Thwarting an invisible threat: How AI sniffs out the Ursnif trojan
Over the past few months, I’ve analyzed some of the world’s stealthiest trojan attacks like Emotet, which employ deception to bypass traditional security tools that rely on rules and signatures. Guest contributor Keith Siepel also explained how cyber AI defenses managed to catch a zero-day trojan on his firm’s network for which no such rules or signatures yet exist. Indeed, with the incidence of banking trojans having increased by 239% among our customer base last year, it appears that this kind of subterfuge is the new normal.
However, one particularly sophisticated trojan, Ursnif, takes deception a step further evidence of which we are still seeing emerge. Rather than writing executable files that contain malicious code, some of its variants instead exploit vulnerabilities inherent to a user’s own applications, essentially turning the victim’s computer against them. The result of this increasingly common technique is that — once the victim has been tricked into clicking a malicious link or duped into opening an attachment via a phishing email — Ursnif begins to ‘live off the land’, blending into the victim’s environment. And by exploiting Microsoft Office and Windows features, such as document macros, PsExec, and PowerShell scripts, Ursnif can execute commands directly from the computer’s RAM.
One of the most prevalent and destructive strains of the Gozi banking malware, Ursnif was recently placed at the center of a new campaign that saw it dramatically expand its functionality. Originally created to infect hosts with spyware in order to steal sensitive banking information and user credentials, it can now also deploy advanced ransomware like GandCrab. These new functions are aided by the elusive trojan’s aforementioned file-less capabilities, which render it invisible to many security tools and allow it to hide in plain sight within legitimate, albeit corrupted applications. Shining a light on Ursnif therefore requires AI tools that can learn to spot when these applications act abnormally:
Cyber AI detects Ursnif on multiple client networks
First campaign: February 4, 2019
Darktrace detected the initial Ursnif compromise on a customer’s network when it caught several devices connecting to a highly unusual endpoint and subsequently downloading masqueraded files, causing Darktrace’s “Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer” model to breach. Such files are often masqueraded as other file types not only to bypass traditional security measures but also to deceive users — for instance, with the intention of tricking a user into executing a file received in a malicious email by disguising it as a document.
As it happens, this Ursnif variant was a zero-day at the time Darktrace detected it, meaning that its files were unknown to antivirus vendors. But while the never-before-seen files bypassed the customer’s endpoint tools, Darktrace AI leveraged its understanding of the unique ‘pattern of life’ for every user and device in the customer’s network to flag these file downloads as threatening anomalies — without relying on signatures.
A sample of the masqueraded files initially downloaded:
File MIME type: application/x-dosexec
Size: 549.38 KB
Connection UID: C8SlueG1mT7VdcJ00
File MIME type: application/x-dosexec
SHA-1 hash: 4ed60393575d6b47bd82eeb03629bdcb8876a73f
Size: 276.48 KB
File: File: adnaz2.gas
File MIME type: application/x-dosexec
Size: 380.93 KB
Connection UID: CmPOzP1AC4tzuuuW00
A sample of the endpoints detected:
kieacsangelita[.]city · 209.141.60[.]214
muikarellep[.]band · 46.29.167[.]73
cjasminedison[.]com · 185.120.58[.]13
Following the initial suspicious downloads, the compromised devices were further observed making regular connections to multiple rare destinations not previously seen on the affected network in a pattern of beaconing connectivity. In some cases, Darktrace marked these external destinations as suspicious when it recognized the hostnames they queried as algorithm-generated domains. High volumes of DNS requests for such domains is a common characteristic of malware infections, which use this tactic to maintain communication with C2 servers in spite of domain black-listing. In other cases, the endpoints were deemed suspicious because of their use of self-signed SSL certificates, which cyber-criminals often use because they do not require verification by a trusted authority.
