Post-mortem of a targeted Sodinokibi ransomware attack
Last week, Darktrace detected a targeted Sodinokibi ransomware attack during a 4-week trial with a mid-sized company.
This blog post will go through every stage of the attack lifecycle and detail the attacker’s techniques, tools and procedures used, and how Darktrace detected the attack.
The Sodinokibi group is an innovative threat-actor that is sometimes referred to as a ‘double-threat’, due to their ability to run targeted attacks using ransomware while simultaneously exfiltrating their victim’s data. This enables them to threaten to make the victim’s data publicly available if the ransom is not paid.
While Darktrace’s AI was able to identify the attack in real time as it was emerging, unfortunately the security team didn’t have eyes on the technology and was unable to action the alerts — nor was Antigena set in active mode, which would have slowed down and contained the threat instantaneously.
The timeline below provides a rough overview of the major attack phases. Most of the attack took place over the course of a week, with the majority of activity distributed over the last three days.
Darktrace detected two main devices being hit by the attack: an internet-facing RDP server (‘RDP server’) and a Domain Controller (‘DC’), that also acts as a SMB file server.
In previous attacks, Sodinokibi has used host-level encryption for ransomware activity where the encryption takes place on the compromised host itself — in contrast to network-level encryption where the bulk of the ransomware activity takes place over network protocols such as SMB.
Over several days, the victim’s external-facing RDP server was receiving successful RDP connections from a rare external IP address located in Ukraine.
Shortly before the initial reconnaissance started, Darktrace saw another RDP connection coming into the RDP server with the same RDP account as seen before. This connection lasted for almost an hour.
It is highly likely that the RDP credential used in this attack had been compromised prior to the attack, either via common brute-force methods, credential stuffing attacks, or phishing.
Thanks to Darktrace’s Deep-Packet Inspection, we can clearly see the connection and all related information.
Suspicious RDP connection information:
Time: 2020-02-10 16:57:06 UTC
Source: 46.150.70[.]86 (Ukraine)
Destination Port: 64347
Data out: 8.44 MB
Data in: 1.86 MB
Darktrace detects incoming RDP connections from IP addresses that usually do not connect to the organization.
Attack tools download
Approximately 45 minutes after the suspicious RDP connection from Ukraine, the RDP server connected to the popular file sharing platform, Megaupload, and downloaded close to 300MB from there.
Darktrace’s AI recognized that neither this server, nor its automatically detected peer group, nor, in fact, anyone else on the network commonly utilized Megaupload — and therefore instantly detected this as anomalous behavior, and flagged it as unusual.
As well as the full hostname and actual IP used for the download, Megaupload is 100% rare for this organization.
Later on, we will see over 40GB being uploaded to Megaupload. This initial download of 300MB however is likely additional tooling and C2 implants downloaded by the threat-actor into the victim’s environment.
Only 3 minutes after the download from Megaupload onto the RDP server, Darktrace alerted on the RDP server doing an anomalous network scan:
The RDP server scanned 9 other internal devices on the same subnet on 7 unique ports: 21, 80, 139, 445, 3389, 4899, 8080 . Anybody with some offensive security know-how will recognize most of these ports as default ports one would scan for in a Windows environment for lateral movement. Since this RDP server does not usually conduct network scans, Darktrace again identified this activity as highly anomalous.
Later on, we see the threat-actor do more network scanning. They become bolder and use more generic scans — one of them showing that they are using Nmap with a default user agent:
Additional Command and Control traffic
While the initial Command and Control traffic was most likely using predominantly RDP, the threat-actor now wanted to establish more persistence and create more resilient channels for C2.
Shortly after concluding the initial network scans (ca. 19:17 on 10th February 2020), the RDP server starts communicating with unusual external services that are unique and unusual for the victim’s environment.
Communications to Reddcoin
Again, nobody else is using Reddcoin on the network. The combination of application protocol and external port is extremely unusual for the network as well.
The communications also went to the Reddcoin API, indicating the installation of a software agent rather than manual communications. This was detected as Reddcoin was not only rare for the network, but also ‘young’ — i.e. this particular external destination had never been seen to be contacted before on the network until 25 minutes before.
Communications to the Reddcoin API
Communications to Exceptionless[.]io
As we can see, the communications to exceptionalness[.]io were done in a beaconing manner, using a Let’s Encrypt certificate, being rare for the network and using an unusual JA3 client hash. All of this indicates the presence of new software on the device, shortly after the threat-actor downloaded their 300MB of tooling.
