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Pikabot Malware: Battling a Fast-Moving Loader Malware in the Wild

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19
Mar 2024
19
Mar 2024
This blog details Darktrace’s investigation into the Pikabot loader malware, observed across multiple customers in 2023. In an October 2023 incident, Darktrace identified Pikabot employing new tactics that may have bypassed traditional security measures. With Darktrace’s support, the customer was able to contain the attack and prevent it from escalating into a ransomware infection.

How does Loader Malware work?

Throughout 2023, the Darktrace Threat Research team identified and investigated multiple strains of loader malware affecting customers across its fleet. These malicious programs typically serve as a gateway for threat actors to gain initial access to an organization’s network, paving the way for subsequent attacks, including additional malware infections or disruptive ransomware attacks.

How to defend against loader malware

The prevalence of such initial access threats highlights the need for organizations to defend against multi-phase compromises, where modular malware swiftly progresses from one stage of an attack to the next. One notable example observed in 2023 was Pikabot, a versatile loader malware used for initial access and often accompanied by secondary compromises like Cobalt Strike and Black Basta ransomware.

While Darktrace initially investigated multiple instances of campaign-like activity associated with Pikabot during the summer of 2023, a new campaign emerged in October which was observed targeting a Darktrace customer in Europe. Thanks to the timely detection by Darktrace DETECT™ and the support of Darktrace’s Security Operations Center (SOC), the Pikabot compromise was quickly shut down before it could escalate into a more disruptive attack.

What is Pikabot?

Pikabot is one of the latest modular loader malware strains that has been active since the first half of 2023, with several evolutions in its methodology observed in the months since. Initial researchers noted similarities to the Qakbot aka Qbot or Pinkslipbot and Mantanbuchus malware families, and while Pikabot appears to be a new malware in early development, it shares multiple commonalities with Qakbot [1].

First, both Pikabot and Qakbot have similar distribution methods, can be used for multi-stage attacks, and are often accompanied by downloads of Cobalt Strike and other malware strains. The threat actor known as TA577, which has also been referred to as Water Curupira, has been seen to use both types of malware in spam campaigns which can lead to Black Basta ransomware attacks [2] [3].Notably, a rise in Pikabot campaigns were observed in September and October 2023, shortly after the takedown of Qakbot in Operation Duck Hunt, suggesting that Pikabot may be serving as a replacement for initial access to target network [4].

How does Pikabot malware work?

Many Pikabot infections start with a malicious email, particularly using email thread hijacking; however, other cases have been distributed via malspam and malvertising [5]. Once downloaded, Pikabot runs anti-analysis techniques and checks the system’s language, self-terminating if the language matches that of a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country, such as Russian or Ukrainian. It will then gather key information to send to a command-and-control (C2) server, at which point additional payload downloads may be observed [2]. Early response to a Pikabot infection is important for organizations to prevent escalation to a significant compromise such as ransomware.

Darktrace’s Coverage of Pikabot malware

Between April and July 2023, the Darktrace Threat Research team investigated Pikabot infections affected more than 15 customer environments; these attacks primarily targeted US and European organizations spanning multiple industries, and most followed the below lifecycle:

  1. Initial access via malspam or email, often outside of Darktrace’s scope
  2. Suspicious executable download from a URI in the format /\/[a-z0-9A-Z]{3,}\/[a-z0-9A-Z]{5,}/ and using a Windows PowerShell user agent
  3. C2 connections to IP addresses on uncommon ports including 1194 and 2078
  4. Some cases involved further C2 activity to Cobalt Strike endpoints

In October 2023, a second campaign emerged that largely followed the same attack pattern, with a notable difference that cURL was used for the initial payload download as opposed to PowerShell. All the Pikabot cases that Darktrace has observed since October 2023 have used cURL, which could indicate a shift in approach from targeting Windows devices to multi-operating system environments.

Figure 1: Timeline of the Pikabot infection over a 2-hour period.

On October 17, 2023, Darktrace observed a Pikabot infection on the network of a European customer after an internal user seemingly clicked a malicious link in a phishing email, thereby compromising their device. As the customer did not have Darktrace/Email™ deployed on their network, Darktrace did not have visibility over the email. Despite this, DETECT was still able to provide full visibility over the network-based activity that ensued.

Darktrace observed the device using a cURL user agent when initiating the download of an unusual executable (.exe) file from an IP address that had never previously been observed on the network. Darktrace further recognized that the executable file was attempting to masquerade as a different file type, likely to evade the detection of security teams and their security tools. Within one minute, the device began to communicate with additional unusual IP addresses on uncommon ports (185.106.94[.]174:5000 and 80.85.140[.]152:5938), both of which have been noted by open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors as Pikabot C2 servers [6] [7].

Figure 2: Darktrace model breach Event Log showing the initial file download, immediately followed by a connection attempt to a Pikabot C2 server.

