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Inside the SOC

Darktrace's Detection of Ransomware & Syssphinx

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02
Aug 2023
02
Aug 2023
Read how Darktrace identified an attack technique by the threat group, Syssphinx. Learn how Darktrace's quick identification process can spot a threat.

Introduction

As the threat of costly cyber-attacks continues represent a real concern to security teams across the threat landscape, more and more organizations are strengthening their defenses with additional security tools to identify attacks and protect their networks. As a result, malicious actors are being forced to adapt their tactics, modify existing variants of malicious software, or utilize entirely new variants.  

Symantec recently released an article about Syssphinx, the financially motivated cyber threat group previously known for their point-of-sale attacks. Syssphinx attempts to deploy ransomware on customer networks via a modified version of their ‘Sardonic’ backdoor. Such activity highlights the ability of threat actors to alter the composition and presentation of payloads, tools, and tactics.

Darktrace recently detected some of the same indicators suggesting a likely Syssphinx compromise within the network of a customer trialing the Darktrace DETECT™ and RESPOND™ products. Despite the potential for variations in the construction of backdoors and payloads used by the group, Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to stitch together a detailed account of compromise activity and identify the malicious activity prior to disruptive events on the customer’s network.

What is Syssphinx?

Syssphinx is a notorious cyber threat entity known for its financially motivated compromises.  Also referred to as FIN8, Syssphinx has been observed as early as 2016 and is largely known to target private sector entities in the retail, hospitality, insurance, IT, and financial sectors.[1]

Although Syssphinx primarily began focusing on point-of-sale style attacks, the activity associated with the group has more recently incorporated ransomware variants into their intrusions in a potential bid to further extract funds from target organizations.[2]

Syssphinx Sardonic Backdoor

Given this gradual opportunistic incorporation of ransomware, it should not be surprising that Syssphinx has slowly expanded its repertoire of tools.  When primarily performing point-of-sale compromises, the group was known for its use of point-of-sale specific malwares including BadHatch, PoSlurp/PunchTrack, and PowerSniff/PunchBuggy/ShellTea.[3]

However, in a seeming response to updates in detection systems while using previous indicators of compromise (IoCs), Syssphinx began to modify its BadHatch malware.  This resulted in the use of a C++ derived backdoor known as “Sardonic”, which has the ability to aggregate host credentials, spawn additional command sessions, and deliver payloads to compromised devices via dynamic-link library (DLL).[4],[5]

Analysis of the latest version of Sardonic reveals further changes to the malware to elude detection. These shifts include the implementation of the backdoor in the C programming language, and additional over-the-network communication obfuscation techniques. [6]

During the post-exploitation phase, the group tends to rely on “living-off-the-land” tactics, whereby an attacker utilizes tools already present within the organization’s digital environment to avoid detection. Syssphinx seems to utilize system-native tools such as PowerShell and the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) interface.[7] It is also not uncommon to see Windows-based vulnerability exploits employed on compromised devices. This has been observed by researchers who have examined previous iterations of Syssphinx backdoors.[8] Syssphinx also appears to exhibit elements of strategic patience and discipline in its operations, with significant time gaps in operations noted by researchers. During this time, it appears likely that updates and tweaks were applied to Syssphinx payloads.

Compromise Details

In late April 2023, Darktrace identified an active compromise on the network of a prospective customer who was trialing Darktrace DETECT+RESPOND. The customer, a retailer in EMEA with hundreds of tracked devices, reached out to the Darktrace Analyst team via the Ask the Expert (ATE) service for support and further investigation, following the encryption of their server and backup data storage in an apparent ransomware attack. Although the encryption events fell outside Darktrace’s purview due to a limited set up of trial appliances, Darktrace was able to directly track early stages of the compromise before exfiltration and encryption events began. If a full deployment had been set up and RESPOND functionality had been configured in autonomous response mode, Darktrace may have helped mitigate such encryption events and would have aided in the early identification of this ransomware attack.

Initial Intrusion and Establishment of Command and Control (C2) Infrastructure

As noted by security researchers, Syssphinx largely relies on social engineering and phishing emails to deliver its backdoor payloads. As there were no Darktrace/Email™ products deployed for this customer, it would be difficult to directly observe the exact time and manner of initial payload delivery related to this compromise. This is compounded by the fact that the customer had only recently began using Darktrace’s products during their trial period. Given the penchant for patience and delay by Syssphinx, it is possible that the intrusion began well before Darktrace had visibility of the organization’s network.