While most of the above network activity started directly after the threat-actor dropped their tooling on the RDP server, the exact purpose of interfacing with Reddcoin and Exceptionless is unclear. The attacker seems to favor off-the-shelf tooling (Megaupload, Nmap, …) so they might use these services for C2 or telemetry-gathering purposes.
This concluded most of the activity on February 10.
More Command and Control traffic
Why would an attacker do this? Surely using all this C2 at the same time is much noisier than just using 1 or 2 channels?
Another significant burst of activity was observed on February 12 and 13.
The RDP server started making a lot of highly anomalous and rare connections to external destinations. It is inconclusive if all of the below services, IPs, and domains were used for C2 purposes only, but they are linked with high-confidence to the attacker’s activities:
- HTTP beaconing to vkmuz[.]net
- Significant amount of Tor usage
- RDP connections to 198-0-244-153-static.hfc.comcastbusiness[.]net over non-standard RDP port 29348
- RDP connections to 92.119.160[.]60 using an administrative account (geo-located in Russia)
- Continued connections to Megaupload
- Continued SSL beaconing to Exceptionless[.]io
- Continued connections to api.reddcoin[.]com
- SSL beaconing to freevpn[.]zone
- HTTP beaconing to 31.41.116[.]201 to /index.php using a new User Agent
- Unusual SSL connections to aj1713[.]online
- Connections to Pastebin
- SSL beaconing to www.itjx3no[.]com using an unusual JA3 client hash
- SSL beaconing to safe-proxy[.]com
- SSL connection to westchange[.]top without prior DNS hostname lookups (likely machine-driven)
What is significant here is the diversity in (potential) C2 channels: Tor, RDP going to dynamic ISP addresses, VPN solutions and possibly custom / customized off-the-shelf implants (the DGA-looking domains and HTTP to IP addresses to /index.php).
Why would an attacker do this? Surely using all this C2 at the same time is much noisier than just using 1 or 2 channels?
One answer might be that the attacker cared much more about short-term resilience than about stealth. As the overall attack in the network took less than 7 days, with a majority of the activity taking place over 2.5 days, this makes sense. Another possibility might be that various individuals were involved in parallel during this attack — maybe one attacker prefers the comfort of RDP sessions for hacking while another is more skilled and uses a particular post-exploitation framework.
The overall modus operandi in this financially-motivated attack is much more smash-and-grab than in the stealthy, espionage-related incidents observed in Advanced Persistent Threat campaigns (APT).
The DC uploaded around 40GB of data to Megaupload over the course of 24 hours.
While all of the above activity was seen on the RDP server (acting as the initial beach-head), the following data exfiltration activity was observed on a Domain Controller (DC) on the same subnet as the RDP server.
The DC uploaded around 40GB of data to Megaupload over the course of 24 hours.
Darktrace detected this data exfiltration while it was in progress — never did the DC (or any similar devices) upload similar amounts of data to the internet. Neither did any client nor server in the victim’s environment use Megaupload:
Finally, Darktrace observed unusual files being accessed on internal SMB shares on February 13. These files appear to be ransom notes — they follow a similar, randomly-generated naming convention as other victims of the Sodinokibi group have reported:
Conclusion and observations
The threat-actor seems to be using mostly off-the-shelf tooling which makes attribution harder — while also making detection more difficult.
This attack is representative of many of the current ransomware attacks: financially motivated, fast-acting, and targeted.
The threat-actor seems to be using mostly off-the-shelf tooling (RDP, Nmap, Mega, VPN solutions) which makes attribution harder — while also making detection more difficult. Using this kind of tooling often allows to blend in with regular admin activity — only once anomaly detection is used can this kind of activity be detected.
How can you spot the one anomalous outbound RDP connection amongst the thousands of regular RDP connections leaving your environment? How do you know when the use of Megaupload is malicious — compared to your users’ normal use of it? This is where the power of Darktrace’s self-learning AI comes into play.
Darktrace detected every stage of the visible attack lifecycle without using any threat intelligence or any static signatures.
The graphics below show an overview of detections on both compromised devices. The compromised devices were the highest-scoring assets for the network — even a level 1 analyst with limited previous exposure to Darktrace could detect such an in-progress attack in real time.
