Inside the SOC

Steps of a BumbleBee Intrusion to a Cobalt Strike| Darktrace

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Sep 2022
Sep 2022
Discover the steps of a Bumblebee intrusion, from initial detection to Cobalt Strike deployment. Learn how Darktrace defends against evolving threats with AI.


Throughout April 2022, Darktrace observed several cases in which threat actors used the loader known as ‘BumbleBee’ to install Cobalt Strike Beacon onto victim systems. The threat actors then leveraged Cobalt Strike Beacon to conduct network reconnaissance, obtain account password data, and write malicious payloads across the network. In this article, we will provide details of the actions threat actors took during their intrusions, as well as details of the network-based behaviours which served as evidence of the actors’ activities.  


In March 2022, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) provided details of the activities of an Initial Access Broker (IAB) group dubbed ‘Exotic Lily’ [1]. Before March 2022, Google’s TAG observed Exotic Lily leveraging sophisticated impersonation techniques to trick employees of targeted organisations into downloading ISO disc image files from legitimate file storage services such as WeTransfer. These ISO files contained a Windows shortcut LNK file and a BazarLoader Dynamic Link Library (i.e, DLL). BazarLoader is a member of the Bazar family — a family of malware (including both BazarLoader and BazarBackdoor) with strong ties to the Trickbot malware, the Anchor malware family, and Conti ransomware. BazarLoader, which is typically distributed via email campaigns or via fraudulent call campaigns, has been known to drop Cobalt Strike as a precursor to Conti ransomware deployment [2]. 

In March 2022, Google’s TAG observed Exotic Lily leveraging file storage services to distribute an ISO file containing a DLL which, when executed, caused the victim machine to make HTTP requests with the user-agent string ‘bumblebee’. Google’s TAG consequently called this DLL payload ‘BumbleBee’. Since Google’s discovery of BumbleBee back in March, several threat research teams have reported BumbleBee samples dropping Cobalt Strike [1]/[3]/[4]/[5]. It has also been reported by Proofpoint [3] that other threat actors such as TA578 and TA579 transitioned to BumbleBee in March 2022.  

Interestingly, BazarLoader’s replacement with BumbleBee seems to coincide with the leaking of the Conti ransomware gang’s Jabber chat logs at the end of February 2022. On February 25th, 2022, the Conti gang published a blog post announcing their full support for the Russian state’s invasion of Ukraine [6]. 

Figure 1: The Conti gang's public declaration of their support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Within days of sharing their support for Russia, logs from a server hosting the group’s Jabber communications began to be leaked on Twitter by @ContiLeaks [7]. The leaked logs included records of conversations among nearly 500 threat actors between Jan 2020 and March 2022 [8]. The Jabber logs were supposedly stolen and leaked by a Ukrainian security researcher [3]/[6].

Affiliates of the Conti ransomware group were known to use BazarLoader to deliver Conti ransomware [9]. BumbleBee has now also been linked to the Conti ransomware group by several threat research teams [1]/[10]/[11]. The fact that threat actors’ transition from BazarLoader to BumbleBee coincides with the leak of Conti’s Jabber chat logs may indicate that the transition occurred as a result of the leaks [3]. Since the transition, BumbleBee has become a significant tool in the cyber-crime ecosystem, with links to several ransomware operations such as Conti, Quantum, and Mountlocker [11]. The rising use of BumbleBee by threat actors, and particularly ransomware actors, makes the early detection of BumbleBee key to identifying the preparatory stages of ransomware attacks.  

Intrusion Kill Chain 

In April 2022, Darktrace observed the following pattern of threat actor activity within the networks of several Darktrace clients: 

1.     Threat actor socially engineers user via email into running a BumbleBee payload on their device

2.     BumbleBee establishes HTTPS communication with a BumbleBee C2 server

3.     Threat actor instructs BumbleBee to download and execute Cobalt Strike Beacon

4.     Cobalt Strike Beacon establishes HTTPS communication with a Cobalt Strike C2 server

5.     Threat actor instructs Cobalt Strike Beacon to scan for open ports and to enumerate network shares

6.     Threat actor instructs Cobalt Strike Beacon to use the DCSync technique to obtain password account data from an internal domain controller

7.     Threat actor instructs Cobalt Strike Beacon to distribute malicious payloads to other internal systems 

With limited visibility over affected clients’ email environments, Darktrace was unable to determine how the threat actors interacted with users to initiate the BumbleBee infection. However, based on open-source reporting on BumbleBee [3]/[4]/[10]/[11]/[12]/[13]/[14]/[15]/[16]/[17], it is likely that the actors tricked target users into running BumbleBee by sending them emails containing either a malicious zipped ISO file or a link to a file storage service hosting the malicious zipped ISO file. These ISO files typically contain a LNK file and a BumbleBee DLL payload. The properties of these LNK files are set in such a way that opening them causes the corresponding DLL payload to run. 