In fact, the large volume of anomalous connections commonly triggered a number of Darktrace’s behavioral models, including:
Compromise / DGA Beacon
Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Self-Signed SSL
Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score
Compromise / Beaconing Activity To Rare External Endpoint
Beaconing is a method of communication frequently seen when a compromised device attempts to relay information to its control infrastructure in order to receive further instructions. This behavior is characterized by persistent external connections to one or multiple endpoints, a pattern that was repeatedly observed for those devices that had previously downloaded malicious files from the endpoints later associated with the Ursnif campaign. While beaconing behavior to unusual destinations is not necessarily always indicative of infection, Darktrace AI concluded that, in combination with the suspicious file downloads, this type of activity represented a clear indication of compromise.
Figure 1: A device event log that shows the device had connected to internal mail servers shortly before downloading the malicious files.
Lateral movement and file-less capabilities
In the wake of the initial compromise, Darktrace AI also detected Ursnif’s lateral movement and file-less capabilities in real time. In the case of one infected device, an “Anomalous Connection / High Volume of New Service Control” model breach was triggered following the aforementioned suspicious activities. The device in question was flagged after making anomalous SMB connections to at least 47 other internal devices, and after accessing file shares which it had not previously connected. Subsequently, the device was observed writing to the other devices’ service control pipe – a channel used for the remote control of services. The anomalous use of these remote-control channels represent compelling examples of how Ursnif leverages its file-less capabilities to facilitate lateral movement.
Figure 2: Volume of SMB writes made to the service control pipe on internal devices by one of the infected devices, as shown on the Darktrace UI.
Although network administrators often use remote control channels for legitimate purposes, Darktrace AI considered this particular usage highly suspicious, particularly as both devices had previously breached a number of behavioral models as a result of infection.
Second campaign: March 18, 2019
A second Ursnif campaign was detected just this week. At the time of detection, no OSINT was available for the C2 servers nor the malware samples.
On a US manufacturer’s network, the initial malware download took place from: xqzuua1594[.]com/loq91/10x.php?l=mow1.jad hosted on IP 94.154.10[.]62.
Every single malware download is unique. This is indicating auto-patching or a malware factory working in the background.
Darktrace immediately identified this as another Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer.
Directly after this, initial C2 was observed with the following parameters:
HTTP GET to: vwdlpknpsierra[.]email
Destination IP: 162.248.225[.]14
User Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; WOW64; Trident/7.0; rv:11.0) like Gecko
What’s interesting here is that the C2 server provides a Sufee Admin login page:
This C2 appears to have bad operational security (OPSEC) as browsing random URIs on the server reveals some of the dashboard’s contents:
The initial C2 communication was followed by sustained TCP beaconing to ksylviauudaren[.]band on 185.180.198[.]245 over port 443 with SSL encryption using a self-signed certificate. Darktrace highlighted this C2 behavior as Compromise / Sustained TCP Beaconing Activity To Rare Endpoint and Anomalous Connection / Repeated Rare External SSL Self-Signed IP.
As of the writing of this article, the domain ksylviauudaren[.]band was still not recognized in OSINT as malicious – highlighting again Darktrace’s independence of signatures and rules to catch previously unknown threats.
The cyber AI approach successfully detected the Ursnif infections even though the new variant of this malware was unknown to security vendors at the time. Moreover, it even managed to catch Ursnif’s file-less capabilities for lateral movement through its modelling of expected patterns of connectivity. In terms of the wider security context, the ease with which cyber AI flagged such sophisticated malware — malware which takes action by corrupting a computer’s own applications — further demonstrates that AI anomaly detection is the only way to navigate a threat landscape increasingly populated by near-invisible trojans.
kieacsangelita[.]city · 209.141.60[.]214
muikarellep[.]band · 46.29.167[.]73
cjasminedison[.]com · 185.120.58[.]13
xqzuua1594[.]com · 22.214.171.124
vwdlpknpsierra[.]email · 162.248.225[.]14
ksylviauudaren[.]band · 185.180.198[.]245
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Inside the SOC
How Abuse of ‘PerfectData Software’ May Create a Perfect Storm: An Emerging Trend in Account Takeovers
Amidst the ever-changing threat landscape, new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) seem to emerge daily, creating extreme challenges for security teams. The broad range of attack methods utilized by attackers seems to present an insurmountable problem: how do you defend against a playbook that does not yet exist?
