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Strategies to Prolong Quantum Ransomware Attacks

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26
Oct 2022
26
Oct 2022
Learn more about how Darktrace combats Quantum Ransomware changing strategy for cyberattacks. Explore the power of AI-driven network cyber security!

Within science and engineering, the word ‘quantum’ may spark associations with speed and capability, referencing a superior computer that can perform tasks a classical computer cannot. In cyber security, some may recognize ‘quantum’ in relation to cryptography or, more recently, as the name of a new ransomware group, which achieved network-wide encryption a mere four hours after an initial infection.   

Although this group now has a reputation for carrying out fast and efficient attacks, speed is not their only tactic. In August 2022, Darktrace detected a Quantum Ransomware incident where attackers remained in the victim’s network for almost a month after the initial signs of infection, before detonating ransomware. This was a stark difference to previously reported attacks, demonstrating that as motives change, so do threat actors’ strategies. 

The Quantum Group

Quantum was first identified in August 2021 as the latest of several rebrands of MountLocker ransomware [1]. As part of this rebrand, the extension ‘.quantum’ is appended to filenames that are encrypted and the associated ransom notes are named ‘README_TO_DECRYPT.html’ [2].  

From April 2022, media coverage of this group has increased following a DFIR report detailing an attack that progressed from initial access to domain-wide ransomware within four hours [3]. To put this into perspective, the global median dwell time for ransomware in 2020 and 2021 is 5 days [4]. In the case of Quantum, threat actors gained direct keyboard access to devices merely 2 hours after initial infection. The ransomware was staged on the domain controller around an hour and a half later, and executed 12 minutes after that.   

Quantum’s behaviour bears similarities to other groups, possibly due to their history and recruitment. Several members of the disbanded Conti ransomware group are reported to have joined the Quantum and BumbleBee operations. Security researchers have also identified similarities in the payloads and C2 infrastructure used by these groups [5 & 6].  Notably, these are the IcedID initial payload and Cobalt Strike C2 beacon used in this attack. Darktrace has also observed and prevented IcedID and Cobalt Strike activity from BumbleBee across several customer environments.

The Attack

From 11th July 2022, a device suspected to be patient zero made repeated DNS queries for external hosts that appear to be associated with IcedID C2 traffic [7 & 8]. In several reported cases [9 & 10], this banking trojan is delivered through a phishing email containing a malicious attachment that loads an IcedID DLL. As Darktrace was not deployed in the prospect’s email environment, there was no visibility of the initial access vector, however an example of a phishing campaign containing this payload is presented below. It is also possible that the device was already infected prior to joining the network. 

Figure 1- An example phishing email used to distribute IcedID. If configured, Darktrace/Email would be able to detect that the email was sent from an anomalous sender, was part of a fake reply chain, and had a suspicious attachment containing compressed content of unusual mime type [11].    

 

Figure 2- The DNS queries to endpoints associated with IcedID C2 servers, taken from the infected device’s event log.  Additional DNS queries made to other IcedID C2 servers are in the list of IOCs in the appendices.  The repeated DNS queries are indicative of beaconing.


It was not until 22nd July that activity was seen which indicated the attack had progressed to the next stage of the kill chain. This contrasts the previously seen attacks where the progression to Cobalt Strike C2 beaconing and reconnaissance and lateral movement occurred within 2 hours of the initial infection [12 & 13]. In this case, patient zero initiated numerous unusual connections to other internal devices using a compromised account, connections that were indicative of reconnaissance using built-in Windows utilities:

·      DNS queries for hostnames in the network

·      SMB writes to IPC$ shares of those hostnames queried, binding to the srvsvc named pipe to enumerate things such as SMB shares and services on a device, client access permissions on network shares and users logged in to a remote session

·      DCE-RPC connections to the endpoint mapper service, which enables identification of the ports assigned to a particular RPC service

These connections were initiated using an existing credential on the device and just like the dwelling time, differed from previously reported Quantum group attacks where discovery actions were spawned and performed automatically by the IcedID process [14]. Figure 3 depicts how Darktrace detected that this activity deviated from the device’s normal behaviour.  

Figure 3- This figure displays the spike in active internal connections initiated by patient zero. The coloured dots represent the Darktrace models that were breached, detecting this unusual reconnaissance and lateral movement activity.