In several cases observed by Darktrace, devices contacted a file storage service such as Microsoft OneDrive or Google Cloud Storage immediately before they displayed signs of BumbleBee infection. In these cases, it is likely that BumbleBee was executed on the users’ devices as a result of the users interacting with an ISO file which they were tricked into downloading from a file storage service. 

Figure 2: The above figure, taken from the event log for an infected device, shows that the device contacted a OneDrive endpoint immediately before making HTTPS connections to the BumbleBee C2 server, 45.140.146[.]244
Figure 3: The above figure, taken from the event log for an infected device, shows that the device contacted a Google Cloud Storage endpoint and then the malicious endpoint ‘marebust[.]com’ before making HTTPS connections to the  BumbleBee C2 servers, 108.62.118[.]61 and 23.227.198[.]217

After users ran a BumbleBee payload, their devices immediately initiated communications with BumbleBee C2 servers. The BumbleBee samples used HTTPS for their C2 communication, and all presented a common JA3 client fingerprint, ‘0c9457ab6f0d6a14fc8a3d1d149547fb’. All analysed samples excluded domain names in their ‘client hello’ messages to the C2 servers, which is unusual for legitimate HTTPS communication. External SSL connections which do not specify a destination domain name and whose JA3 client fingerprint is ‘0c9457ab6f0d6a14fc8a3d1d149547fb’ are potential indicators of BumbleBee infection. 

Figure 4:The above figure, taken from Darktrace's Advanced Search interface, depicts an infected device's spike in HTTPS connections with the JA3 client fingerprint ‘0c9457ab6f0d6a14fc8a3d1d149547fb’

Once the threat actors had established HTTPS communication with the BumbleBee-infected systems, they instructed BumbleBee to download and execute Cobalt Strike Beacon. This behaviour resulted in the infected systems making HTTPS connections to Cobalt Strike C2 servers. The Cobalt Strike Beacon samples all had the same JA3 client fingerprint ‘a0e9f5d64349fb13191bc781f81f42e1’ — a fingerprint associated with previously seen Cobalt Strike samples [18]. The domain names ‘fuvataren[.]com’ and ‘cuhirito[.]com’ were observed in the samples’ HTTPS communications. 

Figure 5:The above figure, taken from Darktrace's Advanced Search interface, depicts the Cobalt Strike C2 communications which immediately followed a device's BumbleBee C2 activity

Cobalt Strike Beacon payloads call home to C2 servers for instructions. In the cases observed, threat actors first instructed the Beacon payloads to perform reconnaissance tasks, such as SMB port scanning and SMB enumeration. It is likely that the threat actors performed these steps to inform the next stages of their operations.  The SMB enumeration activity was evidenced by the infected devices making NetrShareEnum and NetrShareGetInfo requests to the srvsvc RPC interface on internal systems.

Figure 6: The above figure, taken from Darktrace’s Advanced Search interface, depicts a spike in srvsvc requests coinciding with the infected device's Cobalt Strike C2 activity

After providing Cobalt Strike Beacon with reconnaissance tasks, the threat actors set out to obtain account password data in preparation for the lateral movement phase of their operation. To obtain account password data, the actors instructed Cobalt Strike Beacon to use the DCSync technique to replicate account password data from an internal domain controller. This activity was evidenced by the infected devices making DRSGetNCChanges requests to the drsuapi RPC interface on internal domain controllers. 

Figure 7: The above figure, taken from Darktrace’s Advanced Search interface, depicts a spike in DRSGetNCChanges requests coinciding with the infected device’s Cobalt Strike C2 activity

After leveraging the DCSync technique, the threat actors sought to broaden their presence within the targeted networks.  To achieve this, they instructed Cobalt Strike Beacon to get several specially selected internal systems to run a suspiciously named DLL (‘f.dll’). Cobalt Strike first established SMB sessions with target systems using compromised account credentials. During these sessions, Cobalt Strike uploaded the malicious DLL to a hidden network share. To execute the DLL, Cobalt Strike abused the Windows Service Control Manager (SCM) to remotely control and manipulate running services on the targeted internal hosts. Cobalt Strike first opened a binding handle to the svcctl interface on the targeted destination systems. It then went on to make an OpenSCManagerW request, a CreateServiceA request, and a StartServiceA request to the svcctl interface on the targeted hosts: 

·      Bind request – opens a binding handle to the relevant RPC interface (in this case, the svcctl interface) on the destination device

·      OpenSCManagerW request – establishes a connection to the Service Control Manager (SCM) on the destination device and opens a specified SCM database

