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Understanding Qakbot Infections and Attack Paths | Darktrace

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05
Apr 2023
05
Apr 2023
Explore the network-based analysis of Qakbot infections with Darktrace. Learn about the various attack paths used by cybercriminals and Darktrace's response.

In an ever-changing threat landscape, security vendors around the world are forced to quickly adapt, react, and respond to known attack vectors and threats. In the face of this, malicious actors are constantly looking for novel ways to gain access to networks. Whether that’s through new exploitations of network vulnerabilities or new delivery methods, attackers and their methods are continually evolving. Although it is valuable for organizations to leverage threat intelligence to keep abreast of known threats to their networks, intelligence alone is not enough to defend against increasingly versatile attackers. Having an autonomous decision maker able to detect and respond to emerging threats, even those employing novel or unknown techniques, is paramount to defend against network compromise.

At the end of January 2023, threat actors began to abuse OneNote attachments to deliver the malware strain, Qakbot, onto users' devices. Widespread adoption of this novel delivery method resulted in a surge in Qakbot infections across Darktrace's customer base between the end of January 2023 and the end of February 2023. Using its Self-Learning AI, Darktrace was able to uncover and respond to these so-called ‘QakNote’ infections as the new trend emerged. Darktrace detected and responded to the threat at multiple stages of the kill chain, preventing damaging and widespread compromise to customer networks.

Qakbot and The Recent Weaponization of OneNote

Qakbot first appeared in 2007 as a banking trojan designed to steal sensitive data such as banking credentials. Since then, Qakbot has evolved into a highly modular, multi-purpose tool, with backdoor, payload delivery, reconnaissance, lateral movement, and data exfiltration capabilities. Although Qakbot's primary delivery method has always been email-based, threat actors have been known to modify their email-based delivery methods of Qakbot in the face of changing circumstances. In the first half of 2022, Microsoft started rolling out versions of Office which block XL4 and VBA macros by default [1]/[2]/[3]. Prior to this change, Qakbot email campaigns typically consisted in the spreading of deceitful emails with Office attachments containing malicious macros. In the face of Microsoft's default blocking of macros, threat actors appeared to cease delivering Qakbot via Office attachments, and shifted to primarily using HTML attachments, through a method known as 'HTML smuggling' [4]/[5]. After the public disclosure [6] of the Follina vulnerability (CVE-2022-30190) in Microsoft Support Diagnostic Tool (MSDT) in May 2022, Qakbot actors were seen capitalizing on the vulnerability to facilitate their email-based delivery of Qakbot payloads [7]/[8]/[9]. 

Given the inclination of Qakbot actors to adapt their email-based delivery methods, it is no surprise that they were quick to capitalize on the novel OneNote-based delivery method which emerged in December 2022. Since December 2022, threat actors have been seen using OneNote attachments to deliver a variety of malware strains, ranging from Formbook [10] to AsynRAT [11] to Emotet [12]. The abuse of OneNote documents to deliver malware is made possible by the fact that OneNote allows for the embedding of executable file types such as HTA files, CMD files, and BAT files. At the end of January 2023, actors started to leverage OneNote attachments to deliver Qakbot [13]/[14]. The adoption of this novel delivery method by Qakbot actors resulted in a surge in Qakbot infections in the wider threat landscape and across the Darktrace customer base.

Observed Activity Chains

Between January 31 and February 24, 2023, Darktrace observed variations of the following pattern of activity across its customer base:

1. User's device contacts OneNote-related endpoint 

2. User's device makes an external GET request with an empty Host header, a target URI whose final segment consists in 5 or 6 digits followed by '.dat', and a User-Agent header referencing either cURL or PowerShell. The GET request is responded to with a DLL file

3. User's device makes SSL connections over ports 443 and 2222 to unusual external endpoints, and makes TCP connections over port 65400 to 23.111.114[.]52

4. User's device makes SSL connections over port 443 to an external host named 'bonsars[.]com' (IP: 194.165.16[.]56) and TCP connections over port 443 to 78.31.67[.]7

5. User’s device makes call to Endpoint Mapper service on internal systems and then connects to the Service Control Manager (SCM) 

6. User's device uploads files with algorithmically generated names and ‘.dll’ or ‘.dll.cfg’ file extensions to SMB shares on internal systems

7. User's device makes Service Control requests to the systems to which it uploaded ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ files 

Further investigation of these chains of activity revealed that they were parts of Qakbot infections initiated via interactions with malicious OneNote attachments. 

Figure 1: Steps of observed QakNote infections.

Delivery Phase

Users' interactions with malicious OneNote attachments, which were evidenced by devices' HTTPS connections to OneNote-related endpoints, such as 'www.onenote[.]com', 'contentsync.onenote[.]com', and 'learningtools.onenote[.]com', resulted in the retrieval of Qakbot DLLs from unusual, external endpoints. In some cases, the user's interaction with the malicious OneNote attachment caused their device to fetch a Qakbot DLL using cURL, whereas, in other cases, it caused their device to download a Qakbot DLL using PowerShell. These different outcomes reflected variations in the contents of the executable files embedded within the weaponized OneNote attachments. In addition to having cURL and PowerShell User-Agent headers, the HTTP requests triggered by interaction with these OneNote attachments had other distinctive features, such as empty host headers and target URIs whose last segment consists in 5 or 6 digits followed by '.dat'. 