However, beginning on April 30, 2023, at 07:17:31 UTC, Darktrace observed the domain controller dc01.corp.XXXX  making repeated SSL connections to the endpoint 173-44-141-47[.]nip[.]io. In addition to the multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) flags for this endpoint, the construction of the domain parallels that of the initial domain used to deliver a backdoor, as noted by Symantec in their analysis (37-10-71-215[.]nip[.]io). This activity likely represented the initial beaconing being performed by the compromised device. Additionally, an elevated level of incoming external data over port 443 was observed during this time, which may be associated with the delivery of the Sardonic backdoor payload. Given the unusual use of port 443 to perform SSH connections later seen in the kill chain of this attack, this activity could also parallel the employment of embedded backdoor payloads seen in the latest iteration of the Sardonic backdoor noted by Symantec.

Figure 1: Graph of the incoming external data surrounding the time of the initial establishment of command and control communication for the domain controller. As seen in the graph, the spike in incoming external data during this time may parallel the delivery of Syssphinx Sardonic backdoor.

Regardless, the domain controller proceeded to make repeated connections over port 443 to the noted domain.

Figure 2: Breach event log for the domain controller making repeated connections over port 443 to the rare external destination endpoint in constitute the establishment of C2 communication.

Internal Reconnaissance/Privilege Escalation

Following the establishment of C2 communication, Darktrace detected numerous elements of internal reconnaissance. On Apr 30, 2023, at 22:06:26 UTC, the desktop device desktop_02.corp.XXXX proceeded to perform more than 100 DRSGetNCChanges requests to the aforementioned domain controller. These commands, which are typically implemented over the RPC protocol on the DRSUAPI interface, are frequently utilized in Active Directory sync attacks to copy Active Directory information from domain controllers. Such activity, when not performed by new domain controllers to sync Active Directory contents, can indicate malicious domain or user enumeration, credential compromise or Active Directory enumeration.

Although the affected device made these requests to the previously noted domain controller, which was already compromised, such activity may have further enabled the compromise by allowing the threat actor to transfer these details to a more easily manageable device.

The device performing these DRSGetNCChanges requests would later be seen performing lateral movement activity and making connections to malicious endpoints.

Figure 3: Breach log highlighting the DRS operations performed by the corporate device to the destination domain controller. Such activity is rarely authorized for devices not tagged as administrative or as domain controllers.

Execution and Lateral Movement

At 23:09:53 UTC on April 30, 2023, the original domain server proceeded to make multiple uncommon WMI calls to a destination server on the same subnet (server01.corp.XXXX). Specifically, the device was observed making multiple RPC calls to IWbem endpoints on the server, which included login and ExecMethod (method execution) commands on the destination device. This destination device later proceeded to conduct additional beaconing activity to C2 endpoints and exfiltrate data.

Figure 4: Breach log for the domain controller performing WMI commands to the destination server during the lateral movement phase of the breach.

Similarly, beginning on May 1, 2023, at 00:11:09 UTC, the device desktop_02.corp.XXXX made multiple WMI requests to two additional devices, one server and one desktop, within the same subnet as the original domain controller. During this time, desktop_02.corp.XXXX  also utilized SMBv1, an outdated and typically non-compliant version communication protocol, to write the file rclone.exe to the same two destination devices. Rclone.exe, and its accompanying bat file, is a command-line tool developed by IT provider Rclone, to perform file management tasks. During this time, Darktrace also observed the device reading and deleting an unexpected numeric file on the ADMIN$ of the destination server, which may represent additional defense evasion techniques and tool staging.

Figure 5: Event log highlighting the writing of rclone.exe using the outdated SMBv1 communication protocol.
Figure 6: SMB logs indicating the reading and deletion of numeric string files on ADMIN$ shares of the destination devices during the time of the rclone.exe SMB writes. Such activity may be associated with tool staging and could indicate potential defense evasion techniques.

Given that the net loader sample analyzed by Symantec injects the backdoor into a WmiPrvSE.exe process, the use of WMI operations is not unexpected. Employment of WMI also correlates with the previously mentioned “living-off-the-land” tactics, as WMI services are commonly used for regular network and system administration purposes. Moreover, the staging of rclone.exe, a legitimate file management tool, for data exfiltration underscores attempts to blend into existing and expected network traffic and remain undetected on the customer’s network.

Data Exfiltration and Impact

Initial stages of data exfiltration actually began prior to some of the lateral movement events described above. On April 30, 2023, 23:09:47 the device server01.corp.XXXX, transferred nearly 11 GB of data to 173.44[.]141[.]47, as well as to the rare external IP address 170.130[.]55[.]77, which appears to have served as the main exfiltration destination during this compromise. Furthermore, the host made repeated connections to the same external IP associated with the initial suspicious beaconing activity (173.44[.]141[.]47) over SSL.