·      CreateServiceA request – creates a service object and adds it to the specified SCM database 

·      StartServiceA request – starts a specified service

Figure 8: The above figure, taken from Darktrace’s Advanced Search interface, outlines an infected system’s lateral movement activities. After writing a file named ‘f.dll’ to the C$ share on an internal server, the infected device made several RPC requests to the svcctl interface on the targeted server

It is likely that the DLL file which the threat actors distributed was a Cobalt Strike payload. In one case, however, the threat actor was also seen distributing and executing a payload named ‘procdump64.exe’. This may suggest that the threat actor was seeking to use ProcDump to obtain authentication material stored in the process memory of the Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS). Given that ProcDump is a legitimate Windows Sysinternals tool primarily used for diagnostics and troubleshooting, it is likely that threat actors leveraged it in order to evade detection. 

In all the cases which Darktrace observed, threat actors’ attempts to conduct follow-up activities after moving laterally were thwarted with the help of Darktrace’s SOC team. It is likely that the threat actors responsible for the reported activities were seeking to deploy ransomware within the targeted networks. The steps which the threat actors took to make progress towards achieving this objective resulted in highly unusual patterns of network traffic. Darktrace’s detection of these unusual network activities allowed security teams to prevent these threat actors from achieving their disruptive objectives. 

Darktrace Coverage

Once threat actors succeeded in tricking users into running BumbleBee on their devices, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI immediately detected the command-and-control (C2) activity generated by the loader. BumbleBee’s C2 activity caused the following Darktrace models to breach:

·      Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External

·      Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Self-Signed SSL

·      Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed

·      Compromise / Suspicious TLS Beaconing To Rare External

·      Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint

·      Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase

·      Compromise / Suspicious TLS Beaconing To Rare External

·      Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination

·      Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections

·      Device / Multiple C2 Model Breaches 

BumbleBee’s delivery of Cobalt Strike Beacon onto target systems resulted in those systems communicating with Cobalt Strike C2 servers. Cobalt Strike Beacon’s C2 communications resulted in breaches of the following models: 

·      Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score

·      Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections

·      Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase

·      Compromise / SSL or HTTP Beacon

·      Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination 

The threat actors’ subsequent port scanning and SMB enumeration activities caused the following models to breach:

·      Device / Network Scan

·      Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration

·      Device / Possible SMB/NTLM Reconnaissance

·      Device / Suspicious Network Scan Activity  

The threat actors’ attempts to obtain account password data from domain controllers using the DCSync technique resulted in breaches of the following models: 

·      Compromise / Unusual SMB Session and DRS

·      Anomalous Connection / Anomalous DRSGetNCChanges Operation

Finally, the threat actors’ attempts to internally distribute and execute payloads resulted in breaches of the following models:

·      Compliance / SMB Drive Write

·      Device / Lateral Movement and C2 Activity

·      Device / SMB Lateral Movement

·      Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches

·      Anomalous File / Internal / Unusual SMB Script Write

·      Anomalous File / Internal / Unusual Internal EXE File Transfer

·      Anomalous Connection / High Volume of New or Uncommon Service Control

If Darktrace/Network had been configured in the targeted environments, then it would have blocked BumbleBee’s C2 communications, which would have likely prevented the threat actors from delivering Cobalt Strike Beacon into the target networks. 

Figure 9: Attack timeline


Threat actors use loaders to smuggle more harmful payloads into target networks. Prior to March 2022, it was common to see threat actors using the BazarLoader loader to transfer their payloads into target environments. However, since the public disclosure of the Conti gang’s Jabber chat logs at the end of February, the cybersecurity world has witnessed a shift in tradecraft. Threat actors have seemingly transitioned from using BazarLoader to using a novel loader known as ‘BumbleBee’. Since BumbleBee first made an appearance in March 2022, a growing number of threat actors, in particular ransomware actors, have been observed using it.

It is likely that this trend will continue, which makes the detection of BumbleBee activity vital for the prevention of ransomware deployment within organisations’ networks. During April, Darktrace’s SOC team observed a particular pattern of threat actor activity involving the BumbleBee loader. After tricking users into running BumbleBee on their devices, threat actors were seen instructing BumbleBee to drop Cobalt Strike Beacon. Threat actors then leveraged Cobalt Strike Beacon to conduct network reconnaissance, obtain account password data from internal domain controllers, and distribute malicious payloads internally.  Darktrace’s detection of these activities prevented the threat actors from achieving their likely harmful objectives.  

Thanks to Ross Ellis for his contributions to this blog.





















