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The Rise of IPFS Phishing: Darktrace’s Detection of an Evasive and Dynamic Credential Harvester

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07
Aug 2023
07
Aug 2023
In this blog we discuss the emerging trend of malicious actors abusing the Interplanetary File System (IPFS) file storage protocol in phishing campaigns, and how Darktrace is best placed to detect and respond to such attacks.

IPFS Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks continue to be one of the most common methods of infiltration utilized by threat actors and they represent a significant threat to an organization’s digital estate. As phishing campaigns typically leverage social engineering methods to evade security tools and manipulate users into following links, downloading files, or divulging confidential information. It is a relatively low effort but high-yield type of cyber-attack.

That said, in recent years security teams have become increasingly savvy to these efforts. Attackers are having to adapt and come up with novel ways to carry out their phishing campaigns. Recently, Darktrace has observed a rise in phishing attacks attempting to abuse the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) in campaigns that are able to dynamically adapt depending on the target, making it extremely difficult for security vendors to detect and investigate.

What is a IPFS?

IPFS is a file storage protocol a peer-to-peer (P2P) network used for storing and sharing resources in a distributed file system [1]. It is also a file storage system similar in nature to other centralized file storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive.

File storage systems, like IPFS, are often abused by malicious actors, as they allow attackers to easily host their own content without maintaining infrastructure themselves. However, as these file storage systems often have legitimate usages, blocking everything related to file storages may cause unwanted problems and affect normal business operations. Thus, the challenge lies in differentiating between legitimate and malicious usage.

While centralized, web-based file storage services use a Client-Server model and typically deliver files over HTTP, IPFS uses a Peer-to-Peer model for storing and sharing files, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: (a) shows the Client-Server model that centralized, web-based file storage services use. The resource is available on the server, and the clients access the resource from the server.(b) shows the Peer-to-Peer model that IPFS use. The resources are available on the peers.

To verify the authenticity and integrity of files, IPFS utilizes cryptographic hashes.

A cryptographic hash value is generated using a file’s content upon upload to IPFS. This is used to generate the Content Identifier (CID). IPFS uses Content Addressing as opposed to Location Addressing, and this CID is used to point to a resource in IPFS [4].

When a computer running IPFS requires a particular file, it asks the connected peers if they have the file with a specific hash. If a peer has the file with the matching hash, it will provide it to the requesting computer [1][6].

Taking down content on IPFS is much more difficult compared to centralized file storage hosts, as content is stored on several nodes without a centralized entity, as shown in Figure 2. To take down content from IPFS, it must be removed from all the nodes. Thus, IPFS is prone to being abused for malicious purposes.

Figure 2: When the resource is unavailable on the server for (a), all the clients are unable to access the resource. When the resource is unavailable on one of the peers for (b), the resources are still available on the other peers.

The domains used in these IPFS phishing links are gateways that enable an HTTPS URL to access resources within the distributed IPFS file system.

There are two types of IPFS links, the Path Gateway and Subdomain Gateway [1].

Path Gateways have a fixed domain/host and identifies the IPFS resource through a resource-identifying string in the path. The Path Gateway has the following structure:

•       https://<gateway-host>.tld/ipfs/<CID>/path/to/resource

•       https://<gateway-host>.tld/ipns/<dnslink/ipnsid>/path/to/resource

On the other hand, Subdomain Gateways have a resource-identifying string in the subdomain. Subdomain Gateways have the following structure:

•       https://<cidv1b32>.ipfs.<gateway-host>.tld/path/to/resource

One gateway domain serves the same role as any other, which means attackers can easily change the gateways that are used.

Thus, these link domains involved in these attacks can be much more variable than the ones in traditional file storage attacks, where a centralized service with a single domain is used (e.g., Dropbox, Google Docs), making detecting the malicious use of IPFS extremely challenging for traditional security vendors. Through its anomaly-based approach to threat detection, Darktrace/Email™ is consistently able to identify such tactics and respond to them, preventing malicious actors from abusing file storage systems life IPFS.

