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3CX Supply Chain Compromise: How Darktrace Uncovered A “Smooth Operator”

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19
Jun 2023
19
Jun 2023
This blog discusses how Darktrace detected examples of the 3CX supply chain compromise, the first known cascading supply chain compromise. Leveraging integrations with security vendors like CrowdStrike and SentinelOne, Darktrace was able to successfully identify and prevent multiple cases of the 3CX supply chain compromise across its customer base.

Ever since the discovery of the SolarWinds hack that affected tens of thousands of organizations around the world in 2020, supply chain compromises have remained at the forefront of the minds of security teams and continue to pose a significant threat to their business operations. 

Supply chain compromises can have far-reaching implications, from disrupting an organization’s daily operations, incurring huge financial and reputational damage, to affecting the critical infrastructure of entire countries. As such, it is essential for organizations to have effective security measures in place able to identify and halt these attacks at the earliest possible stage.

In March 2023 the 3CX Desktop application became the latest victim of a supply chain compromise dubbed as the “SmoothOperator” by SentinelOne. This application is used by over 600,000 companies worldwide and the customer list contains high-profile customers across a variety of industries [2]. The 3CX Desktop application is a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communication software for enterprises that allows for chats, video calls, and voice calls. [3] The 3CX installers for both Windows and macOS systems were affected by information stealing malware. Researchers were able to discern that threat actors also known as UNC 4736 related to financially motivated North Korean operators also known as AppleJeus were responsible for the supply chain compromise.  Researchers have also linked it to another supply chain compromise that occurred prior on the Trading Technologies X_TRADER platform, making this the first known cascading software supply chain compromise used to distribute malware on a wide scale and still be able to align operator interests. [3] Customer reports following the compromise began to surface about the 3CX software being picked up as malicious by several cybersecurity vendors such as CrowdStrike, SentinelOne, and Palo Alto Networks. [6] 

By leveraging integrations with other security vendors like CrowdStrike and SentinelOne, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to identify activity from the “SmoothOperator” across the customer base at multiple stages of the kill chain in March 2023. Darktrace RESPOND™ was then able to autonomously intervene against these emerging threats, preventing significant disruption to customer networks. 

Background on the first known cascading supply chain attack 

Initial Access

In April 2023, security researchers identified the initial target in this story was not the 3CX desktop application, rather, it was another software application called X_TRADER by Trading Technologies. [3] Trading Technologies is a provider that offers high-performance financial trading packages, allowing financial professionals to analyze and trade assets within the stock market more efficiently. Unfortunately, a compromise already existed in the supply chain for this organization. The X_TRADER installer, which had been retired in 2020, still had its code signing certificate set to expire in October 2022. This code signing certificate was exploited by attackers to digitally sign the malicious software. [3] It also inopportunely led to 3CX when an employee unknowingly downloaded a trojanized installer for the X_TRADER software from Trading Technologies prior to the certificate’s expiration. [4]. This compromise of 3CX via X_TRADER was the first case of a cascading supply chain attack reported on within the wider threat landscape. 

Persistence and Privilege Escalation 

Following these findings, researchers were able to identify the likely kill chain that occurred on Windows systems, beginning with the download of the 3CX DesktopApp installer that executed an executable (.exe) file before dropping two trojanized Data Link Libraries (DLLs) alongside a benign executable that was used to sideload malicious DLLs. These DLLs contained and used SIGFLIP and DAVESHELL; both publicly available projects. [3] In this case, the DLLs were used to decrypt using an RC4 key and load a payload into the memory of a compromised system. [3] SIGFLIP and DAVESHELL also extract and decrypt the modular backdoor named VEILEDSIGNAL, which also contains a command and control (C2) configuration. This malware allowed the North Korean threat operators to gain administrative control to the 3CX employee’s device. [3] This was followed by access to the employee’s corporate credentials, ultimately leading to access to 3CX systems. [4] 

Lateral Movement and C2 activity

Security researchers were also able to identify other malware families that were mainly utilized in the supply chain attack to move laterally within the 3CX environment, and allow for C2 communication [3], these malware families are detailed below:

  • TaxHaul: when executed it decrypts shellcode payload, observed by Mandiant to persist via DLL search-order hijacking.
  • Coldcat: complex downloader, which also beacons to a C2 infrastructure.
  • PoolRat: collects system information and executes commands. This is the malware that was found to affect macOS systems.
  • IconicStealer: served as a third stage payload on 3CX systems to steal data or information.

Furthermore, it was also reported early on by Kaspersky that a backdoor named Gopuram, routinely used by the North Korean threat actors Lazarus and typically used against cryptocurrency companies, was also used as a second stage payload on a limited number of 3CX’s customers compromised systems. [5]

3CX detections observed by Darktrace

CrowdStrike and SentinelOne, two of the major detection platforms with which Darktrace partners through security integrations, initially revealed that their platforms had identified the campaign appeared to be targeting 3CXDesktopApp customers in March 2023. 