Figure 2: Model breach highlighting a user’s device making a HTTP GET request to 198.44.140[.]78 with a PowerShell User-Agent header and the target URI ‘/210/184/187737.dat’.
Figure 3: Model breach highlighting a user’s device making a HTTP GET request to 103.214.71[.]45 with a cURL User-Agent header and the target URI ‘/70802.dat’.
Figure 4: Event Log showing a user’s device making a GET request with a cURL User-Agent header to 185.231.205[.]246 after making an SSL connection to contentsync.onenote[.]com.
Figure 5: Event Log showing a user’s device making a GET request with a cURL User-Agent header to 185.231.205[.]246 after making an SSL connection to www.onenote[.]com.

Command and Control Phase

After fetching Qakbot DLLs, users’ devices were observed making numerous SSL connections over ports 443 and 2222 to highly unusual, external endpoints, as well as large volumes of TCP connections over port 65400 to 23.111.114[.]52. These connections represented Qakbot-infected devices communicating with command and control (C2) infrastructure. Qakbot-infected devices were also seen making intermittent connections to legitimate endpoints, such as 'xfinity[.]com', 'yahoo[.]com', 'verisign[.]com', 'oracle[.]com', and 'broadcom[.]com', likely due to Qakbot making connectivity checks. 

Figure 6: Event Log showing a user’s device contacting Qakbot C2 infrastructure and making connectivity checks to legitimate domains.
Figure 7: Event Log showing a user’s device contacting Qakbot C2 infrastructure and making connectivity checks to legitimate domains.

Cobalt Strike and VNC Phase

After Qakbot-infected devices established communication with C2 servers, they were observed making SSL connections to the external endpoint, bonsars[.]com, and TCP connections to the external endpoint, 78.31.67[.]7. The SSL connections to bonsars[.]com were C2 connections from Cobalt Strike Beacon, and the TCP connections to 78.31.67[.]7 were C2 connections from Qakbot’s Virtual Network Computing (VNC) module [15]/[16]. The occurrence of these connections indicate that actors leveraged Qakbot infections to drop Cobalt Strike Beacon along with a VNC payload onto infected systems. The deployment of Cobalt Strike and VNC likely provided actors with ‘hands-on-keyboard’ access to the Qakbot-infected systems. 

Figure 8: Advanced Search logs showing a user’s device contacting OneNote endpoints, fetching a Qakbot DLL over HTTP, making SSL connections to Qakbot infrastructure and connectivity checks to legitimate domains, and then making SSL connections to the Cobalt Strike endpoint, bonsars[.]com.
Figure 9: Event Log showing a user’s device contacting the Cobalt Strike C2 endpoint, bonsars[.]com, and the VNC C2 endpoint, 78.31.67[.]7, whilst simultaneously contacting the Qakbot C2 endpoint, 47.32.78[.]150.

Lateral Movement Phase

After dropping Cobalt Strike Beacon and a VNC module onto Qakbot-infected systems, actors leveraged their strengthened foothold to connect to the Service Control Manager (SCM) on internal systems in preparation for lateral movement. Before connecting to the SCM, infected systems were seen making calls to the Endpoint Mapper service, likely to identify exposed Microsoft Remote Procedure Call (MSRPC) services on internal systems. The MSRPC service, Service Control Manager (SCM), is known to be abused by Cobalt Strike to create and start services on remote systems. Connections to this service were evidenced by OpenSCManager2  (Opnum: 0x40) and OpenSCManagerW (Opnum: 0xf) calls to the svcctl RPC interface. 

Figure 10: Advanced Search logs showing a user’s device contacting the Endpoint Mapper and Service Control Manager (SCM) services on internal systems. 

After connecting to the SCM on internal systems, infected devices were seen using SMB to distribute files with ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ extensions to SMB shares. These uploads were followed by CreateWowService (Opnum: 0x3c) calls to the svcctl interface, likely intended to execute the uploaded payloads. The naming conventions of the uploaded files indicate that they were Qakbot payloads. 

Figure 11: Advanced Search logs showing a user’s device making Service Control DCE-RPC requests to internal systems after uploading ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ files to them over SMB.

Fortunately, none of the observed QakNote infections escalated further than this. If these infections had escalated, it is likely that they would have resulted in the widespread detonation of additional malicious payloads, such as ransomware.  

Darktrace Coverage of QakNote Activity

Figure 1 shows the steps involved in the QakNote infections observed across Darktrace’s customer base. How far attackers got along this chain was in part determined by the following three factors:

The presence of Darktrace/Email typically stopped QakNote infections from moving past the initial infection stage. The presence of RESPOND/Network significantly slowed down observed activity chains, however, infections left unattended and not mitigated by the security teams were able to progress further along the attack chain. 