IPFS Campaign Details

In several recent examples of IPFS abuse that Darktrace detected on a customer’s network, the apparent end goal was to harvest user credentials. Stolen credentials can be exploited by threat actors to further their attacks on organizations by escalating their privileges within the network, or even sold on the dark web.

Darktrace detected multiple IPFS links sent in malicious emails that contained the victim’s email address. Based on the domain in this email address, users would then be redirected to a fake login page that uses their organizations’ webpage visuals and branding to convince targets to enter their login details, unknowingly compromising their accounts in the process.

Figure 3: The credential harvester changes visuals depending on the victim’s email address specified in the URL.

These IPFS credential harvesting sites use various techniques to evade detection the detection of traditional security tools and prevent further analysis, such as obfuscation by Percent Encoding and Base64 Encoding the code.

There are also other mechanisms put into place to hinder investigation by security teams. For example, some IPFS credential harvester sites investigated by Darktrace did not allow right clicking and certain keystrokes, as a means to make post-attack analysis more difficult.

Figure 4: The code shows that it attempts to prevent certain keystrokes.

In the campaign highlighted in this blog, the following IPFS link was observed:

hxxps://ipfs[.]io/ipfs/QmfDDxLWoLiqFURX6dUZcsHxVBP1ZnM21H5jXGs1ffNxtP?filename=at ob.html#<EmailAddress>

This uses a Path Gateway, as it identifies the IPFS resource through a resource-identifying string in the path. The CID is QmfDDxLWoLiqFURX6dUZcsHxVBP1ZnM21H5jXGs1ffNxtP in this case.

It makes a GET request to image[.]thum[.]io and logo[.]clearbit[.]com as shown in Figure 5. The image[.]thum[.]io is a Free Website Screenshot Generator, that provides real-time screenshot of websites [2]. The logo[.]clearbit[.]com is used to lookup company logos using the domain [3]. These visuals are integrated into the credential harvester site. Figure 6 shows the domain name being extracted from the victim’s email address and used to obtain the visuals.

Figure 5: The GET requests to image[.]thum[.]io and logo[.]clearbit[.].
Figure 6: The code shows that it utilizes the domain name from the victim’s email address to obtain the visuals from logo.clearbit[.]com and image[.]thum.io.

The code reveals the credential POST endpoint as shown in Figure 16. When credentials are submitted, it makes a POST request to this endpoint as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: The credential POST endpoint can be seen inside the code.
Figure 8: The Outlook credential harvester will redirect to the real Outlook page when wrong credentials are submitted multiple times.

From the IPFS link alone, it is difficult to determine whether it leads to a malicious endpoint, however Darktrace has consistently identified emails containing these IPFS credential harvesting links as phishing attempts.

Darktrace Coverage

During one case of IPFS abuse detected by Darktrace in March 2023, a threat actor sent malicious emails with the subject “Renew Your E-mail Password” to 55 different recipients at. The sender appeared to be the organization’s administrator and used their internal domain.

Figure 9: Darktrace/Email’s detection of the “Renew Your E-mail Password” emails from “administrator”. These were all sent at 2023.03.21 02:39 UTC.

However, Darktrace recognized that the email did not pass Sender Policy Framework (SPF), and therefore it could not be validated as being sent from the organization’s domain. Darktrace also detected that the email contained a link to “ipfs.io, the official IPFS gateway. This was identified as a spoofing and phishing attempt by Darktrace/Email.

Figure 10: The Darktrace/Email overview tab shows the Anomaly Indicators, History, Association, and Validation information of this sender. It contained a link to “ipfs.io”, and did not pass SPF.

Following the successful identification of the malicious emails, Darktrace RESPOND™ took immediate autonomous action to prevent them from leading to potentially damaging network compromise. For email-based threats, Darktrace RESPOND is able to carry out numerous actions to stop malicious emails and reduce the risk of compromise. In response to this specific incident, RESPOND took multiple preventative actions (as seen in Figure 11), including include lock link, an action that prevents access to URLs deemed as suspicious, send to junk, an action that automatically places emails in the recipient’s junk folder, and hold message, the most severe RESPOND action that prevents malicious emails from reaching the recipients inbox at all.