Around 40 minutes after the initial download, Darktrace detected the device performing suspicious DNS tunneling using a pattern that resembled the Cobalt Strike Beacon. This was accompanied by beaconing activity to a rare domain, ‘wordstt182[.]com’, which was registered only 4 days prior to this activity [8]. Darktrace observed additional DNS connections to the endpoint, ‘building4business[.]net’, which had been linked to Black Basta ransomware [2].

Figure 3: The affected device making successful TXT DNS requests to known Black Basta endpoints.

As this customer had integrated Darktrace with the Microsoft Defender, Defender was able to contextualize the DETECT model breaches with endpoint insights, such as known threats and malware, providing customers with unparalleled visibility of the host-level detections surrounding network-level anomalies.

In this case, the behavior of the affected device triggered multiple Microsoft Defender alerts, including one alert which linked the activity to the threat actor Storm-0464, another name for TA577 and Water Curupira. These insights were presented to the customer in the form of a Security Integration alert, allowing them to build a full picture of the ongoing incident.

Figure 4: Security Integration alert from Microsoft Defender in Darktrace, linking the observed activity to the threat group Storm-0464.

As the customer had subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, the customer received timely alerts from Darktrace’s SOC notifying them of the suspicious activity associated with Pikabot. This allowed the customer’s security team to quickly identify the affected device and remove it from their environment for remediation.

Although the customer did have Darktrace RESPOND™ enabled on their network, it was configured in human confirmation mode, requiring manual application for any RESPOND actions. RESPOND had suggested numerous actions to interrupt and contain the attack, including blocking connections to the observed Pikabot C2 addresses, which were manually actioned by the customer’s security team after the fact. Had RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode during the attack, it would have autonomously blocked these C2 connections and prevented the download of any suspicious files, effectively halting the escalation of the attack.

Nonetheless, Darktrace DETECT’s prompt identification and alerting of this incident played a crucial role in enabling the customer to mitigate the threat of Pikabot, preventing it from progressing into a disruptive ransomware attack.

Figure 5: Darktrace RESPOND actions recommended from the initial file download and throughout the C2 traffic, ranging from blocking specific connections to IP addresses and ports to enforcing a normal pattern of life for the source device.

Conclusion

Pikabot is just one recent example of a modular strain of loader known for its adaptability and speed, seamlessly changing tactics from one campaign to the next and utilizing new infrastructure to initiate multi-stage attacks. Leveraging commonly used tools and services like Windows PowerShell and cURL, alongside anti-analysis techniques, this malware can evade the detection and often bypass traditional security tools.

In this incident, Darktrace detected a Pikabot infection in its early stages, identifying an anomalous file download using a cURL user agent, a new tactic for this particular strain of malware. This timely detection, coupled with the support of Darktrace’s SOC, empowered the customer to quickly identify the compromised device and act against it, thwarting threat actors attempting to connect to malicious Cobalt Strike and Black Basta servers. By preventing the escalation of the attack, including potential ransomware deployment, the customer’s environment remained safeguarded.

Had Darktrace RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of this attack, it would have been able to further support the customer by applying targeted mitigative actions to contain the threat of Pikabot at its onset, bolstering their defenses even more effectively.

Credit to Brianna Leddy, Director of Analysis, Signe Zaharka, Senior Cyber Security Analyst

Appendix

Darktrace DETECT Models

Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External

Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External

Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed

Anomalous Connection / Repeated Rare External SSL Self-Signed

Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer

Anomalous File / Multiple EXE from Rare External Locations

Compromise / Agent Beacon to New Endpoint

Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint

Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

Compromise / DNS / DNS Tunnel with TXT Records

Compromise / New or Repeated to Unusual SSL Port

Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination

Compromise / Suspicious Beaconing Behaviour

Compromise / Suspicious File and C2

Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

Device / Large Number of Model Breaches

Device / New PowerShell User Agent

Device / New User Agent

Device / New User Agent and New IP

Device / Suspicious Domain

Security Integration / C2 Activity and Integration Detection

Security Integration / Egress and Integration Detection

Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection

Security Integration / High Severity Integration Incident

Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection

Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Incident

Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena File then New Outbound Block

Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Suspicious Activity Block

Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Suspicious File Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Breaches Over Time Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Controlled and Model Breach

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Enhanced Monitoring from Client Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Security Integration and Network Activity Block

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoC)

IOC - TYPE - DESCRIPTION + CONFIDENCE

128.140.102[.]132 - IP Address - Pikabot Download

185.106.94[.]174:5000 - IP Address: Port - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

80.85.140[.]152:5938 - IP Address: Port - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

building4business[.]net - Hostname - Cobalt Strike DNS Beacon

wordstt182[.]com - Hostname - Cobalt Strike Server

167.88.166[.]109 - IP Address - Cobalt Strike Server

192.9.135[.]73 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

192.121.17[.]68 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

185.87.148[.]132 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

129.153.22[.]231 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

129.153.135[.]83 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

154.80.229[.]76 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

192.121.17[.]14 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

162.252.172[.]253 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

103.124.105[.]147 - IP - Likely Pikabot Download

178.18.246[.]136 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

86.38.225[.]106 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

198.44.187[.]12 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

154.12.233[.]66 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

TACTIC - TECHNIQUE

Defense Evasion - Masquerading: Masquerade File Type (T1036.008)