Darktrace observed varying properties in the QakNote emails detected across the customer base. OneNote attachments were typically detected as either ‘application/octet-stream’ files or as ‘application/x-tar’ files. In some cases, the weaponized OneNote attachment embedded a malicious file, whereas in other cases, the OneNote file embedded a malicious link (typically a ‘.png’ or ‘.gif’ link) instead. In all cases Darktrace observed, QakNote emails used subject lines starting with ‘RE’ or ‘FW’ to manipulating their recipients into thinking that such emails were part of an existing email chain/thread. In some cases, emails impersonated users known to their recipients by including the names of such users in their header-from personal names. In many cases, QakNote emails appear to have originated from likely hijacked email accounts. These are highly successful methods of social engineering often employed by threat actors to exploit a user’s trust in known contacts or services, convincing them to open malicious emails and making it harder for security tools to detect.

The fact that observed QakNote emails used the fake-reply method, were sent from unknown email accounts, and contained attachments with unusual MIME types, caused such emails to breach the following Darktrace/Email models:

  • Association / Unknown Sender
  • Attachment / Unknown File
  • Attachment / Unsolicited Attachment
  • Attachment / Highly Unusual Mime
  • Attachment / Unsolicited Anomalous Mime
  • Attachment / Unusual Mime for Organisation
  • Unusual / Fake Reply
  • Unusual / Unusual Header TLD
  • Unusual / Fake Reply + Unknown Sender
  • Unusual / Unusual Connection from Unknown
  • Unusual / Off Topic

QakNote emails impersonating known users also breached the following DETECT & RESPOND/Email models:

  • Unusual / Unrelated Personal Name Address
  • Spoof / Basic Known Entity Similarities
  • Spoof / Internal User Similarities
  • Spoof / External User Similarities
  • Spoof / Internal User Similarities + Unrelated Personal Name Address
  • Spoof / External User Similarities + Unrelated Personal Name Address
  • Spoof / Internal User Similarities + Unknown File
  • Spoof / External User Similarities + Fake Reply
  • Spoof / Possible User Spoof from New Address - Enhanced Internal Similarities
  • Spoof / Whale

The actions taken by Darktrace on the observed emails is ultimately determined by Darktrace/Email models are breached. Those emails which did not breach Spoofing models (due to lack of impersonation indicators) received the ‘Convert Attachment’ action. This action converts suspicious attachments into neutralized PDFs, in this case successfully unweaponizing the malicious OneNote attachments. QakNote emails which did breach Spoofing models (due to the presence of impersonation indicators) received the strongest possible action, ‘Hold Message’. This action prevents suspicious emails from reaching the recipients’ mailbox. 

Figure 12: Email log showing a malicious OneNote email (without impersonation indicators) which received a 87% anomaly score, a ‘Move to junk’ action, and a ‘Convert attachment’ actions from Darktrace/Email.
Figure 13: Email log showing a malicious OneNote email (with impersonation indicators) which received an anomaly score of 100% and a ‘Hold message’ action from Darktrace/Email.
Figure 14: Email log showing a malicious OneNote email (with impersonation indicators) which received an anomaly score of 100% and a ‘Hold message’ action from Darktrace/Email.

If threat actors managed to get past the first stage of the QakNote kill chain, likely due to the absence of appropriate email security tools, the execution of the subsequent steps resulted in strong intervention from Darktrace/Network. 

Interactions with malicious OneNote attachments caused their devices to fetch a Qakbot DLL from a remote server via HTTP GET requests with an empty Host header and either a cURL or PowerShell User-Agent header. These unusual HTTP behaviors caused the following Darktrace/Network models to breach:

  • Device / New User Agent
  • Device / New PowerShell User Agent
  • Device / New User Agent and New IP
  • Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
  • Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External
  • Anomalous File / Numeric File Download
  • Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location
  • Anomalous File / New User Agent Followed By Numeric File Download

For customers with RESPOND/Network active, these breaches resulted in the following autonomous actions:

  • Enforce group pattern of life for 30 minutes
  • Enforce group pattern of life for 2 hours
  • Block connections to relevant external endpoints over relevant ports for 2 hours   
  • Block all outgoing traffic for 10 minutes
Figure 15: Event Log showing a user’s device receiving Darktrace RESPOND/Network actions after downloading a Qakbot DLL. 
Figure 16: Event Log showing a user’s device receiving Darktrace RESPOND/Network actions after downloading a Qakbot DLL.

Successful, uninterrupted downloads of Qakbot DLLs resulted in connections to Qakbot C2 servers, and subsequently to Cobalt Strike and VNC C2 connections. These C2 activities resulted in breaches of the following DETECT/Network models:

  • Compromise / Suspicious TLS Beaconing To Rare External
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
  • Compromise / Sustained TCP Beaconing Activity To Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

For customers with RESPOND/Network active, these breaches caused RESPOND to autonomously perform the following actions:

  • Block connections to relevant external endpoints over relevant ports for 1 hour
Figure 17: Event Log showing a user’s device receiving RESPOND/Network actions after contacting the Qakbot C2 endpoint,  Cobalt Strike C2 endpoint, bonsars[.]com.

In cases where C2 connections were allowed to continue, actors attempted to move laterally through usage of SMB and Service Control Manager. This lateral movement activity caused the following DETECT/Network models to breach:

  • Device / Possible SMB/NTLM Reconnaissance
  • Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control 

For customers with RESPOND/Network enabled, these breaches caused RESPOND to autonomously perform the following actions:

  • Block connections to relevant internal endpoints over port 445 for 1 hour
Figure 18: Event Log shows a user’s device receiving RESPOND/Network actions after contacting the Qakbot C2 endpoint, 5.75.205[.]43, and distributing ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ files internally.