Figure 11: The Darktrace/Email model tab shows all the models that triggered on the email and the associated RESPOND actions.
Figure 12: The ipfs.io link used in this email contains the recipient’s email address, and has a CID of QmfDDxLWoLiqFURX6dUZcsHxVBP1ZnM21H5jXGs1ffNxtP. It has a Darktrace Domain Rarity Score of 100
Figure 13: The IPFS credential harvester that uses the organization’s website’s visuals.

Further investigation revealed that the IPFS link contained the recipients’ email address, and when clicked led to a credential harvester that utilized the same visuals and branding as the customer’s website.

Concluding Thoughts

Ultimately, despite the various tactics employed threat actors to evade the detection of traditional security tools, Darktrace was able to successfully detect and mitigate these often very fruitful phishing attacks that attempted to abuse the IPFS file storage system.

As file storage platforms like IPFS do have legitimate business uses, blocking traffic related to file storage is likely to negatively impact the day-to-day operations of an organization. The challenge security teams face is to differentiate between malicious and legitimate uses of such services, and only act on malicious cases. As such, it is more important than ever for organizations to have an effective anomaly detection tool in place that is able to identify emerging threats without relying on rules, signatures or previously observed indicators of compromise (IoC).

By leveraging its Self-Learning AI, Darktrace understands what represents expected activity on customer networks and can recognize subtle deviations from expected behavior, that may be indicative of compromise. Then, using its autonomous response capabilities, Darktrace RESPOND is able to instantly and autonomously take action against emerging threats to stop them at the earliest possible stage.

Credit to Ben Atkins, Senior Model Developer for their contribution to this blog.

Appendices

Example IOCs

Type: URL

IOC: hxxps://ipfs[.]io/ipfs/QmfDDxLWoLi qFURX6dUZcsHxVBP1ZnM21H5jXGs

1ffNxtP?filename=atob.html#<Email Address>

Description: Path Gateway link

Type: URL

IOC: hxxps://bafybeibisyerwlu46re6rxrfw doo2ubvucw7yu6zjcfjmn7rqbwcix2 mku.ipfs[.]dweb.link/webn cpmk.htm?bafybeigh77sqswniy74nzyklybstfpkxhsqhpf3qt26nwnh4wf2vv gbdaybafybeigh77sqswniy74nzyklybstfpkxhsqhpf3qt26nwnh4wf2vvgbda y#<EmailAddress>

Description: Subdomain Gateway link

Relevant Darktrace DETECT Models

•       Spoof / Internal Domain from Unexpected Source + New Unknown Link

•       Link / High Risk Link + Low Sender Association

•       Link / New Correspondent Classified Link

•       Link / Watched Link Type

•       Proximity / Phishing + New activity

•       Proximity / Phishing + New Address Known Domain

•       Spoof / Internal Domain from Unexpected Source + High Risk Link

References

[1]    https://docs.ipfs.tech/

[2]    https://www.thum.io/

[3]    https://clearbit.com/logo

[4]    https://filebase.com/blog/ipfs-content-addressing-explained/

[5]    https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/spiderlabs-blog/the-attack-of-the-chameleon-phishing-page/

[6]    https://wiki.ipfsblox.com/

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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Lena Yu
Cyber Security Analyst
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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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Inside the SOC

Quasar Remote Access Tool: When a Legitimate Admin Tool Falls into the Wrong Hands

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23
Feb 2024

The threat of interoperability

As the “as-a-Service” market continues to grow, indicators of compromise (IoCs) and malicious infrastructure are often interchanged and shared between multiple malware strains and attackers. This presents organizations and their security teams with a new threat: interoperability.

Interoperable threats not only enable malicious actors to achieve their objectives more easily by leveraging existing infrastructure and tools to launch new attacks, but the lack of clear attribution often complicates identification for security teams and incident responders, making it challenging to mitigate and contain the threat.