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.
Sam Lister
SOC Analyst
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Inside the SOC

A Busy Agenda: Darktrace’s Detection of Qilin Ransomware-as-a-Service Operator

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Jul 2024

Qilin ransomware has recently dominated discussions across the cyber security landscape following its deployment in an attack on Synnovis, a UK-based medical laboratory company. The ransomware attack ultimately affected patient services at multiple National Health Service (NHS) hospitals that rely on Synnovis diagnostic and pathology services. Qilin’s origins, however, date back further to October 2022 when the group was observed seemingly posting leaked data from its first known victim on its Dedicated Leak Site (DLS) under the name Agenda[1].

The Darktrace Threat Research team investigated network artifacts related to Qilin and identified three probable cases of the ransomware across the Darktrace customer base between June 2022 and May 2024.

Qilin Ransomware-as-a-Service Operator

Qilin operates as a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) that employs double extortion tactics, whereby harvested data is exfiltrated and threatened of publication on the group's DLS, which is hosted on Tor. Qilin ransomware has samples written in both the Golang and Rust programming languages, making it compilable with various operating systems, and is highly customizable. When building Qilin ransomware variants to be used on their target(s), affiliates can configure settings such as the encryption mode (i.e., skip-step, percent, and speed), the file extension being appended, files, extensions and directories to be skipped during the encryption, and the processes and services to be terminated, among others[1] [2].  

Trend Micro analysts, who were the first to discover Qilin samples in August 2022, when the name "Agenda" was still used in ransom notes, found that each analyzed sample was customized for the intended victims and that "unique company IDs were used as extensions of encrypted files" [3]. This information is configurable from within the Qilin's affiliate panel's 'Targets' section, shown below. The panel's background image features the eponym Chinese legendary chimerical creature Qilin (pronounced “Ke Lin”). Despite this Chinese mythology reference, Russian language was observed being used by a Qilin operator in an underground forum post aimed at hiring affiliates and advertising their RaaS operation[2].

Figure 1: Qilin ransomware’s affiliate panel.

Qilin's RaaS program purportedly has an attractive affiliates' payment structure, with affiliates allegedly able to earn 80% of ransom payments of USD 3m or less and 85% for payments above that figure[2], making it a possibly appealing option in the RaaS ecosystem.  Publication of stolen data and ransom payment negotiations are purportedly handled by Qilin operators. Qilin affiliates have been known to target companies located around the world and within a variety of industries, including critical sectors such as healthcare and energy.

As Qilin is a RaaS operation, the choice of targets does not necessarily reflect Qilin operators' intentions, but rather that of its affiliates.  Similarly, the tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs) and indicators of compromise (IoC) identified by Darktrace are associated with the given affiliate deploying Qilin ransomware for their own purpose, rather than TTPs and IoCs of the Qilin group. Likewise, initial vectors of infection may vary from affiliate to affiliate. Previous studies show that initial access to networks were gained via spear phishing emails or by leveraging exposed applications and interfaces.

Differences have been observed in terms of data exfiltration and potential C2 external endpoints, suggesting the below investigations are not all related to the same group or actor(s).

Darktrace’s Threat Research Investigation

June 2022

Darktrace first detected an instance of Qilin ransomware back in June 2022, when an attacker was observed successfully accessing a customer’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) and compromising an administrative account, before using RDP to gain access to the customer’s Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) server

From there, an attack against the customer's VMware ESXi hosts was launched. Fortunately, a reboot of their virtual machines (VM) caught the attention of the security team who further uncovered that custom profiles had been created and remote scripts executed to change root passwords on their VM hosts. Three accounts were found to have been compromised and three systems encrypted by ransomware.  

Unfortunately, Darktrace was not configured to monitor the affected subnets at the time of the attack. Despite this, the customer was able to work directly with Darktrace analysts via the Ask the Expert (ATE) service to add the subnets in question to Darktrace’s visibility, allowing it to monitor for any further unusual behavior.

Once visibility over the compromised SCCM server was established, Darktrace observed a series of unusual network scanning activities and the use of Kali (a Linux distribution designed for digital forensics and penetration testing). Furthermore, the server was observed making connections to multiple rare external hosts, many using the “[.]ru” Top Level Domain (TLD). One of the external destinations the server was attempting to connect was found to be related to SystemBC, a malware that turns infected hosts into SOCKS5 proxy bots and provides command-and-control (C2) functionality.

Additionally, the server was observed making external connections over ports 993 and 143 (typically associated with the use of the Interactive Message Access Protocol (IMAP) to multiple rare external endpoints. This was likely due to the presence of Tofsee malware on the device.

After the compromise had been contained, Darktrace identified several ransom notes following the naming convention “README-RECOVER-<extension/company_id>.txt”” on the network. This naming convention, as well as the similar “<company_id>-RECOVER-README.txt” have been referenced by open-source intelligence (OSINT) providers as associated with Qilin ransom notes[5] [6] [7].