The QakNote infections observed across Darktrace’s customer base involved several steps, each of which elicited alerts and autonomous preventative actions from Darktrace. By autonomously investigating the alerts from DETECT, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst was able to connect the distinct steps of observed QakNote infections into single incidents. It then produced incident logs to present in-depth details of the activity it uncovered, provide full visibility for customer security teams.

Figure 19: AI Analyst incident entry showing the steps of a QakNote infection which AI Analyst connected following its autonomous investigations.

Conclusion

Faced with the emerging threat of QakNote infections, Darktrace demonstrated its ability to autonomously detect and respond to arising threats in a constantly evolving threat landscape. The attack chains which Darktrace observed across its customer base involved the delivery of Qakbot via malicious OneNote attachments, the usage of ports 65400 and 2222 for Qakbot C2 communication, the usage of Cobalt Strike Beacon and VNC for ‘hands-on-keyboard’ activity, and the usage of SMB and Service Control Manager for lateral movement. 

Despite the novelty of the OneNote-based delivery method, Darktrace was able to identify QakNote infections across its customer base at various stages of the kill chain, using its autonomous anomaly-based detection to identify unusual activity or deviations from expected behavior. When active, Darktrace/Email neutralized malicious QakNote attachments sent to employees. In cases where Darktrace/Email was not active, Darktrace/Network detected and slowed down the unusual network activities which inevitably ensued from Qakbot infections. Ultimately, this intervention from Darktrace’s products prevented infections from leading to further harmful activity, such as data exfiltration and the detonation of ransomware.

Darktrace is able to offer customers an unparalleled level of network security by combining both Darktrace/Network and Darktrace/Email, safeguarding both their email and network environments. With its suite of products, including DETECT and RESPOND, Darktrace can autonomously uncover threats to customer networks and instantaneously intervene to prevent suspicious activity leading to damaging compromises. 

Appendices

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping 

Initial Access:

T1566.001 – Phishing: Spearphishing Attachment

Execution:

T1204.001 – User Execution: Malicious Link

T1204.002 – User Execution: Malicious File

T1569.002 – System Services: Service Execution

Lateral Movement:

T1021.002 – Remote Services: SMB/Windows Admin Shares

Command and Control:

T1573.002 – Encrypted Channel : Asymmetric Cryptography

T1571 – Non-Standard Port 

T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer

T1095 –  Non-Application Layer Protocol

T1219 – Remote Access Software

List of IOCs

IP Addresses and/or Domain Names:

- 103.214.71[.]45 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 141.164.35[.]94 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 95.179.215[.]225 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 128.254.207[.]55 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 141.164.35[.]94 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 172.96.137[.]149 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 185.231.205[.]246 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 216.128.146[.]67 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 45.155.37[.]170 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 85.239.41[.]55 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 45.67.35[.]108 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 77.83.199[.]12 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 45.77.63[.]210 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 198.44.140[.]78 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 47.32.78[.]150 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 197.204.13[.]52 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 68.108.122[.]180 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 2.50.48[.]213 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 66.180.227[.]60 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 190.206.75[.]58 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 109.150.179[.]236 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 86.202.48[.]142 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 143.159.167[.]159 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 5.75.205[.]43 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 184.176.35[.]223 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure 

- 208.187.122[.]74 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 23.111.114[.]52 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure 

- 74.12.134[.]53 – Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- bonsars[.]com • 194.165.16[.]56 - Cobalt Strike C2 infrastructure 

- 78.31.67[.]7 - VNC C2 infrastructure

Target URIs of GET Requests for Qakbot DLLs:

- /70802.dat 

- /51881.dat

- /12427.dat

- /70136.dat

- /35768.dat

- /41981.dat

- /30622.dat

- /72286.dat

- /46557.dat

- /33006.dat

- /300332.dat

- /703558.dat

- /760433.dat

- /210/184/187737.dat

- /469/387/553748.dat

- /282/535806.dat

User-Agent Headers of GET Requests for Qakbot DLLs:

- curl/7.83.1

- curl/7.55.1

- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT; Windows NT 10.0; en-US) WindowsPowerShell/5.1.19041.2364

- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT; Windows NT 10.0; en-US) WindowsPowerShell/5.1.17763.3770

- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT; Windows NT 10.0; en-GB) WindowsPowerShell/5.1.19041.2364

SHA256 Hashes of Downloaded Qakbot DLLs:  

- 83e9bdce1276d2701ff23b1b3ac7d61afc97937d6392ed6b648b4929dd4b1452

- ca95a5dcd0194e9189b1451fa444f106cbabef3558424d9935262368dba5f2c6 

- fa067ff1116b4c8611eae9ed4d59a19d904a8d3c530b866c680a7efeca83eb3d

- e6853589e42e1ab74548b5445b90a5a21ff0d7f8f4a23730cffe285e2d074d9e

- d864d93b8fd4c5e7fb136224460c7b98f99369fc9418bae57de466d419abeaf6

- c103c24ccb1ff18cd5763a3bb757ea2779a175a045e96acbb8d4c19cc7d84bea

Names of Internally Distributed Qakbot DLLs: 