One such threat observed across the Darktrace customer base in late 2023 was Quasar, a legitimate remote administration tool that has becoming increasingly popular for opportunistic attackers in recent years. Working in tandem, the anomaly-based detection of Darktrace DETECT™ and the autonomous response capabilities of Darktrace RESPOND™ ensured that affected customers were promptly made aware of any suspicious activity on the attacks were contained at the earliest possible stage.

What is Quasar?

Quasar is an open-source remote administration tool designed for legitimate use; however, it has evolved to become a popular tool used by threat actors due to its wide array of capabilities.  

How does Quasar work?

For instance, Quasar can perform keylogging, take screenshots, establish a reverse proxy, and download and upload files on a target device [1].  A report released towards the end of 2023 put Quasar back on threat researchers’ radars as it disclosed the new observation of dynamic-link library (DLL) sideloading being used by malicious versions of this tool to evade detection [1].  DLL sideloading involves configuring legitimate Windows software to run a malicious file rather than the legitimate file it usually calls on as the software loads.  The evolving techniques employed by threat actors using Quasar highlights defenders’ need for anomaly-based detections that do not rely on pre-existing knowledge of attacker techniques, and can identify and alert for unusual behavior, even if it is performed by a legitimate application.

Although Quasar has been used by advanced persistent threat (APT) groups for global espionage operations [2], Darktrace observed the common usage of default configurations for Quasar, which appeared to use shared malicious infrastructure, and occurred alongside other non-compliant activity such as BitTorrent use and cryptocurrency mining.  

Quasar Attack Overview and Darktrace Coverage

Between September and October 2023, Darktrace detected multiple cases of malicious Quasar activity across several customers, suggesting probable campaign activity.  

Quasar infections can be difficult to detect using traditional network or host-based tools due to the use of stealthy techniques such as DLL side-loading and encrypted SSL connections for command-and control (C2) communication, that traditional security tools may not be able to identify.  The wide array of capabilities Quasar possesses also suggests that attacks using this tool may not necessarily be modelled against a linear kill chain. Despite this, the anomaly-based detection of Darktrace DETECT allowed it to identify IoCs related to Quasar at multiple stages of the kill chain.

Quasar Initial Infection

During the initial infection stage of a Quasar compromise observed on the network of one customer, Darktrace detected a device downloading several suspicious DLL and executable (.exe) files from multiple rare external sources using the Xmlst user agent, including the executable ‘Eppzjtedzmk[.]exe’.  Analyzing this file using open-source intelligence (OSINT) suggests this is a Quasar payload, potentially indicating this represented the initial infection through DLL sideloading [3].

Interestingly, the Xmlst user agent used to download the Quasar payload has also been associated with Raccoon Stealer, an information-stealing malware that also acts as a dropper for other malware strains [4][5]. The co-occurrence of different malware components is increasingly common across the threat landscape as MaaS operating models increases in popularity, allowing attackers to employ cross-functional components from different strains.

Figure 1: Cyber AI Analyst Incident summarizing the multiple different downloads in one related incident, with technical details for the Quasar payload included. The incident event for Suspicious File Download is also linked to Possible HTTP Command and Control, suggesting escalation of activity following the initial infection.  

Quasar Establishing C2 Communication

During this phase, devices on multiple customer networks were identified making unusual external connections to the IP 193.142.146[.]212, which was not commonly seen in their networks. Darktrace analyzed the meta-properties of these SSL connections without needing to decrypt the content, to alert the usage of an unusual port not typically associated with the SSL protocol, 4782, and the usage of self-signed certificates.  Self-signed certificates do not provide any trust value and are commonly used in malware communications and ill-reputed web servers.  

Further analysis into these alerts using OSINT indicated that 193.142.146[.]212 is a Quasar C2 server and 4782 is the default port used by Quasar [6][7].  Expanding on the self-signed certificate within the Darktrace UI (see Figure 3) reveals a certificate subject and issuer of “CN=Quasar Server CA”, which is also the default self-signed certificate compiled by Quasar [6].

Figure 2: Cyber AI Analyst Incident summarizing the repeated external connections to a rare external IP that was later associated with Quasar.
Figure 3: Device Event Log of the affected device, showing Darktrace’s analysis of the SSL Certificate associated with SSL connections to 193.142.146[.]212.