While the data exfiltration event unfolded, the device, server01.corp.XXXX, made multiple HTTP requests to 37.10[.]71[.]215, which featured URIs requesting the rclone.exe and rclone.bat files. This IP address was directly involved in the sample analyzed by Symantec. Furthermore, one of the devices that received the SMB file writes of rclone.exe and the WMI commands from desktop_02.corp.XXXX also performed SSL beaconing to endpoints associated with the compromise.

Between 01:20:45 - 03:31:41 UTC on May 1, 2023, a Darktrace detected a series of devices on the network performing a repeated pattern of activity, namely external connectivity followed by suspicious file downloads and external data transfer operations. Specifically, each affected device made multiple HTTP requests to 37.10[.]71[.]215 for rclone files. The devices proceeded to download the executable and/or binary files, and then transfer large amounts of data to the aforementioned endpoints, 170.130[.]55[.]77 and or 173-44-141-47[.]nip[.]io. Although the devices involved in data exfiltration utilized port 443 as a destination port, the connections actually used the SSH protocol. Darktrace recognized this behavior as unusual as port 443 is typically associated with the SSL protocol, while port 22 is reserved for SSH. Therefore, this activity may represent the threat actor’s attempts to remain undetected by security tools.

This unexpected use of SSH over port 443 also correlates with the descriptions of the new Sardonic backdoor according to threat researchers. Further beaconing and exfiltration activity was performed by an additional host one day later whereby the device made suspicious repeated connections to the aforementioned external hosts.

Figure 7: Connection details highlighting the use of port 443 for SSH connections during the exfiltration events.

In total, nine separate devices were involved in this pattern of activity. Five of these devices were labeled as ‘administrative’ devices according to their hostnames. Over the course of the entire exfiltration event, the attackers exfiltrated almost 61 GB of data from the organization’s environment.

Figure 8: Graph showing the levels of external data transfer from a breach device for one day on either side of the breach time. There is a large spike in such activity during the time of the breach that underscores the exfiltration events.

In addition to the individual anomaly detections by DETECT, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ launched an autonomous investigation into the unusual behavior carried out by affected devices, connecting and collating multiple security events into one AI Analyst Incident. AI Analyst ensures that Darktrace can recognize and link the individual steps of a wider attack, rather than just identifying isolated incidents. While traditional security tools may mistake individual breaches as standalone activity, Darktrace’s AI allows it to provide unparalleled visibility over emerging attacks and their kill chains. Furthermore, Cyber AI Analyst’s instant autonomous investigations help to save customer security teams invaluable time in triaging incidents in comparison with human teams who would have to commit precious time and resources to conduct similar pattern analysis.

In this specific case, AI Analyst identified 44 separate security events from 18 different devices and was able to tie them together into one incident. The events that made up this AI Analyst Incident included:

  • Possible SSL Command and Control
  • Possible HTTP Command and Control
  • Unusual Repeated Connections
  • Suspicious Directory Replication ServiceActivity
  • Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity
  • SMB Write of Suspicious File
  • Suspicious File Download
  • Unusual External Data Transfer
  • Unusual External Data Transfer to MultipleRelated Endpoints
Figure 9: Cyber AI Incident log highlighting multiple unusual anomalies and connecting them into one incident.

Had Darktrace RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode on the network of this prospective customer, it would have been able to take rapid mitigative action to block the malicious external connections used for C2 communication and subsequent data exfiltration, ideally halting the attack at this stage. As previously discussed, the limited network configuration of this trial customer meant that the encryption events unfortunately took place outside of Darktrace’s scope. When fully configured on a customer environment, Darktrace DETECT can identify such encryption attempts as soon as they occur. Darktrace RESPOND, in turn, would be able to immediately intervene by applying preventative actions like blocking internal connections that may represent file encryption, or limiting potentially compromised devices to a previously established pattern of life, ensuring they cannot carry out any suspicious activity.

Conclusion

Despite the limitations posed by the customer’s trial configuration, Darktrace demonstrated its ability to detect malicious activity associated with Syssphinx and track it across multiple stages of the kill chain.

Darktrace’s ability to identify the early stages of a compromise and various steps of the kill chain, highlights the necessity for machine learning-enabled, anomaly-based detection. In the face of threats such as Syssphinx, that exhibit the propensity to recast backdoor payloads and incorporate on “living-off-the-land” tactics, signatures and rules-based detection may not prove as effective. While Syssphinx and other threat groups will continue to adopt new tools, methods, and techniques, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI is uniquely positioned to meet the challenge of such threats.