April 2023

The next case of Qilin ransomware observed by Darktrace took place in April 2023 on the network of a customer in the manufacturing sector in APAC. Unfortunately for the customer in this instance, Darktrace RESPOND™ was not active on their environment and no autonomous response actions were taken to contain the compromise.

Over the course of two days, Darktrace identified a wide range of malicious activity ranging from extensive initial scanning and lateral movement attempts to the writing of ransom notes that followed the aforementioned naming convention (i.e., “README-RECOVER-<extension/company_id>.txt”).

Darktrace observed two affected devices attempting to move laterally through the SMB, DCE-RPC and RDP network protocols. Default credentials (e.g., UserName, admin, administrator) were also observed in the large volumes of SMB sessions initiated by these devices. One of the target devices of these SMB connections was a domain controller, which was subsequently seen making suspicious WMI requests to multiple devices over DCE-RPC and enumerating SMB shares by binding to the ‘server service’ (srvsvc) named pipe to a high number of internal devices within a short time frame. The domain controller was further detected establishing an anomalously high number of connections to several internal devices, notably using the RDP administrative protocol via a default admin cookie.  

Repeated connections over the HTTP and SSL protocol to multiple newly observed IPs located in the range were observed, indicating C2 connectivity.  WebDAV user agent and a JA3 fingerprint potentially associated with Cobalt Strike were notably observed in these connections. A few hours later, Darktrace detected additional suspicious external connections, this time to IPs associated with the MEGA cloud storage solution. Storage solutions such as MEGA are often abused by attackers to host stolen data post exfiltration. In this case, the endpoints were all rare for the network, suggesting this solution was not commonly used by legitimate users. Around 30 GB of data was exfiltrated over the SSL protocol.

Darktrace did not observe any encryption-related activity on this customer’s network, suggesting that encryption may have taken place locally or within network segments not monitored by Darktrace.

May 2024

The most recent instance of Qilin observed by Darktrace took place in May 2024 and involved a customer in the US. In this case, Darktrace initially detected affected devices using unusual administrative and default credentials, before additional internal systems were observed making extensive suspicious DCE-RPC requests to a range of internal locations, performing network scanning, making unusual internal RDP connections, and transferring suspicious executable files like 'a157496.exe' and '83b87b2.exe'.  SMB writes of the file "LSM_API_service" were also observed, activity which was considered 100% unusual by Darktrace; this is an RPC service that can be abused to enumerate logged-in users and steal their tokens. Various repeated connections likely representative of C2 communications were detected via both HTTP and SSL to rare external endpoints linked in OSINT to Cobalt Strike use. During these connections, HTTP GET requests for the following URIs were observed:





Notably, this included a GET request a DLL file named "sihost64.dll" from a domain controller using PowerShell.  

Over 102 GB of data may have been transferred to another previously unseen endpoint, 194.165.16[.]13, via the unencrypted File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Additionally, many non-FTP connections to the endpoint could be observed, over which more than 783 GB of data was exfiltrated. Regarding file encryption activity, a wide range of destination devices and shares were targeted.

Figure 2: Advanced Search graph displaying the total volume of data transferred over FTP to a malicious IP.

During investigations, Darktrace’s Threat Research team identified an additional customer, also based in the United States, where similar data exfiltration activity was observed in April 2024. Although no indications of ransomware encryption were detected on the network, multiple similarities were observed with the case discussed just prior. Notably, the same exfiltration IP and protocol (194.165.16[.]13 and FTP, respectively) were identified in both cases. Additional HTTP connectivity was further observed to another IP using a self-signed certificate (i.e., CN=ne[.]com,OU=key operations,O=1000,L=,ST=,C=KM) located within the same ASN (i.e., AS48721 Flyservers S.A.). Some of the URIs seen in the GET requests made to this endpoint were the same as identified in that same previous case.

Information regarding another device also making repeated connections to the same IP was described in the second event of the same Cyber AI Analyst incident. Following this C2 connectivity, network scanning was observed from a compromised domain controller, followed by additional reconnaissance and lateral movement over the DCE-RPC and SMB protocols. Darktrace again observed SMB writes of the file "LSM_API_service", as in the previous case, activity which was also considered 100% unusual for the network. These similarities suggest the same actor or affiliate may have been responsible for activity observed, even though no encryption was observed in the latter case.

Figure 3. First event of the Cyber AI Analyst investigation following the compromise activity.