Command and Control - Application Layer Protocol: Web Protocols (T1071.001)

Command and Control - Non-Standard Port (T1571)

Command and Control - Application Layer Protocol: DNS (T1071.004)

Command and Control - Protocol Tunneling (T1572)

References

[1] https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2023/06/12/deep-dive-into-the-pikabot-cyber-threat/?&web_view=true  

[2] https://www.trendmicro.com/en_be/research/24/a/a-look-into-pikabot-spam-wave-campaign.html

[3] https://thehackernews.com/2024/01/alert-water-curupira-hackers-actively.html

[4] https://www.darkreading.com/cyberattacks-data-breaches/pikabot-malware-qakbot-replacement-black-basta-attacks

[5] https://www.redpacketsecurity.com/pikabot-distributed-via-malicious-ads-6/

[6] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/185.106.94.174/detection

[7] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/80.85.140.152/detection

[8] https://www.domainiq.com/domain?wordstt182.com

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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Blog

Inside the SOC

Post-Exploitation Activities on PAN-OS Devices: A Network-Based Analysis

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20
Jun 2024

Introduction

Perimeter devices such as firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), have long been the target of adversarial actors attempting to gain access to internal networks. However, recent publications and public service announcements by leading public institutions underscore the increased emphasis threat actors are putting on leveraging such products to initiate compromises.

A blog post by the UK National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) released in early 2024 notes that as improvements are made in the detection of phishing email payloads, threat actors have again begun re-focusing efforts to exploiting network edge devices, many of which are not secure by design, as a means of breach initiation.[i] As such, it comes as no surprise that new Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) are constantly discovered that exploit such internet-exposed systems.

Darktrace analysts frequently observe the impacts of such CVEs first through their investigations via Darktrace’s Security Operations Center (SOC), sometimes even before the public disclosure of proof of concepts for such exploits.  Beginning April 2024, Darktrace’s SOC began handling alerts and customer requests for potential incidents involving Palo Alto Networks firewall devices.  It was during this time that external researchers publicly disclosed what would later be classified as PAN-OS CVE-2024-3400, a form of remote command execution vulnerability that affects several versions of Palo Alto Networks’ firewall operating System (PAN-OS), namely PAN-OS 11.1, 11.0 and 10.2.

The increase in observed SOC activity for Palo Alto firewall devices, coupled with the public announcement of the new CVE, prompted Darktrace researchers to look for evidence of PAN-OS exploitation on customer networks. Researchers also focused on documenting post-exploitation activity from threat actors leveraging the recently disclosed vulnerability.

As such, this blog highlights the network-based behaviors involved in the CVE-2024-3400 attack chains investigated by Darktrace’s SOC and Threat Research teams. Moreover, this investigation also provides a deeper insight into the post-compromise activities of threat actors leveraging the novel CVE.  Such insights will not only prove relevant for cybersecurity teams looking to inhibit compromises in this specific instance, but also highlights general patterns of behavior by threat actors utilizing such CVEs to target internet-facing systems.

CVE-2024-3400

In April 2024, the Darktrace SOC observed an uptick in activity involving recurring patterns of malicious activity from Palo Alto firewall appliances. In response to this trend, Darktrace initiated a Threat Research investigation into such activity to try and identify common factors and indicators across seemingly parallel events. As the Threat Research team opened their investigation, external researchers concurrently provided public details of CVE-2024-3400, a form of remote command execution vulnerability in the GlobalProtect feature on Palo Alto Network firewall devices running PAN-OS versions: 10.2, 11.0, and 11.1.[ii]

In their proof of concept, security researchers at watchTowr demonstrated how an attacker can pass session ID (SESSID) values to these PAN-OS devices to request files that do not exist. In response, the system creates a zero-byte file with root privileges with the same name.[iii] Log data is passed on devices running telemetry services to external servers through command line functionality.[iv] Given this functionality, external actors could then request non-existent files in the SESSID containing command parameters which then be interpreted by the command line functionality.[v] Although researchers first believed the exploit could only be used against devices running telemetry services, this was later discovered to be untrue.[vi]

As details of CVE-2024-3400 began to surface, Darktrace’s Threat Research analysts quickly identified distinct overlaps in the observed activity on specific customer deployments and the post-exploitation behavior reported by external researchers. Given the parallels, Darktrace correlated the patterns of activity observed by the SOC team to exploitation of the newly discovered vulnerability in PAN-OS firewall appliances.

Campaign Analysis

Between the April and May 2024, Darktrace identified four main themes of post-exploitation activity involving Palo Alto Network firewall devices likely targeted via CVE-2024-3400: exploitation validation, shell command and tool retrieval, configuration data exfiltration, and ongoing command and control through encrypted channels and application protocols.