Appendix

DETECT Model Breaches Observed

•      Anomalous Server Activity / Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device

•      Anomalous Connection / Anomalous DRSGetNCChanges Operation

•      Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity

•      Compliance / SMB Drive Write

•      Anomalous Connection / Data Sent to Rare Domain

•      Anomalous Connection / Uncommon 1 GiB Outbound

•      Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data Transfer

•      Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data to New Endpoints

•      Compliance / SSH to Rare External Destination

•      Anomalous Connection / Unusual SMB Version 1 Connectivity

•      Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

•      Anomalous File / Script from Rare External Location

•      Compromise / Suspicious File and C2

•      Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

AI Analyst Incidents Observed

•      Possible SSL Command and Control

•      Possible HTTP Command and Control

•      Unusual Repeated Connections

•      Suspicious Directory Replication Service Activity

•      Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity

•      SMB Write of Suspicious File

•      Suspicious File Download

•      Unusual External Data Transfer

•      Unusual External Data Transfer to Multiple Related Endpoints

IoCs

IoC - Type - Description

37.10[.]71[.]215 – IP – C2 + payload endpoint

173-44-141-47[.]nip[.]io – Hostname – C2 – payload

173.44[.]141[.]47 – IP – C2 + potential payload

170.130[.]55[.]77 – IP – Data exfiltration endpoint

Rclone.exe – Exe File – Common data tool

Rclone.bat – Script file – Common data tool

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Command and Control

T1071 - Application Layer Protocol

T1071.001 – Web protocols

T1573 – Encrypted channels

T1573.001 – Symmetric encryption

T1573.002 – Asymmetric encryption

T1571 – Non-standard port

T1105 – Ingress tool transfer

Execution

T1047 – Windows Management Instrumentation

Credential Access

T1003 – OS Credential Dumping

T1003.006 – DCSync

Lateral Movement

T1570 – Lateral Tool Transfer

T1021 - Remote Services

T1021.002 - SMB/Windows Admin Shares

T1021.006 – Windows Remote Management

Exfiltration

T1048 - Exfiltration Over Alternative Protocol

T1048.001 - Exfiltration Over Symmetric Encrypted Non-C2 Protocol

T1048.002 - Exfiltration Over Symmetric Encrypted Non-C2 Protocol

T1041 - Exfiltration Over C2 Channel

References

[1] https://cyberscoop.com/syssphinx-cybercrime-ransomware/

[2] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[3] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/fin8-deploys-alphv-ransomware-using-sardonic-malware-variant/

[4] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[5] https://thehackernews.com/2023/07/fin8-group-using-modified-sardonic.html

[6] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[7] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[8] https://www.mandiant.com/resources/blog/windows-zero-day-payment-cards

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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Inside the SOC

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

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20
Jun 2024

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

CVE-2024-3400

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

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

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

Campaign Analysis

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

1. Exploit Validation and Further Vulnerability Enumeration

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

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

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

2. Command and Payload Transmission

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

a) Shell Script Retrieval

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b) Executable File Retrieval

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

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

3. Configuration Data Exfiltration and Unusual HTTP POST Activity

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

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

4. Ongoing C2 and Miscellaneous Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Appendices

Indicators of Compromise

Indicator – Type – Description

94.131.120[.]80              IP             C2 Endpoint

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

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

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

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

134.213.29[.]14/?deer               URL        Payload

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

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

91ebcea4e6d34fd6e22f99713eaf67571b51ab01  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

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

23.163.0[.]111/com   URL        Payload

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

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

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

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

146.70.87[.]237              IP address         C2 Endpoint

146.70.87[.]237:63867/snmpdd         URL        Payload

393c41b3ceab4beecf365285e8bdf0546f41efad   SHA1 File Hash               Payload

138.68.44[.]59/app/r URL        Payload

138.68.44[.]59/app/clientr     URL        Payload

138.68.44[.]59/manage            URL        Payload

72.5.43[.]90/patch      URL        Payload

217.69.3[.]218                 IP             C2 Endpoint

5e8387c24b75c778c920f8aa38e4d3882cc6d306                  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

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

958f13da6ccf98fcaa270a6e24f83b1a4832938a    SHA1 File Hash               Payload

6708dc41b15b892279af2947f143af95fb9efe6e     SHA1 File Hash               Payload

dc50c0de7f24baf03d4f4c6fdf6c366d2fcfbe6c       SHA1 File Hash               Payload

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

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

bc9dc2e42654e2179210d98f77822723740a5ba6                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

109.120.178[.]253:10000/123              URL        Payload

65283921da4e8b5eabb926e60ca9ad3d087e67fa                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

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

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

228d05fd92ec4d19659d71693198564ae6f6b117 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

