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Cyber Tactics in the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict

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09
Aug 2022
09
Aug 2022
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has led to fears of a full-scale cyberwar. Learn the cyber attack tactics used, hacking groups involved, and more!

Introduction

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, cyber communities around the world have been witnessing what can be called a ‘renaissance of cyberwarfare' [1]. Rather than being financially motivated, threat actors are being guided by political convictions to defend allies or attack their enemies. This blog reviews some of the main threat actors involved in this conflict and their ongoing tactics, and advises on how organizations can best protect themselves. Darktrace’s preliminary assessments predicted that attacks would be observed globally with a focus on pro-Ukrainian nations such as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members and that identified Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups would develop new and complex malware deployed through increasingly sophisticated attack vectors. This blog will show that many of these assessments had unexpected outcomes.

Context for Conflict 

Cyber confrontation between Russia and Ukraine dates back to 2013, when Viktor Yanukovych, (former President of Ukraine) rejected an EU trade pact in favour of an agreement with Russia. This sparked mass protests leading to his overthrow, and shortly after, Russian troops annexed Crimea and initiated the beginning of Russian-Ukrainian ground and cyber warfare. Since then, Russian threat actors have been periodically targeting Ukrainian infrastructure. One of the most notable examples of this, an attack against their national power grid in December 2015, resulted in power outages for approximately 255,000 people in Ukraine and was later attributed to the Russian hacking group Sandworm [2 & 3]. 

Another well-known attack in June 2017 overwhelmed the websites of hundreds of Ukrainian organizations using the infamous NotPetya malware. This attack is still considered the most damaging cyberattack in history, with more than €10 billion euros in financial damage [4]. In February 2022, countries witnessed the next stage of cyberwar against Ukraine with both new and familiar actors deploying various techniques to target their rival’s critical infrastructure. 

Tactic 1: Ransomware

Although some sources suggest US ransomware incidents and expectations of ransom may have declined during the conflict, ransomware still remained a significant tactic deployed globally across this period [5] [6] [7]. A Ukrainian hacking group, Network Battalion 65 (NB65), used ransomware to attack the Russian state-owned television and radio broadcasting network VGTRK. NB65 managed to steal 900,000 emails and 4000 files, and later demanded a ransom which they promised to donate to the Ukrainian army. This attack was unique because the group used the previously leaked source code of Conti, another infamous hacker group that had pledged its support to the Russian government earlier in the conflict. NB65 modified the leaked code to make unique ransomware for each of its targets [5]. 

Against expectations, Darktrace’s customer base appeared to deviate from these ransom trends. Analysts have seen relatively unsophisticated ransomware attacks during the conflict period, with limited evidence to suggest they were connected to any APT activity. Between November 2021 and June 2022, there were 51 confirmed ransomware compromises across the Darktrace customer base. This represents an increase of 43.16% compared to the same period the year before, accounting for relative customer growth. Whilst this suggests an overall growth in ransom cases, many of these confirmed incidents were unattributed and did not appear to be targeting any particular verticals or regions. While there was an increase in the energy sector, this could not be explicitly linked to the conflict. 

The Darktrace DETECT family has a variety of models related to ransomware visibility:

Darktrace Detections for T1486 (Data Encrypted for Impact):

- Compromise / Ransomware / Ransom or Offensive Words Written to SMB

- Compromise / Ransomware / Suspicious SMB Activity

- Anomalous Connection / Sustained MIME Type Conversion

- Unusual Activity / Sustained Anomalous SMB Activity

- Compromise / Ransomware / Suspicious SMB File Extension

- Unusual Activity / Anomalous SMB Read & Write

- Unusual Activity / Anomalous SMB Read & Write from New Device

- SaaS / Resource / SaaS Resources with Additional Extensions

- Compromise / Ransomware / Possible Ransom Note Read

- [If RESPOND is enabled] Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Ransomware Block

Tactic 2: Wipers

One of the largest groups of executables seen during the conflict were wipers. On the eve of the invasion, Ukrainian organizations were targeted by a new wiper malware given the name “HermeticWiper”. Hermetic refers to the name of the Cyprian company “Hermetica Digital Ltd.” which was used by attackers to request a code signing certificate [6]. Such a digital certificate is used to verify the ownership of the code and that it has not been altered. The 24-year-old owner of Hermetica Digital says he had no idea that his company was abused to retrieve a code signing certificate [7]. 