Faced with the growing number of novel and uncommon attack methods, it is essential for organizations to adopt a security solution able to detect threats based on their anomalies, rather than relying on threat intelligence alone.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed an emerging trend in the use of an application known as ‘PerfectData Software’ for probable malicious purposes in several Microsoft 365 account takeovers.
Using its anomaly-based detection, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to identify the activity chain surrounding the use of this application, potentially uncovering a novel piece of threat actor tradecraft in the process.
Microsoft 365 Intrusions
In recent years, Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) suite, Microsoft 365, along with its built-in identity and access management (IAM) service, Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), have been heavily targeted by threat actors due to their near-ubiquitous usage across industries. Four out of every five Fortune 500 companies, for example, use Microsoft 365 services .
Malicious actors typically gain entry to organizations’ Microsoft 365 environments by abusing either stolen account credentials or stolen session cookies . Once inside, actors can access sensitive data within mailboxes or SharePoint repositories, and send out emails or Teams messages. This activity can often result in serious financial harm, especially in cases where the malicious actor’s end-goal is to elicit fraudulent transactions.
Darktrace regularly observes malicious actors behaving in predictable ways once they gain access to customer Microsoft 365 environment. One typical example is the creation of new inbox rules and sending deceitful emails intended to convince recipients to carry out subsequent actions, such as following a malicious link or providing sensitive information. It is also common for actors to register new applications in Azure AD so that they can be used to conduct follow-up activities, like mass-mailing or data theft. The registration of applications in Azure AD therefore seems to be a relatively predictable threat actor behavior . Darktrace DETECT understands that unusual application registrations in Azure AD may constitute a deviation in expected behavior, and therefore a possible indicator of account compromise.
These registrations of applications in Azure AD are evidenced by creations of, as well as assignments of permissions to, Service Principals in Azure AD. Darktrace has detected a growing trend in actors creating and assigning permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. Further investigation of this Azure AD activity revealed it to be part of an ongoing account takeover.
‘PerfectData Software’ Activity
Darktrace observed variations of the following pattern of activity relating to an application named ‘PerfectData Software’ within its customer base:
- Actor signs in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint associated with a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
- Actor registers an application called 'PerfectData Software' with Azure AD, and then grants permissions to the application
- Actor accesses mailbox data and creates inbox rule
In two separate incidents, malicious actors were observed conducting their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services (HideMyAss (HMA) VPN and Surfshark VPN, respectively) and from endpoints within the Autonomous System AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed a malicious actor signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from a Kuwait-based IP address within the Autonomous System, AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o. This IP address is associated with the VPN service, HMA VPN. Over the next couple of days, an actor (likely the same malicious actor) signed in to the account several more times from two different Nigeria-based endpoints, as well as a VPS-related endpoint and a HMA VPN endpoint.
During their login sessions, the actor performed a variety of actions. First, they created and assigned permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. This Service Principal creation represents the registration of an application called ‘PerfectData Software’ in Azure AD. Although the reason for registering this application is unclear, within a few days the actor registered and granted permission to another application, ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’, and created a new inbox rule names ‘s’ on the mailbox of the hijacked account. This inbox rule moved emails meeting certain conditions to a folder named ‘RSS Subscription. The ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’ application was likely registered by the actor to facilitate mass-mailing activity.
Immediately after these actions, Darktrace detected the actor sending out thousands of malicious emails from the account. The emails included an attachment named ‘Credit Transfer Copy.html’, which contained a suspicious link. Further investigation revealed that the customer’s network had received several fake invoice emails prior to this initial intrusion activity. Additionally, there was an unusually high volume of failed logins to the compromised account around the time of the initial access.
