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PlugX Malware: A RAT’s Race to Adapt and Survive

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06
Nov 2023
06
Nov 2023
This blog details how Darktrace was able to detect and respond to the remote access trojan, PlugX, across its customer base in early 2023. Despite its highly evasive and adaptive nature, Darktrace’s was able to successfully identify PlugX compromises and prevent them from escalating.

What is PlugX Remote Access Trojan?

As malicious actors across the threat landscape continue to pursue more efficient and effective ways of compromising target networks, all while remaining undetected by security measures, it is unsurprising to see an increase in the use of remote access trojans (RATs) in recent years. RATs typically operate stealthily, evading security tools while offering threat actors remote control over infected devices, allowing attackers to execute a wide range of malicious activities like data theft or installing additional malware.

PlugX is one such example of a RAT that has attributed to Chinese threat actors such as Mustang Panda, since it first appeared in the wild back in 2008. It is known for its use in espionage, a modular and plug-in style approach to malware development. It has the ability to evolve with the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) that allow it to avoid the detection of traditional security tools as it implants itself target devices.

How Does PlugX Work?

The ultimate goal of any RAT is to remotely control affected devices with a wide range of capabilities, which in PlugX’s case has typically included rebooting systems, keylogging, managing critical system processes, and file upload/downloads. One technique PlugX heavily relies on is dynamic-link library (DLL) sideloading to infiltrate devices. This technique involves executing a malicious payload that is embedded within a benign executable found in a data link library (DLL) [1]. The embedded payload within the DLL is often encrypted or obfuscated to prevent detection.

What’s more, a new variant of PlugX was observed in the wild across Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria in August 2022, that added several new capabilities to its toolbox.

The new variation is reported to continuously monitor affected environments for new USB devices to infect, allowing it to spread further through compromised networks [2]. It is then able to hide malicious files within a USB device by using a novel technique that prevents them from being viewed on Windows operating systems (OS). These hidden files can only be viewed on a Unix-like (.nix) OS, or by analyzing an affected USB devices with a forensic tool [2]. The new PlugX variant also has the ability to create a hidden directory, “RECYCLER.BIN”, containing a collection of stolen documents, likely in preparation for exfiltration via its command and control (C2) channels. [3]

Since December 2022, PlugX has been observed targeting networks in Europe through malware delivery via HTML smuggling campaigns, a technique that has been dubbed SmugX [4].

This evasive tactic allows threat actors to prepare and deploy malware via phishing campaigns by exploiting legitimate HTML5 and JavaScript features [5].

Darktrace Coverage of PlugX

Between January and March 2023, Darktrace observed activity relating to the PlugX RAT on multiple customers across the fleet. While PlugX’s TTPs may have bypassed traditional security tools, the anomaly-based detection capabilities of Darktrace DETECT™ allowed it to identify and alert the subtle deviations in the behavior of affected devices, while Darktrace RESPOND™ was able to take immediate mitigative action against such anomalous activity and stop attackers in their tracks.  

C2 Communication

Between January and March 2023, Darktrace detected multiple suspicious connections related to the PlugX RAT within customer environments. When a device has been infected, it will typically communicate through C2 infrastructure established for the PlugX RAT. In most cases observed by Darktrace, affected devices exhibited suspicious C2 connections to rare endpoints that were assessed with moderate to high confidence to be linked to PlugX.

On the network of one Darktrace customer the observed communication was a mix of successful and unsuccessful connections at a high volume to rare endpoints on ports such as 110, 443, 5938, and 80. These ports are commonly associated with POP3, HTTPS, TeamViewer RDP / DynGate, and HTTP, respectively.  Figure 1 below showcases this pattern of activity.

Figure 1: Model Breach Event Log demonstrating various successful and unsuccessful connections to the PlugX C2 endpoint 103.56.53[.]46 via various destination ports.

On another customer’s network, Darktrace observed C2 communication involving multiple failed connection attempts to another rare external endpoint associated with PlugX. The device in this case was detected attempting connections to the endpoint, 45.142.166[.]112 on ports 110, 80, and 443 which caused the DETECT model ‘Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint’ to breach. This model examines devices attempting connections to a rare external endpoint over a short period of time, and it breached in response to almost all PlugX C2 related activity detected by Darktrace. This highlights Darktrace DETECT’s unique ability to identify anomalous activity which appears benign or uncertain, rather than relying on traditional signature-based detections.

Figure 2: Device Event Log demonstrating various successful and unsuccessful connections to the PlugX C2 endpoint 45.142.166[.]112 via various destination on January 27, 2023.