According to researchers at Microsoft, some of the IoCs observed on both affected accounts are associated with Pistachio Tempest, a threat actor reportedly associated with ransomware distribution. The Microsoft threat actor naming convention uses the term "tempest" to reference criminal organizations with motivations of financial gain that are not associated with high confidence to a known non-nation state or commercial entity. While Pistachio Tempest’s TTPs have changed over time, their key elements still involve ransomware, exfiltration, and extortion. Once they've gained access to an environment, Pistachio Tempest typically utilizes additional tools to complement their use of Cobalt Strike; this includes the use of the SystemBC RAT and the SliverC2 framework, respectively. It has also been reported that Pistacho Tempest has experimented with various RaaS offerings, which recently included Qilin ransomware[4].


Qilin is a RaaS group that has gained notoriety recently due to high-profile attacks perpetrated by its affiliates. Despite this, the group likely includes affiliates and actors who were previously associated with other ransomware groups. These individuals bring their own modus operandi and utilize both known and novel TTPs and IoCs that differ from one attack to another.

Darktrace’s anomaly-based technology is inherently threat-agnostic, treating all RaaS variants equally regardless of the attackers’ tools and infrastructure. Deviations from a device’s ‘learned’ pattern of behavior during an attack enable Darktrace to detect and contain potentially disruptive ransomware attacks.

Credit to: Alexandra Sentenac, Emma Foulger, Justin Torres, Min Kim, Signe Zaharka for their contributions.









Darktrace Model Detections

Internal Reconnaissance

Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity

Device / Network Scan

Device / RDP Scan

Device / ICMP Address Scan

Device / Suspicious Network Scan Activity

Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration

Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity

Device / Attack and Recon Tools

Lateral Movement

Device / SMB Session Brute Force (Admin)

Device / Large Number of Model Breaches from Critical Network Device

Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches

Anomalous Connection / Unusual Admin RDP Session

Device / SMB Lateral Movement

Compliance / SMB Drive Write

Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control

Anomalous Connection / Anomalous DRSGetNCChanges Operation

Anomalous Server Activity / Domain Controller Initiated to Client

User / New Admin Credentials on Client

C2 Communication

Anomalous Server Activity / Outgoing from Server

Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External

Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed

Device / Increased External Connectivity

Unusual Activity / Unusual External Activity

Compromise / New or Repeated to Unusual SSL Port

Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint

Device / Suspicious Domain

Device / Increased External Connectivity

Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase

Compromise / Botnet C2 Behaviour

Anomalous Connection / POST to PHP on New External Host

Anomalous Connection / Multiple HTTP POSTs to Rare Hostname

Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location


Unusual Activity / Enhanced Unusual External Data Transfer

Anomalous Connection / Data Sent to Rare Domain

Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data Transfer

Anomalous Connection / Uncommon 1 GiB Outbound

Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data to New Endpoint

Compliance / FTP / Unusual Outbound FTP

File Encryption

Compromise / Ransomware / Suspicious SMB Activity

Anomalous Connection / Sustained MIME Type Conversion

Anomalous File / Internal / Additional Extension Appended to SMB File

Compromise / Ransomware / Possible Ransom Note Write

Compromise / Ransomware / Possible Ransom Note Read

Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Read Write Ratio

IoC List

IoC – Type – Description + Confidence

93.115.25[.]139 IP C2 Server, likely associated with SystemBC

194.165.16[.]13 IP Probable Exfiltration Server

91.238.181[.]230 IP C2 Server, likely associated with Cobalt Strike

ikea0[.]com Hostname C2 Server, likely associated with Cobalt Strike

lebondogicoin[.]com Hostname C2 Server, likely associated with Cobalt Strike

184.168.123[.]220 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]219 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]236 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]241 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]247 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]251 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]252 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]229 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]246 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure

184.168.123[.]230 IP Possible C2 Infrastructure[.]nz Hostname Possible Exfiltration Server. Not inherently malicious; associated with MEGA file storage.[.]nz Hostname Possible Exfiltration Server. Not inherently malicious; associated with MEGA file storage.

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About the author
Alexandra Sentenac
Cyber Analyst


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Elevating Network Security: Confronting Trust, Ransomware, & Novel Attacks

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Jun 2024

Understanding the Network Security Market

Old tools blind to new threats

With the rise of GenAI and novel attacks, organizations can no longer rely solely on traditional network security solutions that depend on historical attack data, such as signatures and detection rules, to identify threats. However, in many cases network security vendors and traditional solutions like IDS/IPS focus on detecting known attacks using historical data. What happens is organizations are left vulnerable to unknown and novel threats, as these approaches only detect known malicious behavior and cannot keep up with unknown threats or zero-day attacks.

Advanced threats

Darktrace's End of Year Threat Report for 2023 highlights significant changes in the cyber threat landscape, particularly due to advancements in technology such as generative AI. The report notes a substantial increase in sophisticated attacks, including those utilizing generative AI, which have made it more challenging for traditional security measures to keep up. The report also details the rise of multi-functional malware, like Black Basta ransomware, which not only encrypts data for ransom but also spreads other types of malware such as the Qbot banking trojan. These complex attacks are increasingly being deployed by advanced cybercriminal groups, underscoring the need for organizations to adopt advanced security measures that can detect and respond to novel threats in real-time.