Four days later, on the 26th of July, patient zero performed SMB writes of DLL and MSI executables to the C$ shares of internal devices including domain controllers, using a privileged credential not previously seen on the patient zero device. The deviation from normal behaviour that this represents is also displayed in Figure 3. Throughout this activity, patient zero made DNS queries for the external Cobalt Strike C2 server shown in Figure 4. Cobalt Strike has often been seen as a secondary payload delivered via IcedID, due to IcedID’s ability to evade detection and deploy large scale campaigns [15]. It is likely that reconnaissance and lateral movement was performed under instructions received by the Cobalt Strike C2 server.   

Figure 4- This figure is taken from Darktrace’s Advanced Search interface, showing a DNS query for a Cobalt Strike C2 server occurring during SMB writes of .dll files and DCE-RPC requests to the epmapper service, demonstrating reconnaissance and lateral movement.


The SMB writes to domain controllers and usage of a new account suggests that by this stage, the attacker had achieved domain dominance. The attacker also appeared to have had hands-on access to the network via a console; the repetition of the paths ‘programdata\v1.dll’ and ‘ProgramData\v1.dll’, in lower and title case respectively, suggests they were entered manually.  

These DLL files likely contained a copy of the malware that injects into legitimate processes such as winlogon, to perform commands that call out to C2 servers [16]. Shortly after the file transfers, the affected domain controllers were also seen beaconing to external endpoints (‘sezijiru[.]com’ and ‘gedabuyisi[.]com’) that OSINT tools have associated with these DLL files [17 & 18]. Moreover, these SSL connections were made using a default client fingerprint for Cobalt Strike [19], which is consistent with the initial delivery method. To illustrate the beaconing nature of these connections, Figure 5 displays the 4.3 million daily SSL connections to one of the C2 servers during the attack. The 100,000 most recent connections were initiated by 11 unique source IP addresses alone.

Figure 5- The Advanced Search interface, querying for external SSL connections from devices in the network to an external host that appears to be a Cobalt Strike C2 server. 4.3 million connections were made over 8 days, even after the ransomware was eventually detonated on 2022-08-03.


Shortly after the writes, the attack progressed to the penultimate stage. The next day, on the 27th of July, the attackers moved to achieve their first objective: data exfiltration. Data exfiltration is not always performed by the Quantum ransomware gang. Researchers have noted discrepancies between claims of data theft made in their ransom notes versus the lack of data seen leaving the network, although this may have been missed due to covert exfiltration via a Cobalt Strike beacon [20]. 

In contrast, this attack displayed several gigabytes of data leaving internal devices including servers that had previously beaconed to Cobalt Strike C2 servers. This data was transferred overtly via FTP, however the attacker still attempted to conceal the activity using ephemeral ports (FTP in EPSV mode). FTP is an effective method for attackers to exfiltrate large files as it is easy to use, organizations often neglect to monitor outbound usage, and it can be shipped through ports that will not be blocked by traditional firewalls [21].   

Figure 6 displays an example of the FTP data transfer to attacker-controlled infrastructure, in which the destination share appears structured to identify the organization that the data was stolen from, suggesting there may be other victim organizations’ data stored. This suggests that data exfiltration was an intended outcome of this attack. 

Figure 6- This figure is from Darktrace’s Advanced Search interface, displaying some of the data transferred from an internal device to the attacker’s FTP server.

 
Data was continuously exfiltrated until a week later when the final stage of the attack was achieved and Quantum ransomware was detonated. Darktrace detected the following unusual SMB activity initiated from the attacker-created account that is a hallmark for ransomware (see Figure 7 for example log):

·      Symmetric SMB Read to Write ratio, indicative of active encryption

·      Sustained MIME type conversion of files, with the extension ‘.quantum’ appended to filenames

·      SMB writes of a ransom note ‘README_TO_DECRYPT.html’ (see Figure 8 for an example note)

Figure 7- The Model Breach Event Log for a device that had files encrypted by Quantum ransomware, showing the reads and writes of files with ‘.quantum’ appended to encrypted files, and an HTML ransom note left where the files were encrypted.

 

Figure 8- An example of the ransom note left by the Quantum gang, this one is taken from open-sources [22].