1. Exploit Validation and Further Vulnerability Enumeration

Many of the investigated attack chains began with malicious actors using out-of-band application security testing (OAST) services such as Interactsh to validate exploits against Palo Alto firewall appliances. This exploit validation activity typically resulted in devices attempting to contact unusual external endpoints (namely, subdomains of ‘oast[.]pro’, ‘oast[.]live’, ‘oast[.]site’, ‘oast[.]online’, ‘oast[.]fun’, ‘oast[.]me’, and ‘g3n[.]in’) associated with OAST services such as Interactsh. These services can be used by developers to inspect and debug internet traffic, but also have been easily abused by threat actors.

While attempted connections to OAST services do not alone indicate CVE-2024-3400 exploitation, the prevalence of such activities in observed Palo Alto firewall attack chains suggests widespread usage of these OAST services to validate initial access methods and possibly further enumerate systems for additional vulnerabilities.

Figure 1: Model alert log details showcasing a PAN-OS device making DNS queries for Interactsh domain names in what could be exploit validation, and/or further host enumeration.

2. Command and Payload Transmission

The most common feature across analyzed incidents was HTTP GET requests for shell scripts and Linux executable files (ELF) from external IPs associated with exploitation of the CVE. These HTTP requests were frequently initiated using the utilities, cURL and wget. On nearly every device likely targeted by threat actors leveraging the CVE, Darktrace analysts highlighted the retrieval of shell scripts that either featured enumeration commands, the removal of evidence of compromise activity, or commands to retrieve and start binaries on the destination device.

a) Shell Script Retrieval

Investigated devices commonly performed HTTP GET requests to retrieve shell command scripts. Despite this commonality, there was some degree of variety amongst the retrieved payloads and their affiliation with certain command tools. Several distinct types of shell commands and files were identified during the analyzed breaches. For example, some firewall devices were seen requesting .txt files associated with both Sliver C2, whose malicious use has previously been investigated by Darktrace, and Cobalt Strike. The target URIs of devices’ HTTP requests for these files included, “36shr.txt”, “2.txt”, “bin.txt”, and “data.txt”.

More interestingly, though, was the frequency with which analyzed systems requested bash scripts from rare external IP addresses, sometimes over non-standard ports for the HTTP protocol. These bash scripts would feature commands usually for the recipient system to check for certain existing files and or running processes. If the file did not exist, the system would then use cURL or wget to obtain content from external sites, change the permissions of the file, and then execute, sending output to dev/null as a means of likely defense evasion. In some scripts, the system would first make a new folder, and change directories prior to acquiring external content. Additionally, some samples highlighted multiple attempts at enumeration of the host system.

Figure 2: Packet capture (PCAP) data highlighting the incoming shell scripts providing instructions to use cURL to obtain external content, change the permissions of the file to execute, and then run the binary using the credentials and details provided.
Figure 3: PCAP data highlighting a variation of a shell script seen in an HTTP response processed by compromised devices. The script provides instructions to make a directory, retrieve and execute external content, and to hide the output.

Not every retrieved file that was not explicitly a binary featured bash scripts. Model alerts on some deployments also included file masquerading attempts by threat actors, whereby the Palo Alto firewall device would request content with a misleading extension in the URI. In one such instance, the requested URI, and HTTP response header suggests the returned content is an image/png, but the actual body response featured configuration parameters for a new daemon service to be run on the system.

Figure 4: PCAP data indicating configuration details likely for a new daemon on an investigated host. Such HTTP body content differs from the image/png extension within the request URI and declared content type in the HTTP response header.

Bash scripts analyzed across customer deployments also mirrored those identified by external security teams. External researchers previously reported on a series of identifiable shell commands in some cases of CVE-2024-3400 exploitation analyzed by their teams. Commands frequently involved a persistence mechanism they later labeled as the “UPSTYLE” backdoor.[vii]  This python-based program operates by reading commands hidden in error logs generated by 404 requests to the compromised server. The backdoor interprets the requests and writes the output to CSS files on the device. In many cases, Darktrace’s Threat Research team noted clear parallels between shell commands retrieved via HTTP GET request with those directly involving UPSTYLE. There were also matches with some URI patterns identified with the backdoor and requests observed on Darktrace deployments.

Figure 5: HTTP response data containing shell commands potentially relating to the UPSTYLE backdoor.