Some of the detections on the RDP server include:
- Compliance / File Storage / Mega — using Megaupload in an unusual way
- Device / Network Scan — detecting unusual network scans
- Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port — detecting the use of protocols on unusual ports
- Device / New Failed External Connections — detecting unusual failing C2
- Compromise / Unusual Connections to Let’s Encrypt — detecting potential C2 over SSL using Let’s Encrypt
- Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint — detecting C2 to new external endpoints for the network
- Device / Attack and Recon Tools — detecting known offensive security tools like Nmap
- Compromise / Tor Usage — detecting unusual Tor usage
- Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination — detecting generic SSL C2
- Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination — detecting generic HTTP C2
- Device / Long Agent Connection to New Endpoint — detecting unusual services on a device
- Anomalous Connection / Outbound RDP to Unusual Port — detecting unusual RDP C2
Some of the detections on the DC include:
- Anomalous Activity / Anomalous External Activity from Critical Device — detecting unusual behaviour on dcs
- Compliance / File storage / Mega — using Megaupload in an unusual way
- Anomalous Connection / Data Sent to New External Device — data exfiltration to unusual locations
- Anomalous Connection / Uncommon 1GB Outbound — large amounts of data leaving to unusual destinations
- Anomalous Server Activity / Outgoing from Server — likely C2 to unusual endpoint on the internet
Like this and want more?
Inside the SOC
How Abuse of ‘PerfectData Software’ May Create a Perfect Storm: An Emerging Trend in Account Takeovers
Amidst the ever-changing threat landscape, new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) seem to emerge daily, creating extreme challenges for security teams. The broad range of attack methods utilized by attackers seems to present an insurmountable problem: how do you defend against a playbook that does not yet exist?
Faced with the growing number of novel and uncommon attack methods, it is essential for organizations to adopt a security solution able to detect threats based on their anomalies, rather than relying on threat intelligence alone.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed an emerging trend in the use of an application known as ‘PerfectData Software’ for probable malicious purposes in several Microsoft 365 account takeovers.
Using its anomaly-based detection, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to identify the activity chain surrounding the use of this application, potentially uncovering a novel piece of threat actor tradecraft in the process.
Microsoft 365 Intrusions
In recent years, Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) suite, Microsoft 365, along with its built-in identity and access management (IAM) service, Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), have been heavily targeted by threat actors due to their near-ubiquitous usage across industries. Four out of every five Fortune 500 companies, for example, use Microsoft 365 services .
Malicious actors typically gain entry to organizations’ Microsoft 365 environments by abusing either stolen account credentials or stolen session cookies . Once inside, actors can access sensitive data within mailboxes or SharePoint repositories, and send out emails or Teams messages. This activity can often result in serious financial harm, especially in cases where the malicious actor’s end-goal is to elicit fraudulent transactions.
Darktrace regularly observes malicious actors behaving in predictable ways once they gain access to customer Microsoft 365 environment. One typical example is the creation of new inbox rules and sending deceitful emails intended to convince recipients to carry out subsequent actions, such as following a malicious link or providing sensitive information. It is also common for actors to register new applications in Azure AD so that they can be used to conduct follow-up activities, like mass-mailing or data theft. The registration of applications in Azure AD therefore seems to be a relatively predictable threat actor behavior . Darktrace DETECT understands that unusual application registrations in Azure AD may constitute a deviation in expected behavior, and therefore a possible indicator of account compromise.
These registrations of applications in Azure AD are evidenced by creations of, as well as assignments of permissions to, Service Principals in Azure AD. Darktrace has detected a growing trend in actors creating and assigning permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. Further investigation of this Azure AD activity revealed it to be part of an ongoing account takeover.
‘PerfectData Software’ Activity
Darktrace observed variations of the following pattern of activity relating to an application named ‘PerfectData Software’ within its customer base:
- Actor signs in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint associated with a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
- Actor registers an application called 'PerfectData Software' with Azure AD, and then grants permissions to the application
- Actor accesses mailbox data and creates inbox rule
In two separate incidents, malicious actors were observed conducting their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services (HideMyAss (HMA) VPN and Surfshark VPN, respectively) and from endpoints within the Autonomous System AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed a malicious actor signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from a Kuwait-based IP address within the Autonomous System, AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o. This IP address is associated with the VPN service, HMA VPN. Over the next couple of days, an actor (likely the same malicious actor) signed in to the account several more times from two different Nigeria-based endpoints, as well as a VPS-related endpoint and a HMA VPN endpoint.