- rpwpmgycyzghm.dll

- rpwpmgycyzghm.dll.cfg

- guapnluunsub.dll

- guapnluunsub.dll.cfg

- rskgvwfaqxzz.dll

- rskgvwfaqxzz.dll.cfg

- hkfjhcwukhsy.dll

- hkfjhcwukhsy.dll.cfg

- uqailliqbplm.dll

- uqailliqbplm.dll.cfg

- ghmaorgvuzfos.dll

- ghmaorgvuzfos.dll.cfg

Links Found Within Neutralized QakNote Email Attachments:

- hxxps://khatriassociates[.]com/MBt/3.gif

- hxxps://spincotech[.]com/8CoBExd/3.gif

- hxxps://minaato[.]com/tWZVw/3.gif

- hxxps://famille2point0[.]com/oghHO/01.png

- hxxps://sahifatinews[.]com/jZbaw/01.png

- hxxp://87.236.146[.]112/62778.dat

- hxxp://87.236.146[.]112/59076.dat

- hxxp://185.231.205[.]246/73342.dat

References

[1] https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/excel-blog/excel-4-0-xlm-macros-now-restricted-by-default-for-customer/ba-p/3057905

[2] https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-365-blog/helping-users-stay-safe-blocking-internet-macros-by-default-in/ba-p/3071805

[3] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/deployoffice/security/internet-macros-blocked

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

[5] https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/spiderlabs-blog/html-smuggling-the-hidden-threat-in-your-inbox/

[6] https://twitter.com/nao_sec/status/1530196847679401984

[7] https://www.fortiguard.com/threat-signal-report/4616/qakbot-delivered-through-cve-2022-30190-follina

[8] https://isc.sans.edu/diary/rss/28728

[9] https://darktrace.com/blog/qakbot-resurgence-evolving-along-with-the-emerging-threat-landscape

[10] https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/spiderlabs-blog/trojanized-onenote-document-leads-to-formbook-malware/

[11] https://www.proofpoint.com/uk/blog/threat-insight/onenote-documents-increasingly-used-to-deliver-malware

[12] https://www.malwarebytes.com/blog/threat-intelligence/2023/03/emotet-onenote

[13] https://blog.cyble.com/2023/02/01/qakbots-evolution-continues-with-new-strategies/

[14] https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2023/02/06/qakbot-onenote-attacks/

[15] https://isc.sans.edu/diary/rss/29210

[16] https://unit42.paloaltonetworks.com/feb-wireshark-quiz-answers/

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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Sam Lister
SOC Analyst
Connor Mooney
SOC Analyst
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Jupyter Ascending: Darktrace’s Investigation of the Adaptive Jupyter Information Stealer

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18
Jul 2024

What is Malware as a Service (MaaS)?

Malware as a Service (MaaS) is a model where cybercriminals develop and sell or lease malware to other attackers.

This approach allows individuals or groups with limited technical skills to launch sophisticated cyberattacks by purchasing or renting malware tools and services. MaaS is often provided through online marketplaces on the dark web, where sellers offer various types of malware, including ransomware, spyware, and trojans, along with support services such as updates and customer support.

The Growing MaaS Marketplace

The Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) marketplace is rapidly expanding, with new strains of malware being regularly introduced and attracting waves of new and previous attackers. The low barrier for entry, combined with the subscription-like accessibility and lucrative business model, has made MaaS a prevalent tool for cybercriminals. As a result, MaaS has become a significant concern for organizations and their security teams, necessitating heightened vigilance and advanced defense strategies.

Examples of Malware as a Service

  • Ransomware as a Service (RaaS): Providers offer ransomware kits that allow users to launch ransomware attacks and share the ransom payments with the service provider.
  • Phishing as a Service: Services that provide phishing kits, including templates and email lists, to facilitate phishing campaigns.
  • Botnet as a Service: Renting out botnets to perform distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or other malicious activities.
  • Information Stealer: Information stealers are a type of malware specifically designed to collect sensitive data from infected systems, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, personal identification information, and other valuable data.

How does information stealer malware work?

Information stealers are an often-discussed type MaaS tool used to harvest personal and proprietary information such as administrative credentials, banking information, and cryptocurrency wallet details. This information is then exfiltrated from target networks via command-and-control (C2) communication, allowing threat actors to monetize the data. Information stealers have also increasingly been used as an initial access vector for high impact breaches including ransomware attacks, employing both double and triple extortion tactics.

After investigating several prominent information stealers in recent years, the Darktrace Threat Research team launched an investigation into indicators of compromise (IoCs) associated with another variant in late 2023, namely the Jupyter information stealer.

What is Jupyter information stealer and how does it work?