Defenders need a solution that can level the playing field, especially when they are operating with limited resources and getting overloaded with endless alerts. Most network security tools on the market have a siloed approach and do not integrate with the rest of an organization’s digital estate, but attackers don’t operate in a single domain.

Disparate workforce

With so many organizations continuing to support a remote or hybrid working environment, the need to secure devices that are outside the corporate network or off-VPN is increasingly important. While endpoint protection or endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools are a fundamental part of any security stack, it’s not possible to install an agent on every device, which can leave blind spots in an organization’s attack surface. Managing trust and access policies is also necessary to protect identities, however this comes with its own set of challenges in terms of implementation and minimizing business disruption.

This blog will dive into these challenges and show examples of how Darktrace has helped mitigate risk and stop novel and never-before-seen threats.

Network Security Challenge 1: Managing trust

What is trust in cybersecurity?

Trust in cybersecurity means that an entity can be relied upon. This can involve a person, organization, or system to be authorized or authenticated by proving their identity is legitimate and can be trusted to have access to the network or sensitive information.

Why is trust important in cybersecurity?

Granting access and privileges to your workforce and select affiliates has profound implications for cybersecurity, brand reputation, regulatory compliance, and financial liability. In a traditional network security model, traffic gets divided into two categories — trusted and untrusted — with some entities and segments of the network deemed more creditable than others.

How do you manage trust in cybersecurity?

Zero trust is too little, but any is too much.

Modern network security challenges point to an urgent need for organizations to review and update their approaches to managing trust. External pressure to adopt zero trust security postures literally suggests trusting no one, but that impedes your freedom
to do business. IT leaders need a proven but practical process for deciding who should be allowed to use your network and how.

Questions to ask in updating Trusted User policies include:

  • What process should you follow to place trust in third
    parties and applications?
  • Do you subject trusted entities to testing and other due
    diligence first?
  • How often do you review this process — and trusted
    relationships themselves — after making initial decisions?
  • How do you tell when trusted users should no longer be

Once trust has been established, security teams need new and better ways to autonomously verify that those transacting within your network are indeed those trusted users that they claim to be, taking only the authorized actions you’ve allowed them to take.

Exploiting trust in the network

Insider threats have a major head start. The opposite of attacks launched by nameless, faceless strangers, insider threats originate through parties once deemed trustworthy. That might mean a current or former member of your workforce or a partner, vendor, investor, or service provider authorized by IT to access corporate systems and data. Threats also arise when a “pawn” gets unwittingly tricked into disclosing credentials or downloading malware.

Common motives for insider attacks include revenge, stealing or leaking sensitive data, taking down IT systems, stealing assets or IP, compromising your organization’s credibility, and simply harassing your workforce. Put simply, rules and signatures based security solutions won’t flag insider threats because an insider does not immediately present themselves as an intruder. Insider threats can only be stopped by an evolving understanding of ‘normal’ for every user that immediately alerts your team when trusted users do something strange.

“By 2026, 10% of large enterprises will have a comprehensive, mature and measurable zero-trust program in place, up from less than 1% today.” [1]

Use Case: Darktrace spots an insider threat

Darktrace/OT detected a subtle deviation from normal behavior when a reprogram command was sent by an engineering workstation to a PLC controlling a pump, an action an insider threat with legitimized access to OT systems would take to alter the physical process without any malware involved. In this instance, AI Analyst, Darktrace’s investigation tool that triages events to reveal the full security incident, detected the event as unusual based on multiple metrics including the source of the command, the destination device, the time of the activity, and the command itself.  

As a result, AI Analyst created a complete security incident, with a natural language summary, the technical details of the activity, and an investigation process explaining how it came to its conclusion. By leveraging Explainable AI, a security team can quickly triage and escalate Darktrace incidents in real time before it becomes disruptive, and even when performed by a trusted insider.

Read more about insider threats here

Network Security Challenge 2: Stopping Ransomware at every stage    

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts valuable files on a victim’s device, denying the account holder access, and demanding money in exchange for the encryption key. Ransomware has been increasingly difficult to deal with, especially with ransom payments being made in crypto currency which is untraceable. Ransomware can enter a system by clicking a link dangerous or downloading malicious files.

Avoiding ransomware attacks ranks at the top of most CISOs’ and risk managers’ priority lists, and with good reason. Extortion was involved in 25% of all breaches in 2022, with front-page attacks wreaking havoc across healthcare, gas pipelines, food processing plants, and other global supply chains. [2]

What else is new?