During their login sessions, the actor performed a variety of actions. First, they created and assigned permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. This Service Principal creation represents the registration of an application called ‘PerfectData Software’ in Azure AD. Although the reason for registering this application is unclear, within a few days the actor registered and granted permission to another application, ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’, and created a new inbox rule names ‘s’ on the mailbox of the hijacked account. This inbox rule moved emails meeting certain conditions to a folder named ‘RSS Subscription. The ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’ application was likely registered by the actor to facilitate mass-mailing activity.
Immediately after these actions, Darktrace detected the actor sending out thousands of malicious emails from the account. The emails included an attachment named ‘Credit Transfer Copy.html’, which contained a suspicious link. Further investigation revealed that the customer’s network had received several fake invoice emails prior to this initial intrusion activity. Additionally, there was an unusually high volume of failed logins to the compromised account around the time of the initial access.
In a separate case also observed by Darktrace in March 2023, a malicious actor was observed signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint within the Autonomous System, AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON. The endpoint appears to be related to the VPN service, Surfshark VPN. This login was followed by several failed and successful logins from a VPS-related within the Autonomous System, AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01. The actor was then seen registering and assigning permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’. As with the previous example, the motives for this registration are unclear. The actor proceeded to log in several more times from a Surfshark VPN endpoint, however, they were not observed carrying out any further suspicious activity.
It was not clear in either of these examples, nor in fact any of cases observed by Darktrace, why actors had registered and assigned permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’, and there do not appear to be any open-source intelligence (OSINT) resources or online literature related to the malicious usage of an application by that name. That said, there are several websites which appear to provide email migration and data recovery/backup tools under the moniker ‘PerfectData Software’.
It is unclear whether the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ by malicious actors observed on the networks of Darktrace customers was one of these tools. However, given the nature of the tools, it is possible that the actors intended to use them to facilitate the exfiltration of email data from compromises mailboxes.
If the legitimate software ‘PerfectData’ is the application in question in these incidents, it is likely being purchased and misused by attackers for malicious purposes. It is also possible the application referenced in the incidents is a spoof of the legitimate ‘PerfectData’ software designed to masquerade a malicious application as legitimate.
Cases of ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains detected by Darktrace typically began with an actor signing into an internal user’s Microsoft 365 account from a VPN or VPS-related endpoint. These login events, along with the suspicious email and/or brute-force activity which preceded them, caused the following DETECT models to breach:
- SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use
- SaaS / Access / Suspicious Login Attempt
- SaaS / Compromise / Login From Rare Following Suspicious Login Attempt(s)
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Unusual Location for SaaS and Email Activity
Subsequent activities, including inbox rule creations, registration of applications in Azure AD, and mass-mailing activity, resulted in breaches of the following DETECT models.
- SaaS / Admin / OAuth Permission Grant
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Logic Following OAuth Grant
- SaaS / Admin / New Application Service Principal
- IaaS / Admin / Azure Application Administration Activities
- SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Suspicious Internal Exchange Activity
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Possible Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Suspicious Login and Suspicious Outbound Email(s)
In cases where Darktrace RESPOND™ was enabled in autonomous response mode, ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains resulted in breaches of the following RESPOND models:
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
In response to these model breaches, Darktrace RESPOND took immediate action, performing aggressive, inhibitive actions, such as forcing the actor to log out of the SaaS platform, and disabling the user entirely. When applied autonomously, these RESPOND actions would seriously impede an attacker’s progress and minimize network disruption.
In addition, Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst was able to autonomously investigate registrations of the ‘PerfectData Software’ application and summarized its findings into digestible reports.
Due to the widespread adoption of Microsoft 365 services in the workplace and continued emphasis on a remote workforce, account hijackings now pose a more serious threat to organizations around the world than ever before. The cases discussed here illustrate the tendency of malicious actors to conduct their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services, while also registering new applications, like PerfectData Software, with malicious intent.
While it was unclear exactly why the malicious actors were using ‘PerfectData Software’ as part of their account hijacking, it is clear that either the legitimate or spoofed version of the application is becoming an very likely emergent piece of threat actor tradecraft.