At this time, Darktrace was also observing this activity and alerting customers to unusual behavior on their networks. [1][7] Darktrace DETECT identified activity related to the supply chain compromise primarily through host-level alerts associated with CrowdStrike and SentinelOne integrations, as well as model breaches related to lateral movement and C2 activity. 

Some of the activity related to the 3CX supply chain compromise that Darktrace detected was observed solely via integration models picking up executable and Microsoft Software Installer (msi) file downloads for the 3CXDesktopApp, suggesting the compromise likely was stopped at the endpoint device. 

CrowdStrike integration model breach identifying 3CXDesktopApp[.]exe as possible malware
Figure 1: CrowdStrike integration model breach identifying 3CXDesktopApp[.]exe as possible malware on March 30, 2023.
showcases the Model Breach Event Log for the CrowdStrike integration model breach
Figure 2: The above figure, showcases the Model Breach Event Log for the CrowdStrike integration model breach shown in Figure 1.

In another case highlighted in Figure 3 and 4, security platforms were associating 3CX as malicious. The device in these figures was observed downloading a 3CXDesktopApp executable followed by an msi file about an hour later. This pattern of activity correlates with the compromise process that had been on reported, where the “SmoothOperator” malware that affected 3CX systems was able to persist through DLL side-loading of malicious DLL files delivered with benign executable files, making it difficult for traditional security tools to detect. [2][3][7]

The activity in this case was detected by the DETECT integration model, ‘High Severity Integration Malware Detection’ and was later blocked by the Darktrace RESPOND/Network model, ‘Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block’ which applied the “Enforce Pattern of Life” action to intercept the malicious download that was taking place. Darktrace RESPOND uses AI to learn every devices normal pattern of life and act autonomously to enforce its normal activity. In this event, RESPOND would not only intercept the malicious download that was taking place on the device, but also not allow the device to significantly deviate from its normal pattern of activity.

The Model Breach Event log for the device displays the moment in which the SentinelOne integration model breached for the 3CXDesktopApp.exe file
Figure 3: The Model Breach Event log for the device displays the moment in which the SentinelOne integration model breached for the 3CXDesktopApp.exe file followed subsequently by the RESPOND model, ‘Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block’, on March 29, 2023.
Another ‘High Severity Integration Malware Detection’ breached
Figure 4: Another ‘High Severity Integration Malware Detection’ breached for the same device in Figure 3 approximately one hour later because of the msi file, 3CXDesktopApp-18.12.416.msi, which also led to the Darktrace RESPOND model, ‘Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block’, on March 29, 2023.

In a separate case, Darktrace also detected a device performing unusual SMB drive writes for the file ‘3CXDesktopApp-18.10.461.msi’. This breached the DETECT model ‘SMB Drive Write’. This model detects when a device starts writing files to another internal device it does not usually communicate with via the SMB protocol using the admin$ or drive shares.

This Model Breach Event log highlights the moment Darktrace captured the msi application file for the 3CXDesktopApp being transferred internally on this customer’s network
Figure 5: This Model Breach Event log highlights the moment Darktrace captured the msi application file for the 3CXDesktopApp being transferred internally on this customer’s network, this was picked up as new activity for the device on March 28, 2023. 

In a couple of other cases observed by Darktrace, connections detected were made from affected devices to 3CX compromise related endpoints. In Figure 6, the device in question was detected connecting to the endpoint, journalide[.]org. This breached the model, ‘Suspicious Self-Signed SSL’, which looks for connections being made to an endpoint with a self-signed SSL certificate which is designed to look legitimate, as self-signed certificates are often used in malware communication.

Model Breach Event log for connections to the 3CX C2 related endpoint
Figure 6: Model Breach Event log for connections to the 3CX C2 related endpoint, journalide[.]org, these connections breached the model Suspicious Self-Signed SSL on April 24, 2023.

On another Darktrace customer environment, a 3CX C2 endpoint, pbxphonenetwork[.]com, had already been added to the Watched Domains list around the time reports of the 3CX application software being malicious had been reported. The Watched Domains list allows Darktrace to detect if any device on the network makes connections to these domains with more scrutiny and breach a model for further visibility of threats on the network. Activity in this case was detected and subsequently blocked by a Darktrace RESPOND action, “Block connections to 89.45.67[.]160 port 443 and pbxphonenetwork[.]com on port 443”, blocking the device from connecting to this 3CX C2 endpoints on the spot (see Figure 7). This activity subsequently breached the RESPOND model, ‘Antigena Watched Domain Block’. 

Figure 7: History log of the Darktrace RESPOND action applied to the device breaching the Darktrace RESPOND model, Antigena Watched Domain Block and applying the action, “Block connections to 89.45.67[.]160 port 443 and pbxphonenetwork[.]com on port 443” on March 31, 2023.

Darktrace Coverage 

Utilizing integrations with Darktrace such as those with CrowdStrike and SentinelOne, Darktrace was able to detect and respond to activity identified as malicious 3CX activity by CrowdStrike and SentinelOne as seen in Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4. This activity breached the following Darktrace DETECT models: 

  • Integration / CrowdStrike Alert
  • Security Integration / High Severity Integration Malware Detection

Darktrace was also able to identify lateral movement activity such as in the case illustrated in Figure 5.

