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Shining a Light on Syssphinx: Darktrace’s Detection of a Novel Ransomware Attack

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02
Aug 2023
02
Aug 2023
This blog discusses how Darktrace successfully identified a novel attack technique used by the Syssphinx threat group while deploying ransomware on a customer network.

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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Customer Blog: Community Housing Limited Enhancing Incident Response

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04
Mar 2024

About Community Housing Limited

Community Housing Limited is a non-profit organization based in Australia that focuses on providing affordable, long-term housing and creating employment opportunities where possible. We give people the security of having a home so that they can focus on other essential pathways. As such, we are responsible for sensitive information on our clients.

As part of our commitment to strengthening our cyber security, we sought to simplify and unify our incident response plans and equip our engineers and desktop support teams with all the information we need at our fingertips.

Why Community Housing Limited chose Darktrace

Our team hoped to achieve a response procedure that allowed us to have oversight over any potential security risks, even cases that don’t overtly seem like a security risk. For example, an incident could start as a payroll issue and end up in the hands of HR, instead of surfacing as a security problem. In this case, our security team has no way of knowing the real number of events or how the threat had actually started and played out, making incident response and mitigation even more challenging.

We were already a customer of Darktrace’s autonomous threat detection, attack intervention, and attack surface management capabilities, and decided to add Darktrace for AI-assisted incident response and AI cyber-attack simulation.

AI-generated playbooks save time during incident response

I wanted to reduce the time and resources it took our security team to appropriately respond to a threat. Darktrace automates several steps of the recovery process to accelerate the rate of incident response by using AI that learns the granular details of the specific organization, building a dynamic understanding of the devices, connections, and user behaviors that make up the normal “pattern of life.”  

The AI then uses this understanding to create bespoke, AI-generated incident response playbooks that leverage an evolving understanding of our organization to determine recovery steps that are tailored not only to the specific incident but also to our unique environment.

For my security team, this means having access to all the information we need to respond to a threat. When running through an incident, rather than going to different places to synthesize relevant information, which takes up valuable resources and time, we can speed up its remediation with Darktrace.  

The playbooks created by Darktrace help lower the technical skills required to respond to incidents by elevating the workload of the staff, tripling our capacity for incident response.

Realistic attack simulations upskill teams while saving resources

We have differing levels of experience on the team which means some members know exactly what to do during incident response while others are slower and need more guidance. Thus, we have to either outsource skilled security professionals or add a security solution that could lower the technical skills bar.

You don’t want to be second guessing and searching for the right move – it’s urgent – there should be certainty. Our goal with running attack simulations is to test and train our team's response capabilities in a “realistic” scenario. But this takes considerable time to plan and execute or can be expensive if outsourced, which can be a challenge for organizations short on resources. 

Darktrace provides AI-assisted incident response and cyber-attack simulation using AI that understands the organization to run simulations that effectively map onto the real digital environment and the assets within it, providing training for actual incidents.

It is one thing to sit together in a meeting and discuss various outcomes of a cyber-attack, talking through the best response strategies. It is a huge benefit being able to run attack simulations that emulate real-world scenarios.

Our team can now see how an incident would play out over several days to resemble a real-world scenario or it can play through the simulation quickly to ascertain outcomes immediately. It then uses these insights to strengthen its technology, processes, and training.

AI-Powered Incident Response

Darktrace helps my security team save resources and upskill staff using AI to generate bespoke playbooks and run realistic simulations. Its real-time understanding of our business ensures incident preparedness and incident response are tailored to not only the specific threat in question, but also to the contextual infrastructure of the organization.  

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About the author
Jamie Woodland
Head of Technology at Community Housing Limited

Blog

Email

Beyond DMARC: Navigating the Gaps in Email Security

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29
Feb 2024

Email threat landscape  

Email has consistently ranked among the most targeted attack vectors, given its ubiquity and criticality to business operations. From September to December 2023, 10.4 million phishing emails were detected across Darktrace’s customer fleet demonstrating the frequency of attempted email-based attacks.

Businesses are searching for ways to harden their email security posture alongside email providers who are aiming to reduce malicious emails traversing their infrastructure, affecting their clients. Domain-based Message Authentication (DMARC) is a useful industry-wide protocol organizations can leverage to move towards these goals.  

What is DMARC?

DMARC is an email authentication protocol designed to enhance the security of email communication.

Major email service providers Google and Yahoo recently made the protocol mandatory for bulk senders in an effort to make inboxes safer worldwide. The new requirements demonstrate an increasing need for a standardized solution as misconfigured or nonexistent authentication systems continue to allow threat actors to evade detection and leverage the legitimate reputation of third parties.  

DMARC is a powerful tool that allows email administrators to confidently identify and stop certain spoofed emails; however, more organizations must implement the standard for it to reach its full potential. The success and effectiveness of DMARC is dependent on broad adoption of the standard – by organizations of all sizes.  

How does DMARC work?

DMARC builds on two key authentication technologies, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and helps to significantly improve their ability to prevent domain spoofing. SPF verifies that a sender’s IP address is authorized to send emails on behalf of a particular domain and DKIM ensures integrity of email content by providing a verifiable digital signature.  