The Jupyter information stealer (also known as Yellow Cockatoo, SolarMarker, and Polazert) was first observed in the wild in late 2020. Multiple variants have since become part of the wider threat landscape, however, towards the end of 2023 a new variant was observed. This latest variant achieved greater stealth and updated its delivery method, targeting browser extensions such as Edge, Firefox, and Chrome via search engine optimization (SEO) poisoning and malvertising. This then redirects users to download malicious files that typically impersonate legitimate software, and finally initiates the infection and the attack chain for Jupyter [3][4]. In recently noted cases, users download malicious executables for Jupyter via installer packages created using InnoSetup – an open-source compiler used to create installation packages in the Windows OS.

The latest release of Jupyter reportedly takes advantage of signed digital certificates to add credibility to downloaded executables, further supplementing its already existing tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for detection evasion and sophistication [4]. Jupyter does this while still maintaining features observed in other iterations, such as dropping files into the %TEMP% folder of a system and using PowerShell to decrypt and load content into memory [4]. Another reported feature includes backdoor functionality such as:

  • C2 infrastructure
  • Ability to download and execute malware
  • Execution of PowerShell scripts and commands
  • Injecting shellcode into legitimate windows applications

Darktrace Coverage of Jupyter information stealer

In September 2023, Darktrace’s Threat Research team first investigated Jupyter and discovered multiple IoCs and TTPs associated with the info-stealer across the customer base. Across most investigated networks during this time, Darktrace observed the following activity:

  • HTTP POST requests over destination port 80 to rare external IP addresses (some of these connections were also made via port 8089 and 8090 with no prior hostname lookup).
  • HTTP POST requests specifically to the root directory of a rare external endpoint.
  • Data streams being sent to unusual external endpoints
  • Anomalous PowerShell execution was observed on numerous affected networks.

Taking a further look at the activity patterns detected, Darktrace identified a series of HTTP POST requests within one customer’s environment on December 7, 2023. The HTTP POST requests were made to the root directory of an external IP address, namely 146.70.71[.]135, which had never previously been observed on the network. This IP address was later reported to be malicious and associated with Jupyter (SolarMarker) by open-source intelligence (OSINT) [5].

Device Event Log indicating several connections from the source device to the rare external IP address 146.70.71[.]135 over port 80.
Figure 1: Device Event Log indicating several connections from the source device to the rare external IP address 146.70.71[.]135 over port 80.

This activity triggered the Darktrace / NETWORK model, ‘Anomalous Connection / Posting HTTP to IP Without Hostname’. This model alerts for devices that have been seen posting data out of the network to rare external endpoints without a hostname. Further investigation into the offending device revealed a significant increase in external data transfers around the time Darktrace alerted the activity.

This External Data Transfer graph demonstrates a spike in external data transfer from the internal device indicated at the top of the graph on December 7, 2023, with a time lapse shown of one week prior.
Figure 2: This External Data Transfer graph demonstrates a spike in external data transfer from the internal device indicated at the top of the graph on December 7, 2023, with a time lapse shown of one week prior.

Packet capture (PCAP) analysis of this activity also demonstrates possible external data transfer, with the device observed making a POST request to the root directory of the malicious endpoint, 146.70.71[.]135.

PCAP of a HTTP POST request showing streams of data being sent to the endpoint, 146.70.71[.]135.
Figure 3: PCAP of a HTTP POST request showing streams of data being sent to the endpoint, 146.70.71[.]135.

In other cases investigated by the Darktrace Threat Research team, connections to the rare external endpoint 67.43.235[.]218 were detected on port 8089 and 8090. This endpoint was also linked to Jupyter information stealer by OSINT sources [6].

Darktrace recognized that such suspicious connections represented unusual activity and raised several model alerts on multiple customer environments, including ‘Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections’ and ‘Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port’.

In one instance, a device that was observed performing many suspicious connections to 67.43.235[.]218 was later observed making suspicious HTTP POST connections to other malicious IP addresses. This included 2.58.14[.]246, 91.206.178[.]109, and 78.135.73[.]176, all of which had been linked to Jupyter information stealer by OSINT sources [7] [8] [9].

Darktrace further observed activity likely indicative of data streams being exfiltrated to Jupyter information stealer C2 endpoints.

Graph displaying the significant increase in the number of HTTP POST requests with No Get made by an affected device, likely indicative of Jupyter information stealer C2 activity.
Figure 4: Graph displaying the significant increase in the number of HTTP POST requests with No Get made by an affected device, likely indicative of Jupyter information stealer C2 activity.

In several cases, Darktrace was able to leverage customer integrations with other security vendors to add additional context to its own model alerts. For example, numerous customers who had integrated Darktrace with Microsoft Defender received security integration alerts that enriched Darktrace’s model alerts with additional intelligence, linking suspicious activity to Jupyter information stealer actors.

The security integration model alerts ‘Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection’ and (right image) ‘Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection’, linking suspicious activity observed by Darktrace with Jupyter information stealer (SolarMarker).
Figure 5: The security integration model alerts ‘Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection’ and (right image) ‘Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection’, linking suspicious activity observed by Darktrace with Jupyter information stealer (SolarMarker).

Conclusion

The MaaS ecosystems continue to dominate the current threat landscape and the increasing sophistication of MaaS variants, featuring advanced defense evasion techniques, poses significant risks once deployed on target networks.