The availability of “DIY” toolkits and subscription-based ransom- ware-as-a-service (RaaS) on the dark web equips novice threat actors to launch highly sophisticated attacks at machine speed. For less than $500, virtually anyone can acquire and tweak RaaS offerings such as Philadelphia that come with accessible customer interfaces, reviews, discounts, and feature updates — all the signature features of commercial SaaS offerings.                  

Darktrace Cyber AI breaks the ransomware cycle

The preeminence of ransomware keeps security teams on high alert for indicators of attack but hypervigilance — and too many tools churning out too many alerts — quickly exhausts analysts’ bandwidth. To reverse this trend, AI needs to help prioritize and resolve versus merely detect risk.

Darktrace uses AI to recognize and contextualize possible signs of ransomware attacks as they appear in your network and across multiple domains. Viewing behaviors in the context of your organization’s normal ‘pattern of life’ updates and enhances detection that watches for a repeat of previous techniques.

Darktrace's AI brings the added advantage of continuously analyzing behavior in your environment at machine speed.

Darktrace AI also performs Autonomous Response, shutting down attacks at every stage of the ransomware cycle, including the first telltale signs of exfiltration and encryption of data for extortion purposes.

Use Case: Stopping Hive Ransomware attack

Hive is distributed via a RaaS model where its developers update and maintain the code, in return for a percentage of the eventual ransom payment, while users (or affiliates) are given the tools to carry out attacks using a highly sophisticated and complex malware they would otherwise be unable to use.

In early 2022, Darktrace/Network identified several instances of Hive ransomware on the networks of multiple customers. Using its anomaly-based detection, Darktrace was able to successfully detect the attacks and multiple stages of the kill chain, including command and control (C2) activity, lateral movement, data exfiltration, and ultimately data encryption and the writing of ransom notes.

Darktrace’s AI understands customer networks and learns the expected patterns of behavior across an organization’s digital estate. Using its anomaly-based detection Darktrace is able to identify emerging threats through the detection of unusual or unexpected behavior, without relying on rules and signatures, or known IoCs.

Read the full story here

Network Security Challenge 3: Spotting Novel Attacks

You can’t predict tomorrow’s weather by reading yesterday’s forecast, yet that’s essentially what happens when network security tools only look for known attacks.

What are novel attacks?

“Novel attacks” include unknown or previously unseen exploits such as zero-days, or new variations of known threats that evade existing detection rules.

Depending on how threats get executed, the term “novel” can refer to brand new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), or to subtle new twists on perennial threats like DoS, DDoS, and Domain Name Server (DNS) attacks.

Old tools may be blind to new threats

Stopping novel threats is less about deciding whom to trust than it is about learning to spot something brand new. As we’ve seen with ransomware, the growing “aaS” attack market creates a profound paradigm shift by allowing non-technical perpetrators to tweak, customize, and coin never-before-seen threats that elude traditional network, email, VPN, and cloud security.

Tools based on traditional rules and signatures lack a frame of reference. This is where AI’s ability to spot and analyze abnormalities in the context of normal patterns of life comes into play.                        

Darktrace AI spots what other tools miss                                      

Instead of training in cloud data lakes that pool data from unrelated attacks worldwide, Darktrace AI learns about your unique environment from your environment. By flagging and analyzing everything unusual — instead of only known signs of compromise — Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI keeps security stacks from missing less obvious but potentially more dangerous events.

The real challenge here is achieving faster “time to meaning” and contextualizing behavior that might — or might not — be part of a novel attack. Darktrace/Network does not require a “patient zero” to identify a novel attack, or one exploiting a zero-day vulnerability.

Use Case: Stopping Novel Ransomware Attack

In late May 2023, Darktrace observed multiple instances of Akira ransomware affecting networks across its customer base. Thanks to its anomaly-based approach to threat detection Darktrace successfully identified the novel ransomware attacks and provided full visibility over the cyber kill chain, from the initial compromise to the eventual file encryptions and ransom notes. Darktrace identified Akira ransomware on multiple customer networks, even when threat actors were utilizing seemingly legitimate services (or spoofed versions of them) to carry out malicious activity. While this may have gone unnoticed by traditional security tools, Darktrace’s anomaly-based detection enabled it to recognize malicious activity for what it was. In cases where Darktrace’s autonomous response was enabled these attacks were mitigated in their early stages, thus minimizing any disruption or damage to customer networks.

Read the full story here


[1] Gartner, “Gartner Unveils Top Eight Cybersecurity Predictions for 2023-2024,” 28 March 2023.                    

[2] TechTarget, “Ransomware trends, statistics and facts in 2023,” Sean Michael Kerner, 26 January 2023.

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About the author
Mikey Anderson
Product Manager, Network Detection & Response
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