HermeticWiper consists of three components: a worm, decoy ransomware and the wiper malware. The custom worm designed for HermeticWiper was used to spread the malware across the network of its infected machines. ESET researchers discovered that the decoy ransomware and the wiper were released at the same time [8]. The decoy ransomware was used to make it look like the machine was hit by ransomware, when in reality the wiper was already permanently wiping data from the machines. In the attack’s initial stage, it bypasses Windows security features designed to prevent overwriting boot records by installing a separate driver. After wiping data from the machine, HermeticWiper prevents that data from being re-fragmented and overwrites the files to fragment it further. This is done to make it more challenging to reconstruct data for post-compromise forensics [9]. Overall, the function and purpose of HermeticWiper seems similar to that of NotPetya ransomware. 

HermeticWiper is not the only conflict-associated wiper malware which has been observed. In January 2022, Microsoft warned Ukrainian customers that they detected wiper intrusion activity against several European organizations. One example of this was the MBR (Master Boot Record) wiper. This type of wiper overwrites the MBR, the disk sector that instructs a computer on how to load its operating system, with a ransomware note. In reality, the note is a misdirection and the malware destroys the MBR and targeted files [10].  

One of the most notable groups that used wiper malware was Sandworm. Sandworm is an APT attributed to Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, GRU. The group has been active since 2009 and has used a variety of TTPs within their attacks. They have a history of targeting Ukraine including attacks in 2015 on Ukraine’s energy distribution companies and in 2017 when they used the aforementioned NotPetya malware against several Ukrainian organizations [11]. Another Russian (or pro-Russian) group using wiper malware to target Ukraine is DEV-0586. This group targeted various Ukrainian organizations in January 2022 with Whispergate wiper malware. This type of wiper malware presents itself as ransomware by displaying a file instructing the victim to pay Bitcoin to have their files decrypted [12].  

Darktrace did not observe any confirmed cases of HermeticWiper nor other conflict-associated wipers (e.g IsaacWiper and CaddyWiper) within the customer base over this period. Despite this, Darktrace DETECT has a variety of models related to wipers and data destruction:

Darktrace Detections for T1485 (Data Destruction)- this is the main technique exploited during wiper attacks

- Unusual Activity / Anomalous SMB Delete Volume

- IaaS / Unusual Activity / Anomalous AWS Resources Deleted

- IaaS / Storage / S3 Bucket Delete

- SaaS / Resource / Mass Email Deletes from Rare Location

- SaaS / Resource / Anomalous SaaS Resources Deleted

- SaaS / Resource / Resource Permanent Delete

- [If RESPOND is enabled] Antigena / Network / Manual / Enforce Pattern of Life

- [If RESPOND is enabled] Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Unusual Activity Block

Tactic 3: Spear-Phishing

Another strategy that some threat actors employ is spear-phishing. Targeting can be done using email, social media, messaging, or other platforms.

The hacking group Armageddon (also known as Gamaredon) has been responsible for several spear-phishing attacks during the crisis, primarily targeting individuals involved in the Ukrainian Government [13]. Since the beginning of the war, the group has been sending out a large volume of emails containing an HTML file which, if opened, downloads and launches a RAR payload. Those who click the attached link download an HTA with a PowerShell script which obtains the final Armageddon payload. Using the same strategy, the group is also targeting governmental agencies in the European Union [14]. With high-value targets, the need to improve teaching around phishing identification to minimize the chance of being caught in an attacker's net is higher than ever. 

In comparison to the wider trends, Darktrace analysts again saw little-to-no evidence of conflict-associated phishing campaigns affecting customers. Those phishing attempts which did target customers were largely not conflict-related. In some cases, the conflict was used opportunistically, such as when one customer was targeted with a phishing email referencing Russian bank exclusions from the SWIFT payment system (Figures 1 and 2). The email was identified by Darktrace/Email as a probable attempt at financial extortion and inducement - in this case the company received a spoofed email from a major bank’s remittance department.  