Leveraging anomaly-based detections is crucial for staying ahead of evolving MaaS threats like Jupyter information stealer. By adopting AI-driven security tools like Darktrace / NETWORK, organizations can more quickly identify and effectively detect and respond to potential threats as soon as they emerge. This is especially crucial given the rise of stealthy information stealing malware strains like Jupyter which cannot only harvest and steal sensitive data, but also serve as a gateway to potentially disruptive ransomware attacks.

Credit to Nahisha Nobregas (Senior Cyber Analyst), Vivek Rajan (Cyber Analyst)

References

1.     https://www.paloaltonetworks.com/cyberpedia/what-is-multi-extortion-ransomware

2.     https://flashpoint.io/blog/evolution-stealer-malware/

3.     https://blogs.vmware.com/security/2023/11/jupyter-rising-an-update-on-jupyter-infostealer.html

4.     https://www.morphisec.com/hubfs/eBooks_and_Whitepapers/Jupyter%20Infostealer%20WEB.pdf

5.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/146.70.71.135

6.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/67.43.235.218/community

7.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/2.58.14.246/community

8.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/91.206.178.109/community

9.     https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/78.135.73.176/community

Appendices

Darktrace Model Detections

  • Anomalous Connection / Posting HTTP to IP Without Hostname
  • Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data to New Endpoints
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Excessive Posts to Root
  • Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
  • Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection
  • Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data Transfer

AI Analyst Incidents:

  • Unusual Repeated Connections
  • Possible HTTP Command and Control to Multiple Endpoints
  • Possible HTTP Command and Control

List of IoCs

Indicators – Type – Description

146.70.71[.]135

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

91.206.178[.]109

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

146.70.92[.]153

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

2.58.14[.]246

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

78.135.73[.]176

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

217.138.215[.]105

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

185.243.115[.]88

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

146.70.80[.]66

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

23.29.115[.]186

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

67.43.235[.]218

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

217.138.215[.]85

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

193.29.104[.]25

IP Address

Jupyter info-stealer C2 Endpoint

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About the author
Nahisha Nobregas
SOC Analyst

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What you need to know about the new SEC Cybersecurity rules

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17
Jul 2024

What is new in 2023 to SEC cybersecurity rules?

Form 8-K Item 1.05: Requiring the timely disclosure of material cybersecurity incidents.

Regulation S-K item 106: requiring registrants’ annual reports on Form 10-K to address cybersecurity risk management, strategy, and governance processes.

Comparable disclosures are required for reporting foreign private issuers on Forms 6-K and 20-F respectively.

What is Form 8-K Item 1.05 SEC cybersecurity rules?

Form 8-K Item 1.05 requires the following to be reported within four business days from when an incident is determined to be “material” (1), unless extensions are granted by the SEC under certain qualifying conditions:

“If the registrant experiences a cybersecurity incident that is determined by the registrant to be material, describe the material aspects of the nature, scope, and timing of the incident, and the material impact or reasonably likely material impact on the registrant, including its financial condition and results of operations.” (2, 3)

How does the SEC define cybersecurity incident?

Cybersecurity incident defined by the SEC means an unauthorized occurrence, or a series of related unauthorized occurrences, on or conducted through a registrant’s information systems that jeopardizes the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of a registrant’s information systems or any information residing therein. (4)

How can Darktrace assist in the process of disclosing incidents to the SEC?

Accelerate reporting

Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst generates automated reports that synthesize discrete data points potentially indicative of cybersecurity threats, forming reports that provide an overview of the evolution and impact of a threat.

Thus, when a potential threat is identified by Darktrace, AI Analyst can quickly compile information that organizations might include in their disclosure of an occurrence they determined to be material, including the following: incident timelines, incident events, incident summary, related model breaches, investigation process (i.e., how Darktrace’s AI conducted the investigation), linked incident events, and incident details. The figure below illustrates how Darktrace compiles and presents incident information and insights in the UI.

Overview of information provided in an ‘AI Analyst Report’ that could be relevant to registrants reporting a material cybersecurity incident to the SEC
Figure 1: Overview of information provided in an ‘AI Analyst Report’ that could be relevant to registrants reporting a material cybersecurity incident to the SEC

It should be noted that Instruction 4 to the new Form 8-K Item 1.05 specifies the “registrant need not disclose specific or technical information about its planned response to the incident or its cybersecurity systems, related networks and devices, or potential system vulnerabilities in such detail as would impede the registrant’s response or remediation of the incident” (5).

As such, the incident report generated by Darktrace may provide more information, including technical details, than is needed for the 8-K disclosure. In general, users should take appropriate measures to ensure that the information they provide in SEC reports meets the requirements outlined by the relevant regulations. Darktrace cannot recommend that an incident should be reported, nor report an incident itself.

Determine if a cybersecurity incident is material

Item 1.05 requires registrants to determine for themselves whether cybersecurity incidents qualify as ‘material’. This involves considerations such as ‘the nature scope and timing of the incident, and the material impact or reasonably likely material impact on the registrant, including its financial condition and results of operations.’

While it is up to the registrant to determine, consistent with existing legal standards, the materiality of an incident, Darktrace’s solution can provide relevant information which might aid in this evaluation. Darktrace’s Threat Visualizer user interface provides a 3-D visualization of an organization’s digital environment, allowing users to assess the likely degree to which an attack may have spread throughout their digital environment. Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst identifies connections among discrete occurrences of threatening activity, which can help registrants quickly assess the ‘scope and timing of an incident'.