DMARC adds to this by allowing domain owners to publish policies that set expectations for how SPF and DKIM verification checks relate to email addresses presented to users and whose authenticity the receiving mail server is looking to establish.  

These policies work in tandem to help authenticate email senders by verifying the emails are from the domain they say they are, working to prevent domain spoofing attacks. Key benefits of DMARC include:

  1. Phishing protection DMARC protects against direct domain spoofing in which a threat actor impersonates a legitimate domain, a common phishing technique threat actors use to trick employees to obtain sensitive information such as privileged credentials, bank information, etc.  
  2. Improving brand reputation: As DMARC helps to prevent impersonation of domains, it stands to maintain and increase an organization’s brand reputation. Additionally, as organizational reputation improves, so will the deliverability of emails.
  3. Increased visibility: DMARC provides enhanced visibility into email communication channels, including reports of all emails sent on behalf of your domain. This allows security teams to identify shadow-IT and any unauthorized parties using their domain.

Understanding DMARC’s Limitations

DMARC is often positioned as a way for organizations to ‘solve’ their email security problems, however, 65% of the phishing emails observed by Darktrace successfully passed DMARC verification, indicating that a significant number of threat actors are capable of manipulating email security and authentication systems in their exploits. While DMARC is a valuable tool in the fight against email-based attacks, the evolving threat landscape demands a closer look at its limitations.  

As threat actors continue to innovate, improving their stealth and evasion tactics, the number of attacks with valid DMARC authentication will only continue to increase in volume and sophistication. These can include:

  1. Phishing attacks that leverage non-spoofed domains: DMARC allows an organization to protect the domains that they own, preventing threat actors from being able to send phishing emails from their domains. However, threat actors will often create and use ‘look-a-like’ domains that closely resemble an organization’s domain to dupe users. 3% of the phishing emails identified by Darktrace utilized newly created domains, demonstrating shifting tactics.  
  2. Email Account Takeovers: If a threat actor gains access to a user’s email account through other social engineering means such as credential stuffing, they can then send phishing emails from the legitimate domain to pursue further attacks. Even though these emails are malicious, DMARC would not identify them as such because they are coming from an authorized domain or sender.  

Organizations must also ensure their inbound analysis of emails is not skewed by successful DMARC authentication. Security teams cannot inherently trust emails that pass DMARC, because the source cannot always be legitimized, like in the event of an account takeover. If a threat actor gains access to an authenticated email account, emails sent by the threat actor from that account will pass DMARC – however the contents of that email may be malicious. Sender behavior must be continuously evaluated and vetted in real time as past communication history and validated DMARC cannot be solely relied upon amid an ever-changing threat landscape.  

Security teams should lean on other security measures, such as anomaly detection tools that can identify suspicious emails without relying on historical attack rules and static data. While DMARC is not a silver bullet for email security, it is nevertheless foundational in helping organizations protect their brand identity and must be viewed as an essential layer in an organization's overall cyber security strategy.  

Implementing DMARC

Despite the criticality of DMARC for preserving brand reputation and trust, adoption of the standard has been inconsistent. DMARC can be complex to implement with many organizations lacking the time required to understand and successfully implement the standard. Because of this, DMARC set-up is often outsourced, giving security and infrastructure teams little to no visibility into or control of the process.  

Implementation of DMARC is only the start of this process, as DMARC reports must be consistently monitored to ensure organizations have visibility into who is sending mail from their domain, the volume of mail being sent and whether the mail is passing authentication protocols. This process can be time consuming for security teams who are already faced with mounting responsibilities, tight budgets, and personnel shortages. These complexities unfortunately delay organizations from using DMARC – especially as many today still view it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential.  

With the potential complexities of the DMARC implementation process, there are many ways security and infrastructure teams can still successfully roll out the standard. Initial implementation should start with monitoring, policy adjustment and then enforcement. As business changes over time, DMARC should be reviewed regularly to ensure ongoing protection and maintain domain reputation.

The Future of Email Security

As email-based attacks continue to rise, the industry must recognize the importance of driving adoption of foundational email authentication protocols. To do this, a new and innovative approach to DMARC is needed. DMARC products must evolve to better support organizations throughout the ongoing DMARC monitoring process, rather than just initial implementation. These products must also be able to share intelligence across an organization’s security stack, extending beyond email security tools. Integration across these products and tools will help organizations optimize their posture, ensuring deep understanding of their domain and increased visibility across the entire enterprise.

DMARC is critical in protecting brand identity and mitigating exact-domain based attacks. However, organizations must understand DMARC’s unique benefits and limitations to ensure their inboxes are fully protected. In today’s evolving threat landscape, organizations require a robust, multi-layered approach to stop email threats – in inbound mail and beyond. Email threats have evolved – its time security does too.

Join Darktrace on 9 April for a virtual event to explore the latest innovations needed to get ahead of the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Register today to hear more about our latest innovations coming to Darktrace’s offerings. For additional insights check out Darktrace’s 2023 End of Year Threat Report.

Credit to Carlos Gray and Stephen Pickman for their contribution to this blog

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Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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