The example in Figure 8 mentions that the attacker also possessed large volumes of victim data.  It is likely that the gigabytes of data exfiltrated over FTP were leveraged as blackmail to further extort the victim organization for payment.  

Darktrace Coverage

 

Figure 9- Timeline of Quantum ransomware incident


If Darktrace/Email was deployed in the prospect’s environment, the initial payload (if delivered through a phishing email) could have been detected and held from the recipient’s inbox. Although DETECT identified anomalous network behaviour at each stage of the attack, since the incident occurred during a trial phase where Darktrace could only detect but not respond, the attack was able to progress through the kill chain. If RESPOND/Network had been configured in the targeted environment, the unusual connections observed during the initial access, C2, reconnaissance and lateral movement stages of the attack could have been blocked. This would have prevented the attackers from delivering the later stage payloads and eventual ransomware into the target network.

It is often thought that a properly implemented backup strategy is sufficient defense against ransomware [23], however as discussed in a previous Darktrace blog, the increasing frequency of double extortion attacks in a world where ‘data is the new oil’ demonstrates that backups alone are not a mitigation for the risk of a ransomware attack [24]. Equally, the lack of preventive defenses in the target’s environment enabled the attacker’s riskier decision to dwell in the network for longer and allowed them to optimize their potential reward. 

Recent crackdowns from law enforcement on ransomware groups have shifted these groups’ approaches to aim for a balance between low risk and significant financial rewards [25]. However, given the Quantum gang only have a 5% market share in Q2 2022, compared to the 13.2% held by LockBit and 16.9% held by BlackCat [26], a riskier strategy may be favourable, as a longer dwell time and double extortion outcome offers a ‘belt and braces’ approach to maximizing the rewards from carrying out this attack. Alternatively, the gaps in-between the attack stages may imply that more than one player was involved in this attack, although this group has not been reported to operate a franchise model before [27]. Whether assisted by others or driving for a risk approach, it is clear that Quantum (like other actors) are continuing to adapt to ensure their financial success. They will continue to be successful until organizations dedicate themselves to ensuring that the proper data protection and network security measures are in place. 

Conclusion 

Ransomware has evolved over time and groups have merged and rebranded. However, this incident of Quantum ransomware demonstrates that regardless of the capability to execute a full attack within hours, prolonging an attack to optimize potential reward by leveraging double extortion tactics is sometimes still the preferred action. The pattern of network activity mirrors the techniques used in other Quantum attacks, however this incident lacked the continuous progression of the group’s attacks reported recently and may represent a change of motives during the process. Knowing that attacker motives can change reinforces the need for organizations to invest in preventative controls- an organization may already be too far down the line if it is executing its backup contingency plans. Darktrace DETECT/Network had visibility over both the early network-based indicators of compromise and the escalation to the later stages of this attack. Had Darktrace also been allowed to respond, this case of Quantum ransomware would also have had a very short dwell time, but a far better outcome for the victim.

Thanks to Steve Robinson for his contributions to this blog.

Appendices

References

[1] https://community.ibm.com/community/user/security/blogs/tristan-reed/2022/07/13/ibm-security-reaqta-vs-quantum-locker-ransomware

 

[2] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/quantum-ransomware-seen-deployed-in-rapid-network-attacks/

 

[3], [12], [14], [16], [20] https://thedfirreport.com/2022/04/25/quantum-ransomware/

 

[4] https://www.mandiant.com/sites/default/files/2022-04/M-Trends%202022%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

 

[5] https://cyware.com/news/over-650-healthcare-organizations-affected-by-the-quantum-ransomware-attack-d0e776bb/

 

[6] https://www.kroll.com/en/insights/publications/cyber/bumblebee-loader-linked-conti-used-in-quantum-locker-attacks

 

[7] https://github.com/pan-unit42/tweets/blob/master/2022-06-28-IOCs-for-TA578-IcedID-Cobalt-Strike-and-DarkVNC.txt 

 

[8] https://github.com/stamparm/maltrail/blob/master/trails/static/malware/icedid.txt

 

[9], [15] https://www.cynet.com/blog/shelob-moonlight-spinning-a-larger-web-from-icedid-to-conti-a-trojan-and-ransomware-collaboration/

 

[10] https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2021/04/09/investigating-a-unique-form-of-email-delivery-for-icedid-malware/

 

[11] https://twitter.com/0xToxin/status/1564289244084011014

 

[13], [27] https://cybernews.com/security/quantum-ransomware-gang-fast-and-furious/

 

[17] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/gedabuyisi.com/relations

 

[18] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/sezijiru.com/relations.