A number of insights can be drawn from analysis of the Quasar C2 endpoints detected by Darktrace across multiple affected networks, suggesting a level of interoperability in the tooling used by different threat actors. In one instance, Darktrace detected a device beaconing to the endpoint ‘bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org’ using the aforementioned “CN=Quasar Server CA” certificate. DuckDNS is a dynamic DNS service that could be abused by attackers to redirect users from their intended endpoint to malicious infrastructure, and may be shared or reused in multiple different attacks.

Figure 4: A device’s Model Event Log, showing the Quasar Server CA SSL certificate used in connections to 41.233.139[.]145 on port 5, which resolves via passive replication to ‘bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org’.  

The sharing of malicious infrastructure among threat actors is also evident as several OSINT sources have also associated the Quasar IP 193.142.146[.]212, detected in this campaign, with different threat types.

While 193.142.146[.]212:4782 is known to be associated with Quasar, 193.142.146[.]212:8808 and 193.142.146[.]212:6606 have been associated with AsyncRAT [11], and the same IP on port 8848 has been associated with RedLineStealer [12].  Aside from the relative ease of using already developed tooling, threat actors may prefer to use open-source malware in order to avoid attribution, making the true identity of the threat actor unclear to incident responders [1][13].  

Quasar Executing Objectives

On multiple customer deployments affected by Quasar, Darktrace detected devices using BitTorrent and performing cryptocurrency mining. While these non-compliant, and potentially malicious, activities are not necessarily specific IoCs for Quasar, they do suggest that affected devices may have had greater attack surfaces than others.

For instance, one affected device was observed initiating connections to 162.19.139[.]184, a known Minergate cryptomining endpoint, and ‘zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org’, a dynamic DNS endpoint linked to the Quasar Botnet by multiple OSINT vendors [9].

Figure 5: A Darktrace DETECT Event Log showing simultaneous connections to a Quasar endpoint and a cryptomining endpoint 162.19.139[.]184.

Not only does cryptocurrency mining use a significant amount of processing power, potentially disrupting an organization’s business operations and racking up high energy bills, but the software used for this mining is often written to a poor standard, thus increasing the attack surfaces of devices using them. In this instance, Quasar may have been introduced as a secondary payload from a user or attacker-initiated download of cryptocurrency mining malware.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for malicious actors to attach malware to torrented files and there were a number of examples of Darktrace detect identifying non-compliant activity, like BitTorrent connections, overlapping with connections to external locations associated with Quasar. It is therefore important for organizations to establish and enforce technical and policy controls for acceptable use on corporate devices, particularly when remote working introduces new risks.  

Figure 6: A device’s Event Log filtered by Model Breaches, showing a device connecting to BitTorrent shortly before making new or repeated connections to unusual endpoints, which were subsequently associated to Quasar.

In some cases observed by Darktrace, devices affected by Quasar were also being used to perform data exfiltration. Analysis of a period of unusual external connections to the aforementioned Quasar C2 botnet server, ‘zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org’, revealed a small data upload, which may have represented the exfiltration of some data to attacker infrastructure.

Darktrace’s Autonomous Response to Quasar Attacks

On customer networks that had Darktrace RESPOND™ enabled in autonomous response mode, the threat of Quasar was mitigated and contained as soon as it was identified by DETECT. If RESPOND is not configured to respond autonomously, these actions would instead be advisory, pending manual application by the customer’s security team.

For example, following the detection of devices downloading malicious DLL and executable files, Darktrace RESPOND advised the customer to block specific connections to the relevant IP addresses and ports. However, as the device was seen attempting to download further files from other locations, RESPOND also suggested enforced a ‘pattern of life’ on the device, meaning it was only permitted to make connections that were part its normal behavior. By imposing a pattern of life, Darktrace RESPOND ensures that a device cannot perform suspicious behavior, while not disrupting any legitimate business activity.

Had RESPOND been configured to act autonomously, these mitigative actions would have been applied without any input from the customer’s security team and the Quasar compromise would have been contained in the first instance.

