e639c4057e. According to OSINT sources, this JA3 hash is associated with the Golang TLS cipher suites in which the Sliver framework is developed [14].

Conclusion

Despite its relative novelty in the threat landscape and its lesser-known status compared to other C2 frameworks, Darktrace has demonstrated its ability effectively detect malicious use of Sliver C2 across numerous customer environments. This included instances where attackers exploited vulnerabilities in the Ivanti Connect Secure and Policy Secure services.

While human security teams may lack awareness of this framework, and traditional rules and signatured-based security tools might not be fully equipped and updated to detect Sliver C2 activity, Darktrace’s Self Learning AI understands its customer networks, users, and devices. As such, Darktrace is adept at identifying subtle deviations in device behavior that could indicate network compromise, including connections to new or unusual external locations, regardless of whether attackers use established or novel C2 frameworks, providing organizations with a sliver of hope in an ever-evolving threat landscape.

Credit to Natalia Sánchez Rocafort, Cyber Security Analyst, Paul Jennings, Principal Analyst Consultant

Appendices

DETECT Model Coverage

  • Compromise / Repeating Connections Over 4 Days
  • Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port
  • Anomalous Server Activity / Server Activity on New Non-Standard Port
  • Compromise / Sustained TCP Beaconing Activity To Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Quick and Regular Windows HTTP Beaconing
  • Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination
  • Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Compromise / SSL or HTTP Beacon
  • Compromise / Possible Malware HTTP Comms
  • Compromise / Possible Tunnelling to Bin Services
  • Anomalous Connection / Low and Slow Exfiltration to IP
  • Device / New User Agent
  • Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
  • Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location
  • Anomalous File / Numeric File Download
  • Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External
  • Anomalous Server Activity / New Internet Facing System

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

18.234.7[.]23 - Destination IP - Likely C2 Server

103.13.28[.]40 - Destination IP - Likely C2 Server

44.202.135[.]229 - Destination IP - Likely C2 Server

References

[1] https://bishopfox.com/tools/sliver

[2] https://vk9-sec.com/how-to-set-up-use-c2-sliver/

[3] https://www.scmagazine.com/brief/sliver-c2-framework-gaining-traction-among-threat-actors

[4] https://github[.]com/BishopFox/sliver

[5] https://www.cybereason.com/blog/sliver-c2-leveraged-by-many-threat-actors

[6] https://securityaffairs.com/158393/malware/ivanti-connect-secure-vpn-deliver-krustyloader.html

[7] https://www.xenonstack.com/insights/out-of-band-application-security-testing

[8] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/103.13.28.40/detection

[9] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/browse.php?search=ioc%3A107.174.78.227

[10] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/1074576/

[11] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/1093887/

[12] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/846889/

[13] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/1093889/

[14] https://github.com/projectdiscovery/nuclei/issues/3330

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About the author
Natalia Sánchez Rocafort
Cyber Security Analyst

Blog

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
Our ai. Your data.

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