Furthermore, in order to establish materiality it would be useful to understand how an attack might extend across recipients and environments. In the image below, Darktrace/Email identifies how a user was impacted across different platforms. In this example, Darktrace/Email identified an attacker that deployed a dual channel social engineering attack via both email and a SaaS platform in an effort to acquire login credentials. In this case, the attacker useding a legitimate SharePoint link that only reveals itself to be malicious upon click. Once the attacker gained the credentials, it proceeded to change email rules to obfuscate its activity.

Darktrace/Email presents this information in one location, making such investigations easier for the end user.

Darktrace/Email indicating a threat across SaaS and email
Figure 2: Darktrace/Email indicating a threat across SaaS and email

What is regulation S-K item 106 of the SEC cybersecurity rules?

The new rules add Item 106 to Regulation S-K requiring registrants to disclose certain information regarding their risk management, strategy, and governance relating to cybersecurity in their annual reports on Form 10-K. The new rules add Item 16K to Form 20-F to require comparable disclosure by [foreign private issuers] in their annual reports on Form 20-F. (6)

SEC cybersecurity rules: Risk management

Specifically, with respect to risk management, Item 106(b) and Item 16K(b) require registrants to describe their processes, if any, for assessing, identifying, and managing material risks from cybersecurity threats, as well as whether any risks from cybersecurity threats, including as a result of any previous cybersecurity incidents, have materially affected or are reasonably likely to materially affect them. The new rules include a non-exclusive list of disclosure items registrants should provide based on their facts and circumstances. (6)

SEC cybersecurity rules: Governance

With respect to governance, Item 106 and Item 16K require registrants to describe the board of directors’ oversight of risks from cybersecurity threats (including identifying any board committee or subcommittee responsible for such oversight) and management’s role in assessing and managing material risks from cybersecurity threats. (6)

How can Darktrace solutions aid in disclosing their risk management, strategy, and governance related to cybersecurity?

Impact scores

Darktrace End-to-End (E2E) leverages AI to understand the complex relationships across users and devices to model possible attack paths, giving security teams a contextual understanding of risk across their digital environments beyond isolated CVEs or CVSS scores. Additionally, teams can prioritize risk management actions to increase their cyber resilience through the E2E Advisory dashboard.

Attack paths consider:

  • Potential damages: Both the potential consequences if a given device was compromised and its immediate implications on other devices.
  • Exposure: Devices' level of interactivity and accessibility. For example, how many emails does a user get via mailing lists and from what kind of sources?
  • Impact: Where a user or asset sits in terms of the IT or business hierarchy and how they communicate with each other. Darktrace can simulate a range of possible outcomes for an uncertain event.
  • Weakness: A device’s patch latency and difficulty, a composite metric that looks at attacker MITRE methods and our own scores to determine how hard each stage of compromise is to achieve.

Because the SEC cybersecurity rules require “oversight of risks from cybersecurity threats” and “management’s role in assessing and managing material risks from cybersecurity threats” (6), the scores generated by Darktrace E2E can aid end-user’s ability to identify risks facing their organization and assign responsibilities to address those risks.

E2E attack paths leverage a deep understanding of a customer’ digital environment and highlight potential attack routes that an attacker could leverage to reach critical assets or entities. Difficulty scores (see Figure 5) allow security teams to measure potential damage, exposure, and impact of an attack on a specific asset or entity.

An example of an attack path in a digital environment
Figure 3: An example of an attack path in a digital environment

Automatic executive threat reports

Darktrace’s solution automatically produces Executive Threat Reports that present a simple visual overview of model breaches (i.e., indicators of unusual and threatening behaviors) and activity in the network environment. Reports can be customized to include extra details or restricted to high level information.

These reports can be generated on a weekly, quarterly, and yearly basis, and can be documented by registrants in relation to Item 106(b) to document parts of their efforts toward assessing, identifying, and managing material risks from cybersecurity threats.

Moreover, Cyber AI Analyst incident reports (described above) can be leveraged to document key details concerning significant previous incidents identified by the Darktrace solution that the registrant determined to be ‘material’.

While the disclosures required by Item 106(c) relate to the governance processes by which the board of directors, the management, and other responsible bodies within an organization oversee risks resulting from cybersecurity threats, the information provided by Darktrace’s Executive Threat Reports and Cyber AI Analyst incident reports can also help relevant stakeholders communicate more effectively regarding the threat landscape and previous incidents.

DISCLAIMER

The material above is provided for informational purposes only. This summary does not constitute legal or compliance advice, recommendations, or guidance. Darktrace encourages you to verify the contents of this summary with your own advisors.

References

  1. Note that the rule does not set forth any specific timeline between the incident and the materiality determination, but the materiality determination should be made without unreasonable delay.
  2. https://www.sec.gov/files/form8-k.pdf
  3. https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2023-139
  4. https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-17/chapter-II/part-229
  5. https://www.sec.gov/files/form8-k.pdf
  6. https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/secg-cybersecurity
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About the author
Kendra Gonzalez Duran
Director of Technology Innovation
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