The presence of these UPSTYLE-related shell commands in response to Palo Alto firewall devices’ HTTP requests provides further evidence for initial exploitation of the CVE. Many bash scripts in examined cases interacted with folders and files likely related to CVE-2024-3400 exploitation. These scripts frequently sought to delete contents of certain folders, such as “/opt/panlogs/tmp/device_telemetry/minute/*” where evidence of exploitation would likely reside. Moreover, recursive removal and copy commands were frequently seen targeting CSS files within the GlobalProtect folder, already noted as the vulnerable element within PAN-OS versions. This evidence is further corroborated by host-based forensic analysis conducted by external researchers.[viii]

Figure 6: PCAP data from investigated system indicating likely defense evasion by removing content on folders where CVE exploitation occurred.

b) Executable File Retrieval

Typically, following command processing, compromised Palo Alto firewall devices proceeded to make web requests for several unusual and potentially malicious files. Many such executables would be retrieved via processed scripts. While there a fair amount of variety in specific executables and binaries obtained, overall, these executables involved either further command tooling such as Sliver C2 or Cobalt Strike payloads, or unknown executables. Affected systems would also employ uncommon ports for HTTP connections, in a likely attempt to evade detection. Extensions featured within the URI, when visible, frequently noted ‘.elf’ (Linux executable) or ‘.exe’ payloads. While most derived hashes did not feature identifiable open-source intelligence (OSINT) details, some samples did have external information tying the sample to specific malware. For example, one such investigation featured a compromised system requesting a file with a hash identified as the Spark malware (backdoor) while another investigated case included a host requesting a known crypto-miner.

Figure 7: PCAP data highlighting compromised system retrieving ELF content from a rare external server running a simple Python HTTP server.
Figure 8: Darktrace model alert logs highlighting a device labeled “Palo Alto” making a HTTP request on an uncommon port for an executable file following likely CVE exploitation.

3. Configuration Data Exfiltration and Unusual HTTP POST Activity

During Darktrace’s investigations, there were also several instances of sensitive data exfiltration from PAN-OS firewall devices. Specifically, targeted systems were observed making HTTP POST requests via destination port 80 to rare external endpoints that OSINT sources associate with CVE-2024-3400 exploitation and activity. PCAP analysis of such HTTP requests revealed that they often contained sensitive configuration details of the targeted Palo Alto firewall devices, including the IP address, default gateway, domain, users, superusers, and password hashes, to name only a few. Threat actors frequently utilized Target URIs such as “/upload” in their HTTP POST requests of this multi-part boundary form data. Again, the User-Agent headers of these HTTP requests largely involved versions of cURL, typically 7.6.1, and wget.

Figure 9: PCAP datahighlighting Palo Alto Firewall device running vulnerable version of PAN-OSposting configuration details to rare external services via HTTP.
Figure 10: Model alert logs highlighting a Palo Alto firewall device performing HTTP POSTs to a rare external IP, without a prior hostname lookup, on an uncommon port using a URI associated with configuration data exfiltration across analyzed incidents
Figure 11: Examples of TargetURIs of HTTP POST requests involving base64 encoded IPs and potential dataegress.

4. Ongoing C2 and Miscellaneous Activity

Lastly, a smaller number of affected Palo Alto firewall devices were seen engaging in repeated beaconing and/or C2 communication via both encrypted and unencrypted protocols during and following the initial series of kill chain events. Such encrypted channels typically involved protocols such as TLS/SSL and SSH. This activity likely represented ongoing communication of targeted systems with attacker infrastructure. Model alerts typically highlighted unusual levels of repeated external connectivity to rare external IP addresses over varying lengths of time. In some investigated incidents, beaconing activity consisted of hundreds of thousands of connections over several days.

Figure 12:  Advanced search details highlighting high levels of ongoing external communication to endpoints associated with C2 infrastructure exploiting CVE-2024-3400.

Some beaconing activity appears to have involved the use of the WebSocket protocol, as indicated by the appearance of “/ws” URIs and validated within packet captures. Such connections were then upgraded to an encrypted connection.

Figure 13:  PCAP highlighting use of WebSocket protocol to engage in ongoing external connectivity to likely C2 infrastructure following CVE-2024-3400 compromise.

While not directly visible in all the deployments, some investigations also yielded evidence of attempts at further post-exploitation activity. For example, a handful of the analyzed binaries that were downloaded by examined devices had OSINT information suggesting a relation to crypto-mining malware strains. However, crypto-mining activity was not directly observed at this time. Furthermore, several devices also triggered model alerts relating to brute-forcing activity via several authentication protocols (namely, Keberos and RADIUS) during the time of compromise. This brute-force activity likely represented attempts to move laterally from the affected firewall system to deeper parts of the network.

Figure 14: Model alert logs noting repeated SSL connectivity to a Sliver C2-affiliated endpoint in what likely constitutes C2 connectivity.
Figure 15: Model alert logs featuring repeated RADIUS login failures from a compromised PAN-OS device using generic usernames, suggesting brute-force activity.

Conclusion

Between April and late May 2024, Darktrace’s SOC and Threat Research teams identified several instances of likely PAN-OS CVE-2024-3400 exploitation across the Darktrace customer base. The subsequent investigation yielded four major themes that categorize the observed network-based post-exploitation activity. These major themes were exploit validation activity, retrieval of binaries and shell scripts, data exfiltration via HTTP POST activity, and ongoing C2 communication with rare external endpoints. The insights shared in this article will hopefully contribute to the ongoing discussion within the cybersecurity community about how to handle the likely continued exploitation of this vulnerability. Moreover, this article may also help cybersecurity professionals better respond to future exploitation of not only Palo Alto PAN-OS firewall devices, but also of edge devices more broadly.