 

[19] https://github.com/ByteSecLabs/ja3-ja3s-combo/blob/master/master-list.txt 

 

[21] https://www.darkreading.com/perimeter/ftp-hacking-on-the-rise

 

[22] https://www.pcrisk.com/removal-guides/23352-quantum-ransomware

 

[23] https://www.cohesity.com/resource-assets/tip-sheet/5-ways-ransomware-renders-backup-useless-tip-sheet-en.pdf

 

[24] https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishatalagala/2022/03/02/data-as-the-new-oil-is-not-enough-four-principles-for-avoiding-data-fires/ 

 

[25] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/access-to-hacked-corporate-networks-still-strong-but-sales-fall/

 

[26] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/ransom-payments-fall-as-fewer-victims-choose-to-pay-hackers/ 

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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Nicole Wong
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Safeguarding Distribution Centers in the Digital Age

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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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Daniel Simonds
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Inside the SOC

Medusa Ransomware: Looking Cyber Threats in the Eye with Darktrace

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Jun 2024

What is Living off the Land attack?

In the face of increasingly vigilant security teams and adept defense tools, attackers are continually looking for new ways to circumvent network security and gain access to their target environments. One common tactic is the leveraging of readily available utilities and services within a target organization’s environment in order to move through the kill chain; a popular method known as living off the land (LotL). Rather than having to leverage known malicious tools or write their own malware, attackers are able to easily exploit the existing infrastructure of their targets.

The Medusa ransomware group in particular are known to extensively employ LotL tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) in their attacks, as one Darktrace customer in the US discovered in early 2024.

What is Medusa Ransomware?

Medusa ransomware (not to be confused with MedusaLocker) was first observed in the wild towards the end of 2022 and has been a popular ransomware strain amongst threat actors since 2023 [1]. Medusa functions as a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) platform, providing would-be attackers, also know as affiliates, with malicious software and infrastructure required to carry out disruptive ransomware attacks. The ransomware is known to target organizations across many different industries and countries around the world, including healthcare, education, manufacturing and retail, with a particular focus on the US [2].

How does medusa ransomware work?

Medusa affiliates are known to employ a number of TTPs to propagate their malware, most prodominantly gaining initial access by exploiting vulnerable internet-facing assets and targeting valid local and domain accounts that are used for system administration.

The ransomware is typically delivered via phishing and spear phishing campaigns containing malicious attachments [3] [4], but it has also been observed using initial access brokers to access target networks [5]. In terms of the LotL strategies employed in Medusa compromises, affiliates are often observed leveraging legitimate services like the ConnectWise remote monitoring and management (RMM) software and PDQ Deploy, in order to evade the detection of security teams who may be unable to distinguish the activity from normal or expected network traffic [2].

According to researchers, Medusa has a public Telegram channel that is used by threat actors to post any data that may have been stolen, likely in an attempt to extort organizations and demand payment [2].  

Darktrace’s Coverage of Medusa Ransomware

Established Foothold and C2 activity

In March 2024, Darktrace /NETWORK identified over 80 devices, including an internet facing domain controller, on a customer network performing an unusual number of activities that were indicative of an emerging ransomware attack. The suspicious behavior started when devices were observed making HTTP connections to the two unusual endpoints, “wizarr.manate[.]ch” and “go-sw6-02.adventos[.]de”, with the PowerShell and JWrapperDownloader user agents.

Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ launched an autonomous investigation into the connections and was able to connect the seemingly separate events into one wider incident spanning multiple different devices. This allowed the customer to visualize the activity in chronological order and gain a better understanding of the scope of the attack.

At this point, given the nature and rarity of the observed activity, Darktrace /NETWORK's autonomous response would have been expected to take autonomous action against affected devices, blocking them from making external connections to suspicious locations. However, autonomous response was not configured to take autonomous action at the time of the attack, meaning any mitigative actions had to be manually approved by the customer’s security team.

