SANS ICS Security Summit 2021 recap: Industry on the move
Shining a light into the murky world of industrial cyber security — where major incidents can be kept hush, and information is often not made publicly available — the SANS Institute held its 16th annual ICS Security Summit in March. With virtual events across APAC, EMEA, and the US, the round-the-clock summit stressed the importance of having good visibility and a strong understanding of industrial networks for anomaly detection and incident response. Speakers at the event also emphasized how automation can be used in industrial security to address budget restraints and skill shortages.
The summit also detailed the direction of developments in both industrial technologies and the surrounding threat landscape, including the adoption of cloud technologies for Industrial Control Systems, the broadening scope of threat actors, and the inherent limitations of patching and vulnerability management.
In addition to framing the key points of the summit, this blog will hone in on the program’s most salient points: namely, how building an in-depth understanding of ‘self’ for an ICS ecosystem can help fend off the rising tide of threat actors, and at the same time allow organizations to embrace new technologies in the face of their associated risks. Ultimately, by ‘knowing thyself,’ organizations will be able to simultaneously fight external threats, and also gain visibility into new areas of vulnerability that arise inside an organization as it evolves its industrial environment.
SANS Summit 2021: An overview
The following provides a high-level overview of the major topics discussed throughout the SANS summit:
Threat Trend: MITRE ATT&CK for ICS provides details of known attack tradecraft.
Industry Challenge: There has been a historic lack of sharing lessons learned within the community.
Recommendation: Understand attack TTPs and align your defences with those techniques.
Industry Trend: MITRE ATT&CK for ICS offers a big step forward for the community to learn from previous attacks.
Threat Trend: The SolarWinds attack has emphasized the vulnerability of ICS e.g. exploiting SNMP communications in BMS.
Industry Challenge: The absence of logging and event management has hindered SolarWinds investigations in CNI.
Recommendation: Use active network monitoring for log generation, and increase network and host visibility.
Industry Trend: The SolarWinds attack has emphasized the importance of CNI cyber security to the Biden administration.
Test your defenses
Threat Trend: Common TTPs — misuse of valid accounts, abuse of remote services, phishing/spear phishing.
Industry Challenge: Vulnerability tracking is not adequate to defend ICS networks — vulnerability reporting is far from comprehensive, and attackers are exploiting legitimate tools to gain access.
Recommendation: Test your defenses and your defenders using lab environments, external pentests, and adversary simulations.
Industry Trend: Pentesting of ICS environments is being performed remotely as a result of lockdown restrictions.
Threat Trend: The barrier to hacking ICS is lowering — threat actors are expanding, from nation states to cyber-criminals e.g. EKANS.
Industry Challenge: OT security teams suffer from a skills shortage and tight budgets.
Recommendation: Make use of the defender’s home turf advantages — defense-in-depth, learn ‘normal’ network behavior, gain visibility over internal comms.
Industry Trend: Digital solutions, such as cloud and virtualization, are being used to solve many ICS challenges.
New solutions bring new risks
Threat Trend: Third-party risks, such as OEMs and remote access points, are being exploited to gain direct access into ICS environments.
Industry Challenge: New digital solutions bring new challenges — supply chain risk, IT/OT convergence, compliance obligations, vendor lock-in.
Recommendation: If you can’t see the network, you can’t defend the network — improve visibility, identify crown jewels, boost incident response capability, and validate network segmentation.
Industry Trend: Renewable Energy industry is a big adopter of innovative ICS solutions, such as cloud, remote management, and ICSaaS. The decision to migrate to these solutions increasingly seems to be when, not if.
‘Know thyself’: Learning ‘self’ to identify emerging threats
A wide variety of threat actors are making their debut in the global ICS threat landscape. First, new state-sponsored advanced persistant threat groups (APTs) are targeting industrial ecosystems every year. 2020 also saw the addition of organized crime groups targeting ICS with new ransomware strains such as EKANS.
Accordingly, cyber-attacks on industrial systems are no longer the sole domain of nation states. With ransomware-as-a-service becoming increasingly available on the Dark Web, the barrier of entry for attacking critical infrastructure and manufacturing is demonstrably lowering. In light of this, experts at the SANS conference recommend gaining a detailed understanding of your network and making use of the defender’s home advantage with defence-in-depth.
With attacks growing in scale and sophistication, there is a growing recognition that defenses that sit at the border of organizations and attempt to keep threats out are no longer enough. Organizations must move to a model that assumes a breach, and adopt technologies that can identify cyber-threats once they are inside. This can only be achieved with a real-time, granular understanding of ‘normal’ behavior for every device and controller.
By learning, from scratch, the normal ‘pattern of life’ for all devices, users, and peer groups across industrial networks, Darktrace’s Industrial Immune System builds a sense of self for everything seen in an ICS ecosystem, as well as the digital environment as a whole. In this way, Darktrace allows organizations to ‘know thyself’ to a unparalleled degree, building a dynamic understanding of normal rather than relying on static baselines.
New solutions bring new risks
Throughout the summit, speakers discussed how they have used digital solutions such as cloud and virtualization to solve problems and cut costs. In particular, the renewable energy sector is a big adopter of cloud solutions, or “ICS as a Service” (ICSaaS). A wind farm in California, for example, might be remotely controlled by engineers on the east coast, or a vendor might maintain and run equipment for a hydroelectric plant in Latin America from their European headquarters.
As customers move to adopt these kinds of digital solutions — and with these decisions typically being made at board-level, rather than by the engineers — it seems more a question of when, not if, we see wider adoption of these technologies in the ICS community.
As OT converges with IT in the cloud, so do their associated risks. These new risks create headwinds to change, but some sectors are still adopting these new solutions and making big savings. Unified visibility across IT, OT, and the cloud have thus become a necessity for organizations seeking to accelerate digital transformation while also managing the risks of digitization and of their increasingly dynamic workforces.
A changing landscape
In the face of a new era of cyber-threats, the focus for OT specialists should not be on reactive measures, but embracing new self-learning technologies that develop an evolving understanding of ‘normal’ across industrial systems, the corporate network, cloud environments, and beyond.
By adapting to changes in the digital infrastructure, AI-powered defenses can detect and respond to zero-day threats, while alleviating the burden of security teams by automating much of the manual processes required in post-incident investigation. And by unifying insights across a range of different technologies, organizations can benefit from an enterprise-wide approach to security rather than relying on siloed defenses that lack the context for accurate decision-making.
In this age of advanced cyber-criminal rings and state-sponsored attacks, critical infrastructure and other industrial environments are now the focal point for cyber espionage and intrusions seeking to disrupt operations. The SANS ICS Security Summit reminds us of the need for defenders to face this new landscape with new and adaptive technologies that can disrupt the early signs of a threat, whether known or unknown.
Thanks to Darktrace analyst Oakley Cox for his insights.
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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.