Threat actors will continue to discover and leverage new CVEs impacting edge infrastructure. Since it is not yet known which CVEs threat actors will exploit next, relying on rules and signatures for the detection of exploitation of such CVEs is not a viable approach. Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection, however, is well positioned to robustly adapt to threat actors’ changing methods, since although threat actors can change the CVEs they exploit, they cannot change the fact that their exploitation of CVEs results in highly unusual patterns of activity.

Credit to Adam Potter, Cyber Analyst, Sam Lister, Senior Cyber Analyst

Appendices

Indicators of Compromise

Indicator – Type – Description

94.131.120[.]80              IP             C2 Endpoint

94.131.120[.]80:53/?src=[REDACTED]=hour=root                  URL        C2/Exfiltration Endpoint

134.213.29[.]14/?src=[REDACTED]min=root             URL        C2/Exfiltration Endpoint

134.213.29[.]14/grep[.]mips64            URL        Payload

134.213.29[.]14/grep[.]x86_64             URL        Payload

134.213.29[.]14/?deer               URL        Payload

134.213.29[.]14/?host=IDS   URL        Payload

134.213.29[.]14/ldr[.]sh           URL        Payload

91ebcea4e6d34fd6e22f99713eaf67571b51ab01  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

185.243.115[.]250/snmpd2[.]elf        URL        Payload

23.163.0[.]111/com   URL        Payload

80.92.205[.]239/upload            URL        C2/Exfiltration Endpoint

194.36.171[.]43/upload            URL        C2/Exfiltration Endpoint

update.gl-protect[.]com          Hostname         C2 Endpoint

update.gl-protect[.]com:63869/snmpgp      URL        Payload

146.70.87[.]237              IP address         C2 Endpoint

146.70.87[.]237:63867/snmpdd         URL        Payload

393c41b3ceab4beecf365285e8bdf0546f41efad   SHA1 File Hash               Payload

138.68.44[.]59/app/r URL        Payload

138.68.44[.]59/app/clientr     URL        Payload

138.68.44[.]59/manage            URL        Payload

72.5.43[.]90/patch      URL        Payload

217.69.3[.]218                 IP             C2 Endpoint

5e8387c24b75c778c920f8aa38e4d3882cc6d306                  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

217.69.3[.]218/snmpd[.]elf   URL        Payload

958f13da6ccf98fcaa270a6e24f83b1a4832938a    SHA1 File Hash               Payload

6708dc41b15b892279af2947f143af95fb9efe6e     SHA1 File Hash               Payload

dc50c0de7f24baf03d4f4c6fdf6c366d2fcfbe6c       SHA1 File Hash               Payload

109.120.178[.]253:10000/data[.]txt                  URL        Payload

109.120.178[.]253:10000/bin[.]txt   URL        Payload

bc9dc2e42654e2179210d98f77822723740a5ba6                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

109.120.178[.]253:10000/123              URL        Payload

65283921da4e8b5eabb926e60ca9ad3d087e67fa                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

img.dxyjg[.]com/6hiryXjZN0Mx[.]sh                  URL        Payload

149.56.18[.]189/IC4nzNvf7w/2[.]txt                 URL        Payload

228d05fd92ec4d19659d71693198564ae6f6b117 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

54b892b8fdab7c07e1e123340d800e7ed0386600                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

165.232.121[.]217/rules          URL        Payload

165.232.121[.]217/app/request          URL        Payload

938faec77ebdac758587bba999e470785253edaf SHA1 File Hash               Payload

165.232.121[.]217/app/request63   URL        Payload

165.232.121[.]217:4443/termite/165.232.121[.]217             URL        Payload

92.118.112[.]60/snmpd2[.]elf               URL        Payload

2a90d481a7134d66e8b7886cdfe98d9c1264a386                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

92.118.112[.]60/36shr[.]txt   URL        Payload

d6a33673cedb12811dde03a705e1302464d8227f                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

c712712a563fe09fa525dfc01ce13564e3d98d67  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

091b3b33e0d1b55852167c3069afcdb0af5e5e79 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

5eebf7518325e6d3a0fd7da2c53e7d229d7b74b6                  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

183be7a0c958f5ed4816c781a2d7d5aa8a0bca9f SHA1 File Hash               Payload

e7d2f1224546b17d805617d02ade91a9a20e783e                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

e6137a15df66054e4c97e1f4b8181798985b480d SHA1 File Hash               Payload

95.164.7[.]33:53/sea[.]png    URL        Payload

95.164.7[.]33/rules     URL        Payload

95.164.7[.]33:53/lb64                URL        Payload

c2bc9a7657bea17792048902ccf2d77a2f50d2d7 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