Figure 7: The advisory actions Darktrace RESPOND initiated to block specific connections to a malicious IP and to enforce the device’s normal patterns of life in response to the different anomalies detected on the device.

In another case, one customer affected by Quasar did have enabled RESPOND to take autonomous action, whilst also integrating it with a firewall. Here, following the detection of a device connecting to a known Quasar IP address, RESPOND initially blocked it from making connections to the IP via the customer’s firewall. However, as the device continued to perform suspicious activity after this, RESPOND escalated its response by blocking all outgoing connections from the device, effectively preventing any C2 activity or downloads.

Figure 8: RESPOND actions triggered to action via integrated firewall and TCP Resets.

Conclusion

When faced with a threat like Quasar that utilizes the infrastructure and tools of both legitimate services and other malicious malware variants, it is essential for security teams to move beyond relying on existing knowledge of attack techniques when safeguarding their network. It is no longer enough for organizations to rely on past attacks to defend against the attacks of tomorrow.

Crucially, Darktrace’s unique approach to threat detection focusses on the anomaly, rather than relying on a static list of IoCs or "known bads” based on outdated threat intelligence. In the case of Quasar, alternative or future strains of the malware that utilize different IoCs and TTPs would still be identified by Darktrace as anomalous and immediately alerted.

By learning the ‘normal’ for devices on a customer’s network, Darktrace DETECT can recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that could indicate an ongoing compromise. Darktrace RESPOND is subsequently able to follow this up with swift and targeted actions to contain the attack and prevent it from escalating further.

Credit to Nicole Wong, Cyber Analyst, Vivek Rajan Cyber Analyst

Appendices

Darktrace DETECT Model Breaches

  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External
  • Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port
  • Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed
  • Compromise / New or Repeated to Unusual SSL Port
  • Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Activity

List of IoCs

IP:Port

193.142.146[.]212:4782 -Quasar C2 IP and default port

77.34.128[.]25: 8080 - Quasar C2 IP

Domain

zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org - Quasar C2 Botnet Endpoint

bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org - Possible Quasar C2 endpoint

Certificate

CN=Quasar Server CA - Default certificate used by Quasar

Executable

Eppzjtedzmk[.]exe - Quasar executable

IP Address

95.214.24[.]244 - Quasar C2 IP

162.19.139[.]184 - Cryptocurrency Miner IP

41.233.139[.]145[VR1] [NW2] - Possible Quasar C2 IP

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Command and Control

T1090.002: External Proxy

T1071.001: Web Protocols

T1571: Non-Standard Port

T1001: Data Obfuscation

T1573: Encrypted Channel

T1071: Application Layer Protocol

Resource Development

T1584: Compromise Infrastructure

References

[1] https://thehackernews.com/2023/10/quasar-rat-leverages-dll-side-loading.html

[2] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/cicada-apt10-japan-espionage

[3]https://www.virustotal.com/gui/file/bd275a1f97d1691e394d81dd402c11aaa88cc8e723df7a6aaf57791fa6a6cdfa/community

[4] https://twitter.com/g0njxa/status/1691826188581298389

[5] https://www.linkedin.com/posts/grjk83_raccoon-stealer-announce-return-after-hiatus-activity-7097906612580802560-1aj9

[6] https://community.netwitness.com/t5/netwitness-community-blog/using-rsa-netwitness-to-detect-quasarrat/ba-p/518952

[7] https://www.cisa.gov/news-events/analysis-reports/ar18-352a

[8]https://any.run/report/6cf1314c130a41c977aafce4585a144762d3fb65f8fe493e836796b989b002cb/7ac94b56-7551-4434-8e4f-c928c57327ff

[9] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/891454/

[10] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/41.233.139.145/relations

[11] https://raw.githubusercontent.com/stamparm/maltrail/master/trails/static/malware/asyncrat.txt

[12] https://sslbl.abuse.ch/ssl-certificates/signature/RedLineStealer/

[13] https://www.botconf.eu/botconf-presentation-or-article/hunting-the-quasar-family-how-to-hunt-a-malware-family/

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About the author
Nicole Wong
Cyber Security Analyst

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