Internal Reconnaissance

Following these extensive HTTP connections, between March 1 and 7, Darktrace detected two devices making internal connection attempts to other devices, suggesting network scanning activity. Furthermore, Darktrace identified one of the devices making a connection with the URI “/nice ports, /Trinity.txt.bak”, indicating the use of the Nmap vulnerability scanning tool. While Nmap is primarily used legitimately by security teams to perform security audits and discover vulnerabilities that require addressing, it can also be leveraged by attackers who seek to exploit this information.

Darktrace / NETWORK model alert showing the URI “/nice ports, /Trinity.txt.bak”, indicating the use of Nmap.
Figure 1: Darktrace /NETWORK model alert showing the URI “/nice ports, /Trinity.txt.bak”, indicating the use of Nmap.

Darktrace observed actors using multiple credentials, including “svc-ndscans”, which was also seen alongside DCE-RPC activity that took place on March 1. Affected devices were also observed making ExecQuery and ExecMethod requests for IWbemServices. ExecQuery is commonly utilized to execute WMI Query Language (WQL) queries that allow the retrieval of information from WI, including system information or hardware details, while ExecMethod can be used by attackers to gather detailed information about a targeted system and its running processes, as well as a tool for lateral movement.

Lateral Movement

A few hours after the first observed scanning activity on March 1, Darktrace identified a chain of administrative connections between multiple devices, including the aforementioned internet-facing server.

Cyber AI Analyst was able to connect these administrative connections and separate them into three distinct ‘hops’, i.e. the number of administrative connections made from device A to device B, including any devices leveraged in between. The AI Analyst investigation was also able to link the previously detailed scanning activity to these administrative connections, identifying that the same device was involved in both cases.

Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the chain of lateral movement activity.
Figure 2: Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the chain of lateral movement activity.

On March 7, the internet exposed server was observed transferring suspicious files over SMB to multiple internal devices. This activity was identified as unusual by Darktrace compared to the device's normal SMB activity, with an unusual number of executable (.exe) and srvsvc files transferred targeting the ADMIN$ and IPC$ shares.

Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the suspicious SMB write activity.
Figure 3: Cyber AI Analyst investigation into the suspicious SMB write activity.
Graph highlighting the number of successful SMB writes and the associated model alerts.
Figure 4: Graph highlighting the number of successful SMB writes and the associated model alerts.

The threat actor was also seen writing SQLite3*.dll files over SMB using a another credential this time. These files likely contained the malicious payload that resulted in the customer’s files being encrypted with the extension “.s3db”.

Darktrace’s visibility over an affected device performing successful SMB writes.
Figure 5: Darktrace’s visibility over an affected device performing successful SMB writes.

Encryption of Files

Finally, Darktrace observed the malicious actor beginning to encrypt and delete files on the customer’s environment. More specifically, the actor was observed using credentials previously seen on the network to encrypt files with the aforementioned “.s3db” extension.

Darktrace’s visibility over the encrypted files.
Figure 6: Darktrace’s visibility over the encrypted files.


After that, Darktrace observed the attacker encrypting  files and appending them with the extension “.MEDUSA” while also dropping a ransom note with the file name “!!!Read_me_Medusa!!!.txt”

Darktrace’s detection of threat actors deleting files with the extension “.MEDUSA”.
Figure 7: Darktrace’s detection of threat actors deleting files with the extension “.MEDUSA”.
Darktrace’s detection of the Medusa ransom note.
Figure 8: Darktrace’s detection of the Medusa ransom note.

At the same time as these events, Darktrace observed the attacker utilizing a number of LotL techniques including SSL connections to “services.pdq[.]tools”, “teamviewer[.]com” and “anydesk[.]com”. While the use of these legitimate services may have bypassed traditional security tools, Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach enabled it to detect the activity and distinguish it from ‘normal’’ network activity. It is highly likely that these SSL connections represented the attacker attempting to exfiltrate sensitive data from the customer’s network, with a view to using it to extort the customer.

Cyber AI Analyst’s detection of “services.pdq[.]tools” usage.
Figure 9: Cyber AI Analyst’s detection of “services.pdq[.]tools” usage.