923369bbb86b9a9ccf42ba6f0d022b1cd4f33e9d SHA1 File Hash               Payload

52972a971a05b842c6b90c581b5c697f740cb5b9                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

95d45b455cf62186c272c03d6253fef65227f63a    SHA1 File Hash               Payload

322ec0942cef33b4c55e5e939407cd02e295973e                  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

6335e08873b4ca3d0eac1ea265f89a9ef29023f2  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

134.213.29[.]14              IP             C2 Endpoint

185.243.115[.]250       IP             C2 Endpoint

80.92.205[.]239              IP             C2 Endpoint

194.36.171[.]43              IP             C2 Endpoint

92.118.112[.]60              IP             C2 Endpoint

109.120.178[.]253       IP             C2 Endpoint

23.163.0[.]111                 IP             C2 Endpoint

72.5.43[.]90     IP             C2 Endpoint

165.232.121[.]217       IP             C2 Endpoint

8.210.242[.]112              IP             C2 Endpoint

149.56.18[.]189              IP             C2 Endpoint

95.164.7[.]33  IP             C2 Endpoint

138.68.44[.]59                 IP             C2 Endpoint

Img[.]dxyjg[.]com         Hostname         C2 Endpoint

Darktrace Model Alert Coverage

·      Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer

·      Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

·      Anomalous File / Multiple EXE from Rare External Locations

·      Anomalous File / Script from Rare External Location

·      Anomalous File / Script and EXE from Rare External

·      Anomalous File / Suspicious Octet Stream Download

·      Anomalous File / Numeric File Download

·      Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

·      Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

·      Anomalous Connection / Posting HTTP to IP Without Hostname

·      Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint

·      Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Self-Signed SSL

·      Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External

·      Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

·      Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed

·      Anomalous Server Activity / Outgoing from Server

·      Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server

·      Compromise / SSH Beacon

·      Compromise / Beacon for 4 Days

·      Compromise / Sustained TCP Beaconing Activity To Rare Endpoint

·      Compromise / High Priority Tunnelling to Bin Services

·      Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase

·      Compromise / Connection to Suspicious SSL Server

·      Compromise / Suspicious File and C2

·      Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections

·      Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to New Endpoint

·      Compromise / SSL or HTTP Beacon

·      Compromise / Suspicious HTTP and Anomalous Activity

·      Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint

·      Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score

·      Compromise / Suspicious Beaconing Behaviour

·      Compliance / SSH to Rare External Destination

·      Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination

·      Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Device::New User Agent

·      Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

·      Device / Multiple C2 Model Breaches

MITRE ATTACK Mapping

Tactic – Technique

Initial Access  T1190 – Exploiting Public-Facing Application

Execution           T1059.004 – Command and Scripting Interpreter: Unix Shell

Persistence      T1543.002 – Create or Modify System Processes: Systemd Service

Defense Evasion           T1070.004 – Indicator Removal: File Deletion

Credential Access       T1110.001 – Brute Force: Password Guessing

Discovery           T1083 – File and System Discovery

T1057 – Process Discovery

Collection         T1005 – Data From Local System

Command and Control             T1071.001 – Application Layer Protocol:  Web Protocols

T1573.002 – Encrypted Channel: Asymmetric Cryptography

T1571 – Non-Standard Port

T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer

Exfiltration         T1041 – Exfiltration over C2 Protocol

T1048.002 - Exfiltration Over Alternative Protocol: Exfiltration Over Asymmetric Encrypted Non-C2 Protocol

References

[i]  https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/blog-post/products-on-your-perimeter

[ii] https://security.paloaltonetworks.com/CVE-2024-3400

[iii] https://labs.watchtowr.com/palo-alto-putting-the-protecc-in-globalprotect-cve-2024-3400/

[iv] https://labs.watchtowr.com/palo-alto-putting-the-protecc-in-globalprotect-cve-2024-3400/

[v] https://labs.watchtowr.com/palo-alto-putting-the-protecc-in-globalprotect-cve-2024-3400/

[vi] https://security.paloaltonetworks.com/CVE-2024-3400

[vii] https://www.volexity.com/blog/2024/04/12/zero-day-exploitation-of-unauthenticated-remote-code-execution-vulnerability-in-globalprotect-cve-2024-3400/

[viii] https://www.volexity.com/blog/2024/05/15/detecting-compromise-of-cve-2024-3400-on-palo-alto-networks-globalprotect-devices/

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About the author
Adam Potter
Cyber Analyst

Safeguarding Distribution Centers in the Digital Age

Default blog imageDefault blog image
12
Jun 2024

Challenges securing distribution centers

For large retail providers, e-commerce organizations, logistics & supply chain organizations, and other companies who rely on the distribution of goods to consumers cybersecurity efforts are often focused on an immense IT infrastructure. However, there's a critical, often overlooked segment of infrastructure that demands vigilant monitoring and robust protection: distribution centers.