Figure 1- Screencap of targeted phishing email sent to Darktrace customer
Figure 2- Attached file contains soliciting reference to SWIFT, a money payment system which select Russian banks were removed from because of the conflict [15]

 Although the conflict was used as a reference in some examples, in most of Darktrace’s observed phishing cases during the conflict period there was little-to-no evidence to suggest that the company being targeted nor the threat actor behind the phishing attempt was associated with or attributable to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

However, Darktrace/Email has several model categories which pick up phishing related threats:

Sample of Darktrace for Email Detections for T1566 (Phishing)- this is the overarching technique exploited during spear-phishing events

Model Categories:

- Inducement

- Internal / External User Spoofing

- Internal / External Domain Spoofing

- Fake Support

- Link to Rare Domains

- Link to File Storage

- Redirect Links

- Anomalous / Malicious Attachments

- Compromised Known Sender

Specific models can be located on the Email Console

 

Tactic 4: Distributed-Denial-of-Service (DDoS)

Another tactic employed by both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian threat actors was DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. Both pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine actors were seen targeting critical infrastructure, information resources, and governmental platforms with mass DDoS attacks. The Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, called on an IT Army of underground Ukrainian hackers and volunteers to protect Ukraine's critical infrastructure and conduct DDoS attacks against Russia [16]. As of 1 August 2022, more than two hundred thousand people are subscribed to the group's official Telegram channel, where potential DDoS targets are announced [17].

Darktrace observed similar pro-Ukraine DDoS behaviors within a variety of customer environments. These DDoS campaigns appeared to involve low-volume individual support combined with crowd-sourced DDoS activity. They were hosted on a range of public-sourced DDoS sites and seemed to share sentiments of groups such as the IT Army of Ukraine (Figure 3).

Figure 3- Example DDoS outsource domain with unusual TLD 

From the Russian side, one of the prominent newly emerged groups, Killnet, is striking back, launching several massive DDoS attacks against the critical infrastructure of countries that provide weaponry to Ukraine [18 & 19]. Today, the number of supporters of Killnet has grown to eighty-four thousand on their Telegram channel. The group has already launched a number of mass attacks on several NATO states, including Germany, Poland, Italy, Lithuania and Norway. This shows the conflict has attracted new and fast-growing groups with large backing and the capacity to undertake widespread attacks. 

DETECT has several models to identify anomalous DoS/DDoS activity:

Darktrace Detection for T1498 (Network Denial of Service)- this is the main technique exploited during DDoS attacks

- Device / Anomaly Indicators / Denial of Service Activity Indicator

- Anomalous Server Activity / Possible Denial of Service Activity

- [If RESPOND is enabled] Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Suspicious Activity Block

What did Darktrace observe?

Darktrace’s cross-fleet detections were largely contrary to expectations. Analysts did not see large-scale complex conflict-linked attacks utilizing either conflict-associated ransomware, malware, or other TTPs. Instead, cyber incidents observed were largely opportunistic, using malware that could be purchased through Malware-as-a-Service models and other widely available toolkits, (rather than APT or conflict-attributable attacks). Overall, this is not to say there have been no repercussions from the conflict or that opportunistic attacks will cease, but evidence suggests that there were fewer wider cyber consequences beyond the initial APT-based attacks seen in the public forum. 

Another trend expected since the beginning of the conflict was targeted responses to sanction announcements focusing on NATO businesses and governments. Analysts, however, saw the limited reactive actions, with little-to-no direct impact from sanction announcements. Although cyber-attacks on some NATO organizations did take place, they were not as widespread or impactful as expected. Lastly, it was thought that exposure to new and sophisticated exploits would increase and be used to weaken NATO nations - especially corporations in critical industries. However, analysts observed relatively common exploits deployed indiscriminately and opportunistically. Overall, with the wider industry expecting chaos, Darktrace analysts did not see the crisis taken advantage of to target wider businesses outside of Ukraine. Based on this comparison between expectations and reality, the conflict has demonstrated the danger of  falling prey to confirmation bias and the need to remain vigilant and expect the unexpected. It may be possible to say that cyberwar is ‘cold’ right now, however the element of surprise is always present, and it is better to be prepared to protect yourself and your organization.    

What to Expect from the Future

As cyberattacks continue to become less monetarily and physically costly, it is to be expected that they will increase in frequency. Even after a political ceasefire is established, hacking groups can harbour resentment and continue their attacks, though possibly on a smaller scale.  

Additionally, the longer this conflict continues, the more sophisticated hacking groups’s attacks may become. In one of their publications, Killnet shared with subscribers that they had created ‘network weaponry’ powerful enough to simultaneously take down five European countries (Figure 4) [20]. Whether or not this claim is true, it is vital to be prepared. The European Union and the United States have supported Ukraine since the start of the invasion, and the EU has also stated that it is considering providing further assistance to help Ukraine in cyberspace [21].