  • Compliance / SMB Drive Write

Lastly, C2 beaconing activity from malicious endpoints associated with the 3CX compromise was also detected as seen in Figure 6, this activity breached the following Darktrace DETECT model:

  • Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Self-Signed SSL

For customers with Darktrace RESPOND configured in autonomous response mode, Darktrace RESPOND models also breached to activity related to the 3CX supply chain compromise as seen in Figures 3, 4, and 7. Below are the models that breached and the following autonomous actions that were applied:

  • Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block, “Enforce pattern of life”
  • Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Watched Domain Block, “Block connections to 89.45.67[.]160 port 443 and pbxphonenetwork[.]com on port 443”

Conclusion 

The first known cascading supply chain compromise occurred inopportunely for 3CX but conveniently for UNC 4736 North Korean threat actors. This “SmoothOperator” compromise was detected by endpoint security platforms such as CrowdStrike who was at the cusp of this discovery when it became one of the first platforms to report on malicious activity related to the 3CX DesktopApp supply chain compromise.  

Although still novel at the time and largely without reported indicators of compromise, Darktrace was able to capture and identify activity related to the 3CX compromise across its customer base, as well as respond autonomously to contain it. Darktrace was able to amplify security integrations with CrowdStrike and SentinelOne, and via anomaly-based model breaches, contribute unique insights by highlighting activity in varied parts of the 3CX supply chain compromise kill chain. The “SmoothOperator” supply chain attack proves that the Darktrace suite of products, including DETECT and RESPOND, can not only act autonomously to identify and respond to novel threats, but also work with security integrations to further amplify intervention and prevent cyber disruption on customer networks. 

Credit to Nahisha Nobregas, SOC Analyst and Trent Kessler, SOC Analyst.

Appendices

MITRE ATT&CK Framework

Resource Development

  • T1588 Obtain Capabilities  
  • T1588.004 Digital Certificates
  • T1608 Stage Capabilities  
  • T1608.003 Install Digital Certificate

Initial Access

  • T1190 Exploit Public-Facing Application
  • T1195 Supply Chain Compromise  
  • T1195.002 Compromise Software Supply Chain

Persistence

  • T1574 Hijack Execution Flow
  • T1574.002 DLL Side-Loading

Privilege Escalation

  • T1055 Process Injection
  • T1574 Hijack Execution Flow  
  • T1574.002 DLL Side-Loading

Command and Control

  • T1071 Application Layer Protocol
  • T1071.001 Web Protocols
  • T1071.004 DNS  
  • T1105 Ingress Tool Transfer
  • T1573 Encrypted Channel

List of IOCs

C2 Hostnames

  • journalide[.]org
  • pbxphonenetwork[.]com

Likely C2 IP address

  • 89.45.67[.]160

References

  1. https://www.crowdstrike.com/blog/crowdstrike-detects-and-prevents-active-intrusion-campaign-targeting-3cxdesktopapp-customers/
  2. https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/3cx-confirms-north-korean-hackers-behind-supply-chain-attack/
  3. https://www.mandiant.com/resources/blog/3cx-software-supply-chain-compromise
  4. https://www.securityweek.com/cascading-supply-chain-attack-3cx-hacked-after-employee-downloaded-trojanized-app/
  5. https://securelist.com/gopuram-backdoor-deployed-through-3cx-supply-chain-attack/109344/
  6. https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/3cx-hack-caused-by-trading-software-supply-chain-attack/
  7. https://www.sentinelone.com/blog/smoothoperator-ongoing-campaign-trojanizes-3cx-software-in-software-supply-chain-attack/
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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ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
Nahisha Nobregas
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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04
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 184.168.123.0/24 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:

/asdffHTTPS

/asdfgdf

/asdfgHTTP

/download/sihost64.dll

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].

Conclusion

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.

References

[1] https://www.sentinelone.com/anthology/agenda-qilin/  

[2] https://www.group-ib.com/blog/qilin-ransomware/

[3] https://www.trendmicro.com/en_us/research/22/h/new-golang-ransomware-agenda-customizes-attacks.html

[4] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security/security-insider/pistachio-tempest

[5] https://www.trendmicro.com/en_us/research/22/h/new-golang-ransomware-agenda-customizes-attacks.html

[6] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/forums/t/790240/agenda-qilin-ransomware-id-random-10-char;-recover-readmetxt-support/

[7] https://github.com/threatlabz/ransomware_notes/tree/main/qilin

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

Exfiltration

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

gfs440n010.userstorage.me ga.co[.]nz Hostname Possible Exfiltration Server. Not inherently malicious; associated with MEGA file storage.

gfs440n010.userstorage.me ga.co[.]nz Hostname Possible Exfiltration Server. Not inherently malicious; associated with MEGA file storage.

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Alexandra Sentenac
Cyber Analyst

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

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21
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
    trusted?

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

References

[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
Our ai. Your data.

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