New User Agent

Darktrace DETECT’s Self-Learning AI approach to threat detection also allowed it to recognize connections to PlugX associated endpoints that utilized a new user agent. In almost all connections to PlugX endpoints detected by Darktrace, the same user agent, Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0;Win64;x64)AppleWebKit/537.36, was observed, illustrating a clear pattern in PlugX-related activity

In one example from February 2023, an affected device successfully connected to an endpoint associated with PlugX, 45.142.166[.]112, while using the aforementioned new user agent, as depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The Device Event log above showcases a successful connection to the PlugX associated IP address, 45.142.166[.]112 using the new user agent ‘Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0;Win64;x64)AppleWebKit/537.36’.

On March 21, 2023, Darktrace observed similar activity on a separate customer’s network affected by connections to PlugX. This activity included connections to the same endpoint, 45.142.166[.]112. The connection was an HTTP POST request made via proxy with the same new user agent, ‘Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0;Win64;x64)AppleWebKit/537.36’. When investigated further this user agent actually reveals very little about itself and appears to be missing a couple of common features that are typically contained in a user agent string, such as a web browser and its version or the mention of Safari before its build ID (‘537.36’).

Additionally, for this connection the URI observed consisted of a random string of 8 hexadecimal characters, namely ‘d819f07a’. This is a technique often used by malware to communicate with its C2 servers, while evading the detection of signature-based detection tools. Darktrace, however, recognized that this external connection to an endpoint with no hostname constituted anomalous behavior, and could have been indicative of a threat actor communicating with malicious infrastructure, thus the ‘Anomalous Connection / Possible Callback URI’ model was breached.

Figure 4: An affected device was detected using the new user agent, ‘Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0;Win64;x64)AppleWebKit/537.36’ while connecting to the rare external endpoint 45.142.166[.]112 via proxy.

Numeric File Download

Darktrace’s detection of PlugX activity on another customer’s network, in February 2023, helped to demonstrate related patterns of activity within the C2 communication and tooling attack phases. Observed PlugX activity on this network followed the subsequent pattern; a connection to a PlugX endpoints is made, followed by a HTTP POST request to a numeric URI with a random string of 8 hexadecimal characters, as previously highlighted. Darktrace identified that this activity represented unusual ‘New Activity’ for this device, and thus treated it with suspicion.

Figure 5: New activity was identified by Darktrace in the Device Event Log shown above for connections to the endpoint 45.142.166[.]112 followed by HTTP POSTs to URIs “/8891431c” and “/ba12b866” on February 15, 2023.

The device in question continued to connect to the endpoint and make HTTP POST connections to various URIs relating to PlugX. Additionally, the user agent `Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0;Win64;x64)AppleWebKit/537.36` was again detected for these connections. Figure 6 details the activity captured by Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst.

Figure 6: The image above showcases activity captured by Darktrace’s AI Analyst for PlugX connections made on February 15, 2023.

Darktrace detected that during these connections, the device in question attempted to download a suspicious file named only with numbers. The use of numeric file names is a technique often used by threat actors to obfuscate the download of malicious files or programs and bypass traditional security tools. Darktrace understood that the download of a numeric file, coupled with the use of an anomalous new user agent, mean the incident should be treated with suspicion. Fortunately, Darktrace RESPOND was enabled in autonomous response mode during this attack, meaning it was able to automatically block the device from downloading the file, or any other files, from the suspicious external location for a two-hour period, potentially preventing the download of PlugX’s malicious tooling.

Conclusion

Amid the continued evolution of PlugX from an espionage tool to a more widely available malware, it is essential that threat detection does not rely on a set of characteristics or indicators, but rather is focused on anomalies. Throughout these cases, Darktrace demonstrated the efficacy of its detection and alerting on emerging activity pertaining to a particularly stealthy and versatile RAT. Over the years, PlugX has continually looked to evolve and survive in the ever-changing threat landscape by adapting new capabilities and TTPs through which it can infect a system and spread to new devices without being noticed by security teams and their tools.

However, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI allows it to gain a strong understanding of customer networks, learning what constitutes expected network behavior which in turn allows it to recognize the subtle deviations indicative of an ongoing compromise.

Darktrace’s ability to identify emerging threats through anomaly-based detection, rather than relying on established threat intelligence, uniquely positions it to detect and respond to highly adaptable and dynamic threats, like the PlugX malware, regardless of how it may evolve in the future.