54b892b8fdab7c07e1e123340d800e7ed0386600                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

165.232.121[.]217/rules          URL        Payload

165.232.121[.]217/app/request          URL        Payload

938faec77ebdac758587bba999e470785253edaf SHA1 File Hash               Payload

165.232.121[.]217/app/request63   URL        Payload

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

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

2a90d481a7134d66e8b7886cdfe98d9c1264a386                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

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

d6a33673cedb12811dde03a705e1302464d8227f                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

c712712a563fe09fa525dfc01ce13564e3d98d67  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

091b3b33e0d1b55852167c3069afcdb0af5e5e79 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

5eebf7518325e6d3a0fd7da2c53e7d229d7b74b6                  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

183be7a0c958f5ed4816c781a2d7d5aa8a0bca9f SHA1 File Hash               Payload

e7d2f1224546b17d805617d02ade91a9a20e783e                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

e6137a15df66054e4c97e1f4b8181798985b480d SHA1 File Hash               Payload

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

95.164.7[.]33/rules     URL        Payload

95.164.7[.]33:53/lb64                URL        Payload

c2bc9a7657bea17792048902ccf2d77a2f50d2d7 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

923369bbb86b9a9ccf42ba6f0d022b1cd4f33e9d SHA1 File Hash               Payload

52972a971a05b842c6b90c581b5c697f740cb5b9                 SHA1 File Hash               Payload

95d45b455cf62186c272c03d6253fef65227f63a    SHA1 File Hash               Payload

322ec0942cef33b4c55e5e939407cd02e295973e                  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

6335e08873b4ca3d0eac1ea265f89a9ef29023f2  SHA1 File Hash               Payload

134.213.29[.]14              IP             C2 Endpoint

185.243.115[.]250       IP             C2 Endpoint

80.92.205[.]239              IP             C2 Endpoint

194.36.171[.]43              IP             C2 Endpoint

92.118.112[.]60              IP             C2 Endpoint

109.120.178[.]253       IP             C2 Endpoint

23.163.0[.]111                 IP             C2 Endpoint

72.5.43[.]90     IP             C2 Endpoint

165.232.121[.]217       IP             C2 Endpoint

8.210.242[.]112              IP             C2 Endpoint

149.56.18[.]189              IP             C2 Endpoint

95.164.7[.]33  IP             C2 Endpoint

138.68.44[.]59                 IP             C2 Endpoint

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

Darktrace Model Alert Coverage

·      Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer

·      Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

·      Anomalous File / Multiple EXE from Rare External Locations

·      Anomalous File / Script from Rare External Location

·      Anomalous File / Script and EXE from Rare External

·      Anomalous File / Suspicious Octet Stream Download

·      Anomalous File / Numeric File Download

·      Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

·      Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

·      Anomalous Connection / Posting HTTP to IP Without Hostname

·      Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint

·      Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Self-Signed SSL

·      Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External

·      Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

·      Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed

·      Anomalous Server Activity / Outgoing from Server

·      Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server

·      Compromise / SSH Beacon

·      Compromise / Beacon for 4 Days

·      Compromise / Sustained TCP Beaconing Activity To Rare Endpoint

·      Compromise / High Priority Tunnelling to Bin Services

·      Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase

·      Compromise / Connection to Suspicious SSL Server

·      Compromise / Suspicious File and C2

·      Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections

·      Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to New Endpoint

·      Compromise / SSL or HTTP Beacon

·      Compromise / Suspicious HTTP and Anomalous Activity

·      Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint

·      Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score

·      Compromise / Suspicious Beaconing Behaviour

·      Compliance / SSH to Rare External Destination

·      Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination

·      Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Device::New User Agent

·      Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

·      Device / Multiple C2 Model Breaches

MITRE ATTACK Mapping

Tactic – Technique

Initial Access  T1190 – Exploiting Public-Facing Application

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

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

Defense Evasion           T1070.004 – Indicator Removal: File Deletion

Credential Access       T1110.001 – Brute Force: Password Guessing

Discovery           T1083 – File and System Discovery

T1057 – Process Discovery

Collection         T1005 – Data From Local System

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

T1573.002 – Encrypted Channel: Asymmetric Cryptography

T1571 – Non-Standard Port

T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer

Exfiltration         T1041 – Exfiltration over C2 Protocol

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author
Adam Potter
Cyber Analyst

Safeguarding Distribution Centers in the Digital Age

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12
Jun 2024

Challenges securing distribution centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distribution centers: An expanding attack surface

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

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

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

Increased connectivity requires a unified security approach

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

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

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

Comprehensive security under one solution

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author
Daniel Simonds
Director of Operational Technology
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