If this customer had been subscribed to Darktrace's Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service at the time of the attack, they would have been promptly notified of these suspicious activities by the Darktrace Security Operation Center (SOC). In this way they could have been aware of the suspicious activities taking place in their infrastructure before the escalation of the compromise. Despite this, they were able to receive assistance through the Ask the Expert service (ATE) whereby Darktrace’s expert analyst team was on hand to assist the customer by triaging and investigating the incident further, ensuring the customer was well equipped to remediate.  

As Darktrace /NETWORK's autonomous response was not enabled in autonomous response mode, this ransomware attack was able to progress to the point of encryption and data exfiltration. Had autonomous response been properly configured to take autonomous action, Darktrace would have blocked all connections by affected devices to both internal and external endpoints, as well as enforcing a previously established “pattern of life” on the device to stop it from deviating from its expected behavior.

Conclusion

The threat actors in this Medusa ransomware attack attempted to utilize LotL techniques in order to bypass human security teams and traditional security tools. By exploiting trusted systems and tools, like Nmap and PDQ Deploy, attackers are able to carry out malicious activity under the guise of legitimate network traffic.

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI, however, allows it to recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that tend to be indicative of compromise, regardless of whether it appears legitimate or benign on the surface.

Further to the detection of the individual events that made up this ransomware attack, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst was able to correlate the activity and collate it under one wider incident. This allowed the customer to track the compromise and its attack phases from start to finish, ensuring they could obtain a holistic view of their digital environment and remediate effectively.

Credit to Maria Geronikolou, Cyber Analyst, Ryan Traill, Threat Content Lead

Appendices

Darktrace DETECT Model Detections

Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration

Device / Anomalous SMB Followed By Multiple Model Alerts

Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity

Device / Attack and Recon Tools

Device / Suspicious File Writes to Multiple Hidden SMB Share

Compromise / Ransomware / Ransom or Offensive Words Written to SMB

Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

Device / Network Scan

Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External

Device / New PowerShell User Agent

Possible HTTP Command and Control

Extensive Suspicious DCE-RPC Activity

Possible SSL Command and Control to Multiple Endpoints

Suspicious Remote WMI Activity

Scanning of Multiple Devices

Possible Ransom Note Accessed over SMB

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoC – Type – Description + Confidence

207.188.6[.]17      -     IP address   -      C2 Endpoint

172.64.154[.]227 - IP address -        C2 Endpoint

wizarr.manate[.]ch  - Hostname -       C2 Endpoint

go-sw6-02.adventos[.]de.  Hostname  - C2 Endpoint

.MEDUSA             -        File extension     - Extension to encrypted files

.s3db               -             File extension    -  Created file extension

SQLite3-64.dll    -        File           -               Used tool

!!!Read_me_Medusa!!!.txt - File -   Ransom note

Svc-ndscans         -         Credential     -     Possible compromised credential

Svc-NinjaRMM      -       Credential      -     Possible compromised credential

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Discovery  - File and Directory Discovery - T1083

Reconnaissance    -  Scanning IP            -          T1595.001

Reconnaissance -  Vulnerability Scanning -  T1595.002

Lateral Movement -Exploitation of Remote Service -  T1210

Lateral Movement - Exploitation of Remote Service -   T1210

Lateral Movement  -  SMB/Windows Admin Shares     -    T1021.002

Lateral Movement   -  Taint Shared Content          -            T1080

Execution   - PowerShell     - T1059.001

Execution  -   Service Execution   -    T1059.002

Impact   -    Data Encrypted for Impact  -  T1486

References

[1] https://unit42.paloaltonetworks.com/medusa-ransomware-escalation-new-leak-site/

[2] https://thehackernews.com/2024/01/medusa-ransomware-on-rise-from-data.html

[3] https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/trustwave-blog/unveiling-the-latest-ransomware-threats-targeting-the-casino-and-entertainment-industry/

[4] https://www.sangfor.com/farsight-labs-threat-intelligence/cybersecurity/security-advisory-for-medusa-ransomware

[5] https://thehackernews.com/2024/01/medusa-ransomware-on-rise-from-data.html

[6]https://any.run/report/8be3304fec9d41d44012213ddbb28980d2570edeef3523b909af2f97768a8d85/e4c54c9d-12fd-477f-8cbb-a20f8fb98912

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About the author
Maria Geronikolou
Cyber Analyst
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