Credit to: Nahisha Nobregas, SOC Analyst & Dylan Hinz, Cyber Analyst

Appendices

MITRE ATT&CK Framework

Execution

  • T1059.003 Command and Scripting Interpreter: Windows Command Shell

Persistence and Privilege Escalation

  • T1547.001 Boot or Logon AutoStart Execution: Registry Run Keys / Startup Folder
  • T1574.001 Hijack Execution Flow: DLL Search Order Hijacking
  • T1574.002 Hijack Execution Flow: DLL Side-Loading
  • T1543.003 Create or Modify System Process: Windows Service
  • T1140 Deobfuscate / Decode Files or Information
  • T1083 File and Directory Discovery

Defense Evasion

  • T1564.001 Hide Artifacts: Hidden Files and Directories
  • T1036.004 Masquerading: Task or Service
  • T1036.005 Masquerading: Match Legitimate Name or Location
  • T1027.006 Obfuscated Files or Information: HTML Smuggling

Credential Access

  • T1056.001 Input Capture: Keylogging

Collection

  • T1105 Ingress Tool Transfer

Command and Control

  • T1573.001 Encrypted Channel: Symmetric Cryptography
  • T1070.003 Mail Protocols
  • T1071.001 Web Protocol

DETECT Model Breaches

  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
  • Anomalous File / New User Agent Followed By Numeric File Download
  • Anomalous Connection / Possible Callback URL

Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoC - Type - Description + Confidence

45.142.166[.]112 - IP - PlugX C2 Endpoint / moderate - high

103.56.53[.]46 - IP - PlugX C2 Endpoint / moderate - high

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0;Win64;x64)AppleWebKit/537.36 - User Agent - PlugX User Agent / moderate – high

/8891431c - URI - PlugX URI / moderate-high

/ba12b866 - URI - PlugX URI / moderate -high

References

1. https://www.crowdstrike.com/blog/dll-side-loading-how-to-combat-threat-actor-evasion-techniques/

2. https://unit42.paloaltonetworks.com/plugx-variants-in-usbs/

3. https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2023/03/09/border-hopping-plugx-usb-worm/

4. https://thehackernews.com/2023/07/chinese-hackers-use-html-smuggling-to.html

5. https://www.cyfirma.com/outofband/html-smuggling-a-stealthier-approach-to-deliver-malware/

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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Nahisha Nobregas
SOC Analyst
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Safeguarding Distribution Centers in the Digital Age

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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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Daniel Simonds
Director of Operational Technology

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Inside the SOC

Medusa Ransomware: Looking Cyber Threats in the Eye with Darktrace

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10
Jun 2024

What is Living off the Land attack?

In the face of increasingly vigilant security teams and adept defense tools, attackers are continually looking for new ways to circumvent network security and gain access to their target environments. One common tactic is the leveraging of readily available utilities and services within a target organization’s environment in order to move through the kill chain; a popular method known as living off the land (LotL). Rather than having to leverage known malicious tools or write their own malware, attackers are able to easily exploit the existing infrastructure of their targets.

The Medusa ransomware group in particular are known to extensively employ LotL tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) in their attacks, as one Darktrace customer in the US discovered in early 2024.

What is Medusa Ransomware?

Medusa ransomware (not to be confused with MedusaLocker) was first observed in the wild towards the end of 2022 and has been a popular ransomware strain amongst threat actors since 2023 [1]. Medusa functions as a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) platform, providing would-be attackers, also know as affiliates, with malicious software and infrastructure required to carry out disruptive ransomware attacks. The ransomware is known to target organizations across many different industries and countries around the world, including healthcare, education, manufacturing and retail, with a particular focus on the US [2].

How does medusa ransomware work?

Medusa affiliates are known to employ a number of TTPs to propagate their malware, most prodominantly gaining initial access by exploiting vulnerable internet-facing assets and targeting valid local and domain accounts that are used for system administration.

The ransomware is typically delivered via phishing and spear phishing campaigns containing malicious attachments [3] [4], but it has also been observed using initial access brokers to access target networks [5]. In terms of the LotL strategies employed in Medusa compromises, affiliates are often observed leveraging legitimate services like the ConnectWise remote monitoring and management (RMM) software and PDQ Deploy, in order to evade the detection of security teams who may be unable to distinguish the activity from normal or expected network traffic [2].

According to researchers, Medusa has a public Telegram channel that is used by threat actors to post any data that may have been stolen, likely in an attempt to extort organizations and demand payment [2].  

Darktrace’s Coverage of Medusa Ransomware

Established Foothold and C2 activity

In March 2024, Darktrace /NETWORK identified over 80 devices, including an internet facing domain controller, on a customer network performing an unusual number of activities that were indicative of an emerging ransomware attack. The suspicious behavior started when devices were observed making HTTP connections to the two unusual endpoints, “wizarr.manate[.]ch” and “go-sw6-02.adventos[.]de”, with the PowerShell and JWrapperDownloader user agents.

Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ launched an autonomous investigation into the connections and was able to connect the seemingly separate events into one wider incident spanning multiple different devices. This allowed the customer to visualize the activity in chronological order and gain a better understanding of the scope of the attack.

At this point, given the nature and rarity of the observed activity, Darktrace /NETWORK's autonomous response would have been expected to take autonomous action against affected devices, blocking them from making external connections to suspicious locations. However, autonomous response was not configured to take autonomous action at the time of the attack, meaning any mitigative actions had to be manually approved by the customer’s security team.

Internal Reconnaissance

Following these extensive HTTP connections, between March 1 and 7, Darktrace detected two devices making internal connection attempts to other devices, suggesting network scanning activity. Furthermore, Darktrace identified one of the devices making a connection with the URI “/nice ports, /Trinity.txt.bak”, indicating the use of the Nmap vulnerability scanning tool. While Nmap is primarily used legitimately by security teams to perform security audits and discover vulnerabilities that require addressing, it can also be leveraged by attackers who seek to exploit this information.

Darktrace / NETWORK model alert showing the URI “/nice ports, /Trinity.txt.bak”, indicating the use of Nmap.
Figure 1: Darktrace /NETWORK model alert showing the URI “/nice ports, /Trinity.txt.bak”, indicating the use of Nmap.

Darktrace observed actors using multiple credentials, including “svc-ndscans”, which was also seen alongside DCE-RPC activity that took place on March 1. Affected devices were also observed making ExecQuery and ExecMethod requests for IWbemServices. ExecQuery is commonly utilized to execute WMI Query Language (WQL) queries that allow the retrieval of information from WI, including system information or hardware details, while ExecMethod can be used by attackers to gather detailed information about a targeted system and its running processes, as well as a tool for lateral movement.

Lateral Movement

A few hours after the first observed scanning activity on March 1, Darktrace identified a chain of administrative connections between multiple devices, including the aforementioned internet-facing server.

Cyber AI Analyst was able to connect these administrative connections and separate them into three distinct ‘hops’, i.e. the number of administrative connections made from device A to device B, including any devices leveraged in between. The AI Analyst investigation was also able to link the previously detailed scanning activity to these administrative connections, identifying that the same device was involved in both cases.

Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the chain of lateral movement activity.
Figure 2: Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the chain of lateral movement activity.

On March 7, the internet exposed server was observed transferring suspicious files over SMB to multiple internal devices. This activity was identified as unusual by Darktrace compared to the device's normal SMB activity, with an unusual number of executable (.exe) and srvsvc files transferred targeting the ADMIN$ and IPC$ shares.

Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the suspicious SMB write activity.
Figure 3: Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the suspicious SMB write activity.
Graph highlighting the number of successful SMB writes and the associated model alerts.
Figure 4: Graph highlighting the number of successful SMB writes and the associated model alerts.

The threat actor was also seen writing SQLite3*.dll files over SMB using a another credential this time. These files likely contained the malicious payload that resulted in the customer’s files being encrypted with the extension “.s3db”.

Darktrace’s visibility over an affected device performing successful SMB writes.
Figure 5: Darktrace’s visibility over an affected device performing successful SMB writes.

Encryption of Files

Finally, Darktrace observed the malicious actor beginning to encrypt and delete files on the customer’s environment. More specifically, the actor was observed using credentials previously seen on the network to encrypt files with the aforementioned “.s3db” extension.

Darktrace’s visibility over the encrypted files.
Figure 6: Darktrace’s visibility over the encrypted files.


After that, Darktrace observed the attacker encrypting  files and appending them with the extension “.MEDUSA” while also dropping a ransom note with the file name “!!!Read_me_Medusa!!!.txt”

Darktrace’s detection of threat actors deleting files with the extension “.MEDUSA”.
Figure 7: Darktrace’s detection of threat actors deleting files with the extension “.MEDUSA”.
Darktrace’s detection of the Medusa ransom note.
Figure 8: Darktrace’s detection of the Medusa ransom note.

At the same time as these events, Darktrace observed the attacker utilizing a number of LotL techniques including SSL connections to “services.pdq[.]tools”, “teamviewer[.]com” and “anydesk[.]com”. While the use of these legitimate services may have bypassed traditional security tools, Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach enabled it to detect the activity and distinguish it from ‘normal’’ network activity. It is highly likely that these SSL connections represented the attacker attempting to exfiltrate sensitive data from the customer’s network, with a view to using it to extort the customer.