Figure 4- Snapshot of Killnet Telegram announcement

How to Protect Against these Attacks

In the face of wider conflict and cybersecurity tensions, it is crucial that organizations evaluate their security stack and practise the following: 

·       Know what your critical assets are and what software is running on them. 

·       Keep your software up to date. Prioritize patching critical and high vulnerabilities that allow remote code execution. 

·       Enforce Multifactor Authentication (MFA) to the greatest extent possible. 

·       Require the use of a password manager to generate strong and unique passwords for each separate account. 

·       Backup all the essential files on the cloud and external drives and regularly maintain them. 

·       Train your employees to recognize phishing emails, suspicious websites, infected links or other abnormalities to prevent successful compromise of email accounts. 

In order to prevent an organization from suffering damage due to one of the attacks mentioned above, a full-circle approach is needed. This defence starts with a thorough understanding of the attack surface to provide timely mitigation. This can be supported by Darktrace products: 

·       As shown throughout this blog, Darktrace DETECT and Darktrace/Email have several models relating to conflict-associated TTPs and attacks. These help to quickly alert security teams and provide visibility of anomalous behaviors.

·       Darktrace PREVENT/ASM helps to identify vulnerable external-facing assets. By patching and securing these devices, the risk of exploit is drastically reduced.

·       Darktrace RESPOND and RESPOND/Email can make targeted actions to a range of threats such as blocking incoming DDoS connections or locking malicious email links.

Thanks to the Darktrace Threat Intelligence Unit for their contributions to this blog.

Appendices 

Reference List

[1] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/vladimir-putins-ukraine-invasion-is-the-worlds-first-full-scale-cyberwar/ 

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-cybersecurity-idUSKCN0VY30K

[3] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-cybersecurity-sandworm-idUSKBN0UM00N20160108

[4 & 11] https://www.wired.com/story/notpetya-cyberattack-ukraine-russia-code-crashed-the-world/ 

[5] https://www.scmagazine.com/analysis/ransomware/despite-hopes-for-decline-ransomware-attacks-increased-during-russia-ukraine-conflict

[6] https://ransomware.org/blog/has-the-ukraine-conflict-disrupted-ransomware-attacks/

[7] https://www.cfr.org/blog/financial-incentives-may-explain-perceived-lack-ransomware-russias-latest-assault-ukraine

[8] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/hackers-use-contis-leaked-ransomware-to-attack-russian-companies/ 

[9] https://voi.id/en/technology/138937/hermetica-owner-from-cyprus-didnt-know-his-server-was-used-in-malicious-malware-attack-in-ukraine 

[10] https://www.reuters.com/article/ukraine-crisis-cyber-cyprus-idCAKBN2KT2QI 

[11] https://www.eset.com/int/about/newsroom/press-releases/research/eset-research-ukraine-hit-by-destructive-attacks-before-and-during-the-russian-invasion-with-hermet/ 

[12] https://blog.malwarebytes.com/threat-intelligence/2022/03/hermeticwiper-a-detailed-analysis-of-the-destructive-malware-that-targeted-ukraine/ 

[13] https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2022/01/15/destructive-malware-targeting-ukrainian-organizations/ 

[15] https://www.cisa.gov/uscert/ncas/alerts/aa22-057a 

[16] https://attack.mitre.org/groups/G0047/ 

[17] https://cyware.com/news/ukraine-cert-warns-of-increasing-attacks-by-armageddon-group-850081f8 

[18] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-60521822

[19] https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/04/11/russia-cyberwarfare-us-ukraine-volunteer-hackers-it-army/

[20] https://t.me/itarmyofukraine2022

[21] https://www.csoonline.com/article/3664859/russian-ddos-attack-on-lithuania-was-planned-on-telegram-flashpoint-says.html

[19 & 20] https://flashpoint.io/blog/killnet-kaliningrad-and-lithuanias-transport-standoff-with-russia/ 

[21] https://presidence-francaise.consilium.europa.eu/en/news/member-states-united-in-supporting-ukraine-and-strengthening-the-eu-s-telecommunications-and-cybersecurity-resilience/ 

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.
AUTHOR
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Rosa Jong
OSINT Analyst
Taisiia Garkava
Security Analyst
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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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