In a separate case also observed by Darktrace in March 2023, a malicious actor was observed signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint within the Autonomous System, AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON. The endpoint appears to be related to the VPN service, Surfshark VPN. This login was followed by several failed and successful logins from a VPS-related within the Autonomous System, AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01. The actor was then seen registering and assigning permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’. As with the previous example, the motives for this registration are unclear. The actor proceeded to log in several more times from a Surfshark VPN endpoint, however, they were not observed carrying out any further suspicious activity.
It was not clear in either of these examples, nor in fact any of cases observed by Darktrace, why actors had registered and assigned permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’, and there do not appear to be any open-source intelligence (OSINT) resources or online literature related to the malicious usage of an application by that name. That said, there are several websites which appear to provide email migration and data recovery/backup tools under the moniker ‘PerfectData Software’.
It is unclear whether the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ by malicious actors observed on the networks of Darktrace customers was one of these tools. However, given the nature of the tools, it is possible that the actors intended to use them to facilitate the exfiltration of email data from compromises mailboxes.
If the legitimate software ‘PerfectData’ is the application in question in these incidents, it is likely being purchased and misused by attackers for malicious purposes. It is also possible the application referenced in the incidents is a spoof of the legitimate ‘PerfectData’ software designed to masquerade a malicious application as legitimate.
Cases of ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains detected by Darktrace typically began with an actor signing into an internal user’s Microsoft 365 account from a VPN or VPS-related endpoint. These login events, along with the suspicious email and/or brute-force activity which preceded them, caused the following DETECT models to breach:
- SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use
- SaaS / Access / Suspicious Login Attempt
- SaaS / Compromise / Login From Rare Following Suspicious Login Attempt(s)
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Unusual Location for SaaS and Email Activity
Subsequent activities, including inbox rule creations, registration of applications in Azure AD, and mass-mailing activity, resulted in breaches of the following DETECT models.
- SaaS / Admin / OAuth Permission Grant
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Logic Following OAuth Grant
- SaaS / Admin / New Application Service Principal
- IaaS / Admin / Azure Application Administration Activities
- SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Suspicious Internal Exchange Activity
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Possible Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Suspicious Login and Suspicious Outbound Email(s)
In cases where Darktrace RESPOND™ was enabled in autonomous response mode, ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains resulted in breaches of the following RESPOND models:
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
In response to these model breaches, Darktrace RESPOND took immediate action, performing aggressive, inhibitive actions, such as forcing the actor to log out of the SaaS platform, and disabling the user entirely. When applied autonomously, these RESPOND actions would seriously impede an attacker’s progress and minimize network disruption.
In addition, Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst was able to autonomously investigate registrations of the ‘PerfectData Software’ application and summarized its findings into digestible reports.
Due to the widespread adoption of Microsoft 365 services in the workplace and continued emphasis on a remote workforce, account hijackings now pose a more serious threat to organizations around the world than ever before. The cases discussed here illustrate the tendency of malicious actors to conduct their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services, while also registering new applications, like PerfectData Software, with malicious intent.
While it was unclear exactly why the malicious actors were using ‘PerfectData Software’ as part of their account hijacking, it is clear that either the legitimate or spoofed version of the application is becoming an very likely emergent piece of threat actor tradecraft.
Darktrace DETECT’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to recognize that the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ represented a deviation in the SaaS user’s expected behavior. While Darktrace RESPOND, when enabled in autonomous response mode, was able to quickly take preventative action against threat actors, blocking the potential use of the application for data exfiltration or other nefarious purposes.
MITRE ATT&CK Mapping
• T1598 – Phishing for Information
• T1110 – Brute Force
• T1078.004 – Valid Accounts: Cloud Accounts
Command and Control:
• T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer
• T1098.003 – Account Manipulation: Additional Cloud Roles
• T1114 – Email Collection
• T1564.008 – Hide Artifacts: Email Hiding Rules
• T1534 – Internal Spearphishing
Unusual Source IPs
• 5.62.60[.]202 (AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o.)