Distribution centers play a critical role in the business operations of supply chains, logistics, and the retail industry. They serve as comprehensive logistics hubs, with many organizations operating multiple centers worldwide to meet consumer needs. Depending on their size and hours of operation, even just one hour of downtime at these centers can result in significant financial losses, ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour.

Due to the time-sensitive nature and business criticality of distribution centers, there has been a rise in applying modern technologies now including AI applications to enhance efficiency within these facilities. Today’s distribution centers are increasingly connected to Enterprise IT networks, the cloud and the internet to manage every stage of the supply chain. Additionally, it is common for organizations to allow 3rd party access to the distribution center networks and data for reasons including allowing them to scale their operations effectively.

However, this influx of new technologies and interconnected systems across IT, OT and cloud introduces new risks on the cybersecurity front. Distribution center networks include industrial operational technologies ICS/OT, IoT technologies, enterprise network technology, and cloud systems working in coordination. The convergence of these technologies creates a greater chance that blind spots exist for security practitioners and this increasing presence of networked technology increases the attack surface and potential for vulnerability. Thus, having cybersecurity measures that cover IT, OT or Cloud alone is not enough to secure a complex and dynamic distribution center network infrastructure.  

The OT network encompasses various systems, devices, hardware, and software, such as:

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
  • Warehouse Execution System (WES)
  • Warehouse Control System (WCS)
  • Warehouse Management System (WMS)
  • Energy Management Systems (EMS)
  • Building Management Systems (BMS)
  • Distribution Control Systems (DCS)
  • Enterprise IT devices
  • OT and IoT: Engineering workstations, ICS application and management servers, PLCs, HMI, access control, cameras, and printers
  • Cloud applications

Distribution centers: An expanding attack surface

As these distribution centers have become increasingly automated, connected, and technologically advanced, their attack surfaces have inherently increased. Distribution centers now have a vastly different potential for cyber risk which includes:  

  • More networked devices present
  • Increased routable connectivity within industrial systems
  • Externally exposed industrial control systems
  • Increased remote access
  • IT/OT enterprise to industrial convergence
  • Cloud connectivity
  • Contractors, vendors, and consultants on site or remoting in  

Given the variety of connected systems, distribution centers are more exposed to external threats than ever before. Simultaneously, distribution center’s business criticality has positioned them as interesting targets to cyber adversaries seeking to cause disruption with significant financial impact.

Increased connectivity requires a unified security approach

When assessing the unique distribution center attack surface, the variety of interconnected systems and devices requires a cybersecurity approach that can cover the diverse technology environment.  

From a monitoring and visibility perspective, siloed IT, OT or cloud security solutions cannot provide the comprehensive asset management, threat detection, risk management, and response and remediation capabilities across interconnected digital infrastructure that a solution natively covering IT, cloud, OT, and IoT can provide.  

The problem with using siloed cybersecurity solutions to cover a distribution center is the visibility gaps that are inherently created when using multiple solutions to try and cover the totality of the diverse infrastructure. What this means is that for cross domain and multi-stage attacks, depending on the initial access point and where the adversary plans on actioning their objectives, multiple stages of the attack may not be detected or correlated if they security solutions lack visibility into OT, IT, IoT and cloud.

Comprehensive security under one solution

Darktrace leverages Self-Learning AI, which takes a new approach to cybersecurity. Instead of relying on rules and signatures, this AI trains on the specific business to learn a ‘pattern of life’ that models normal activity for every device, user, and connection. It can be applied anywhere an organization has data, and so can natively cover IT, OT, IoT, and cloud.  

With these models, Darktrace /OT provides improved visibility, threat detection and response, and risk management for proactive hardening recommendations.  

Visibility: Darktrace is the only OT security solution that natively covers IT, IoT and OT in unison. AI augmented workflows ensure OT cybersecurity analysts and operation engineers can manage IT and OT environments, leveraging a live asset inventory and tailored dashboards to optimize security workflows and minimize operator workload.

Threat detection, investigation, and response: The AI facilitates anomaly detection capable of detecting known, unknown, and insider threats and precise response for OT environments that contains threats at their earliest stages before they can jeopardize control systems. Darktrace immediately understands, identifies, and investigates all anomalous activity in OT networks, whether human or machine driven and uses Explainable AI to generate investigation reports via Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst.

Proactive risk identification: Risk management capabilities like attack path modeling can prioritize remediation and mitigation that will most effectively reduce derived risk scores. Rather than relying on knowledge of past attacks and CVE lists and scores, Darktrace AI learns what is ‘normal’ for its environment, discovering previously unknown threats and risks by detecting subtle shifts in behavior and connectivity. Through the application of Darktrace AI for OT environments, security teams can investigate novel attacks, discover blind spots, get live-time visibility across all their physical and digital assets, and reduce the time to detect, respond to, and triage security events.

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About the author
Daniel Simonds
Director of Operational Technology
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