Darktrace DETECT’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to recognize that the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ represented a deviation in the SaaS user’s expected behavior. While Darktrace RESPOND, when enabled in autonomous response mode, was able to quickly take preventative action against threat actors, blocking the potential use of the application for data exfiltration or other nefarious purposes.
MITRE ATT&CK Mapping
• T1598 – Phishing for Information
• T1110 – Brute Force
• T1078.004 – Valid Accounts: Cloud Accounts
Command and Control:
• T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer
• T1098.003 – Account Manipulation: Additional Cloud Roles
• T1114 – Email Collection
• T1564.008 – Hide Artifacts: Email Hiding Rules
• T1534 – Internal Spearphishing
Unusual Source IPs
• 5.62.60[.]202 (AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o.)
• 160.152.10[.]215 (AS37637 Smile-Nigeria-AS)
• 197.244.250[.]155 (AS37705 TOPNET)
• 169.159.92[.]36 (AS37122 SMILE)
• 45.62.170[.]237 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
• 92.38.180[.]49 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A)
• 129.56.36[.]26 (AS327952 AS-NATCOM)
• 92.38.180[.]47 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A.)
• 107.179.20[.]214 (AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON)
• 45.62.170[.]31 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
Darktrace Integrates Self-Learning AI with Amazon Security Lake to Support Security Investigations
Darktrace has deepened its relationship with AWS by integrating its detection and response capabilities with Amazon Security Lake.
This development will allow mutual customers to seamlessly combine Darktrace AI’s bespoke understanding of their organization with the Threat Intelligence offered by other security tools, and investigate all of their alerts in one central location.
This integration will improve the value security teams get from both products, streamlining analyst workflows and improving their ability to detect and respond to the full spectrum of known and unknown cyber-threats.
How Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake augment security teams
Amazon Security Lake is a newly-released service that automatically centralizes an organization’s security data from cloud, on-premises, and custom sources into a customer owned purpose-built data lake. Both Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake support the Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF), an open standard to simplify, combine, and analyze security logs.
Customers can store security logs, events, alerts, and other relevant data generated by various AWS services and security tools. By consolidating security data in a central lake, organizations can gain a holistic view of their security posture, perform advanced analytics, detect anomalies and open investigations to improve their security practices.
With Darktrace DETECT and RESPOND AI engines covering all assets across IT, OT, network, endpoint, IoT, email and cloud, organizations can augment the value of their security data lakes by feeding Darktrace’s rich and context-aware datapoints to Amazon Security Lake.
Amazon Security Lake empowers security teams to improve the protection of your digital estate:
- Quick and painless data normalization
- Fast-tracks ability to investigate, triage and respond to security events
- Broader visibility aids more effective decision-making
- Surfaces and prioritizes anomalies for further investigation
- Single interface for seamless data management
How will Darktrace customers benefit?
Across the Cyber AI Loop, all Darktrace solutions have been architected with AWS best practices in mind. With this integration, Darktrace is bringing together its understanding of ‘self’ for every organization with the centralized data visibility of the Amazon Security Lake. Darktrace’s unique approach to cyber security, powered by groundbreaking AI research, delivers a superior dataset based on a deep and interconnected understanding of the enterprise.
Where other cyber security solutions are trained to identify threats based on historical attack data and techniques, Darktrace DETECT gains a bespoke understanding of every digital environment, continuously analyzing users, assets, devices and the complex relationships between them. Our AI analyzes thousands of metrics to reveal subtle deviations that may signal an evolving issue – even unknown techniques and novel malware. It distinguishes between malicious and benign behavior, identifying harmful activity that typically goes unnoticed. This rich dataset is fed into RESPOND, which takes precise action to neutralize threats against any and every asset, no matter where data resides.
Both DETECT and RESPOND are supported by Darktrace Self-Learning AI, which provides full, real-time visibility into an organization’s systems and data. This always-on threat analysis already makes humans better at cyber security, improving decisions and outcomes based on total visibility of the digital ecosystem, supporting human performance with AI coverage and empowering security teams to proactively protect critical assets.
Converting Darktrace alerts to the Amazon Security Lake Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF) supplies the Security Operations Center (SOC) and incident response team with contextualized data, empowering them to accelerate their investigation, triage and response to potential cyber threats.
Darktrace is available for purchase on the AWS Marketplace.
Learn more about how Darktrace provides full-coverage, AI-powered cloud security for AWS, or see how our customers use Darktrace in their AWS cloud environments.