Cyber AI Analyst’s detection of “services.pdq[.]tools” usage.
Figure 9: Cyber AI Analyst’s detection of “services.pdq[.]tools” usage.

If this customer had been subscribed to Darktrace's Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service at the time of the attack, they would have been promptly notified of these suspicious activities by the Darktrace Security Operation Center (SOC). In this way they could have been aware of the suspicious activities taking place in their infrastructure before the escalation of the compromise. Despite this, they were able to receive assistance through the Ask the Expert service (ATE) whereby Darktrace’s expert analyst team was on hand to assist the customer by triaging and investigating the incident further, ensuring the customer was well equipped to remediate.  

As Darktrace /NETWORK's autonomous response was not enabled in autonomous response mode, this ransomware attack was able to progress to the point of encryption and data exfiltration. Had autonomous response been properly configured to take autonomous action, Darktrace would have blocked all connections by affected devices to both internal and external endpoints, as well as enforcing a previously established “pattern of life” on the device to stop it from deviating from its expected behavior.

Conclusion

The threat actors in this Medusa ransomware attack attempted to utilize LotL techniques in order to bypass human security teams and traditional security tools. By exploiting trusted systems and tools, like Nmap and PDQ Deploy, attackers are able to carry out malicious activity under the guise of legitimate network traffic.

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI, however, allows it to recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that tend to be indicative of compromise, regardless of whether it appears legitimate or benign on the surface.

Further to the detection of the individual events that made up this ransomware attack, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst was able to correlate the activity and collate it under one wider incident. This allowed the customer to track the compromise and its attack phases from start to finish, ensuring they could obtain a holistic view of their digital environment and remediate effectively.

Credit to Maria Geronikolou, Cyber Analyst, Ryan Traill, Threat Content Lead

Appendices

Darktrace DETECT Model Detections

Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration

Device / Anomalous SMB Followed By Multiple Model Alerts

Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity

Device / Attack and Recon Tools

Device / Suspicious File Writes to Multiple Hidden SMB Share

Compromise / Ransomware / Ransom or Offensive Words Written to SMB

Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

Device / Network Scan

Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External

Device / New PowerShell User Agent

Possible HTTP Command and Control

Extensive Suspicious DCE-RPC Activity

Possible SSL Command and Control to Multiple Endpoints

Suspicious Remote WMI Activity

Scanning of Multiple Devices

Possible Ransom Note Accessed over SMB

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoC – Type – Description + Confidence

207.188.6[.]17      -     IP address   -      C2 Endpoint

172.64.154[.]227 - IP address -        C2 Endpoint

wizarr.manate[.]ch  - Hostname -       C2 Endpoint

go-sw6-02.adventos[.]de.  Hostname  - C2 Endpoint

.MEDUSA             -        File extension     - Extension to encrypted files

.s3db               -             File extension    -  Created file extension

SQLite3-64.dll    -        File           -               Used tool

!!!Read_me_Medusa!!!.txt - File -   Ransom note

Svc-ndscans         -         Credential     -     Possible compromised credential

Svc-NinjaRMM      -       Credential      -     Possible compromised credential

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Discovery  - File and Directory Discovery - T1083

Reconnaissance    -  Scanning IP            -          T1595.001

Reconnaissance -  Vulnerability Scanning -  T1595.002

Lateral Movement -Exploitation of Remote Service -  T1210

Lateral Movement - Exploitation of Remote Service -   T1210

Lateral Movement  -  SMB/Windows Admin Shares     -    T1021.002

Lateral Movement   -  Taint Shared Content          -            T1080

Execution   - PowerShell     - T1059.001

Execution  -   Service Execution   -    T1059.002

Impact   -    Data Encrypted for Impact  -  T1486

References

[1] https://unit42.paloaltonetworks.com/medusa-ransomware-escalation-new-leak-site/

[2] https://thehackernews.com/2024/01/medusa-ransomware-on-rise-from-data.html

[3] https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/trustwave-blog/unveiling-the-latest-ransomware-threats-targeting-the-casino-and-entertainment-industry/

[4] https://www.sangfor.com/farsight-labs-threat-intelligence/cybersecurity/security-advisory-for-medusa-ransomware

[5] https://thehackernews.com/2024/01/medusa-ransomware-on-rise-from-data.html

[6]https://any.run/report/8be3304fec9d41d44012213ddbb28980d2570edeef3523b909af2f97768a8d85/e4c54c9d-12fd-477f-8cbb-a20f8fb98912

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About the author
Maria Geronikolou
Cyber Analyst
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