• 160.152.10[.]215 (AS37637 Smile-Nigeria-AS)
• 197.244.250[.]155 (AS37705 TOPNET)
• 169.159.92[.]36 (AS37122 SMILE)
• 45.62.170[.]237 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
• 92.38.180[.]49 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A)
• 129.56.36[.]26 (AS327952 AS-NATCOM)
• 92.38.180[.]47 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A.)
• 107.179.20[.]214 (AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON)
• 45.62.170[.]31 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
Darktrace Integrates Self-Learning AI with Amazon Security Lake to Support Security Investigations
Darktrace has deepened its relationship with AWS by integrating its detection and response capabilities with Amazon Security Lake.
This development will allow mutual customers to seamlessly combine Darktrace AI’s bespoke understanding of their organization with the Threat Intelligence offered by other security tools, and investigate all of their alerts in one central location.
This integration will improve the value security teams get from both products, streamlining analyst workflows and improving their ability to detect and respond to the full spectrum of known and unknown cyber-threats.
How Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake augment security teams
Amazon Security Lake is a newly-released service that automatically centralizes an organization’s security data from cloud, on-premises, and custom sources into a customer owned purpose-built data lake. Both Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake support the Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF), an open standard to simplify, combine, and analyze security logs.
Customers can store security logs, events, alerts, and other relevant data generated by various AWS services and security tools. By consolidating security data in a central lake, organizations can gain a holistic view of their security posture, perform advanced analytics, detect anomalies and open investigations to improve their security practices.
With Darktrace DETECT and RESPOND AI engines covering all assets across IT, OT, network, endpoint, IoT, email and cloud, organizations can augment the value of their security data lakes by feeding Darktrace’s rich and context-aware datapoints to Amazon Security Lake.
Amazon Security Lake empowers security teams to improve the protection of your digital estate:
- Quick and painless data normalization
- Fast-tracks ability to investigate, triage and respond to security events
- Broader visibility aids more effective decision-making
- Surfaces and prioritizes anomalies for further investigation
- Single interface for seamless data management
How will Darktrace customers benefit?
Across the Cyber AI Loop, all Darktrace solutions have been architected with AWS best practices in mind. With this integration, Darktrace is bringing together its understanding of ‘self’ for every organization with the centralized data visibility of the Amazon Security Lake. Darktrace’s unique approach to cyber security, powered by groundbreaking AI research, delivers a superior dataset based on a deep and interconnected understanding of the enterprise.
Where other cyber security solutions are trained to identify threats based on historical attack data and techniques, Darktrace DETECT gains a bespoke understanding of every digital environment, continuously analyzing users, assets, devices and the complex relationships between them. Our AI analyzes thousands of metrics to reveal subtle deviations that may signal an evolving issue – even unknown techniques and novel malware. It distinguishes between malicious and benign behavior, identifying harmful activity that typically goes unnoticed. This rich dataset is fed into RESPOND, which takes precise action to neutralize threats against any and every asset, no matter where data resides.
Both DETECT and RESPOND are supported by Darktrace Self-Learning AI, which provides full, real-time visibility into an organization’s systems and data. This always-on threat analysis already makes humans better at cyber security, improving decisions and outcomes based on total visibility of the digital ecosystem, supporting human performance with AI coverage and empowering security teams to proactively protect critical assets.
Converting Darktrace alerts to the Amazon Security Lake Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF) supplies the Security Operations Center (SOC) and incident response team with contextualized data, empowering them to accelerate their investigation, triage and response to potential cyber threats.
Darktrace is available for purchase on the AWS Marketplace.
Learn more about how Darktrace provides full-coverage, AI-powered cloud security for AWS, or see how our customers use Darktrace in their AWS cloud environments.