Inside the SOC

What are Botnets and How Darktrace Uncovers Them

Default blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog image
Mar 2024
Mar 2024
Learn how Darktrace detected and implemented defense protocols against Socks5Systemz botnet before any threat to intelligence had been published.

What are botnets?

Although not a recent addition to the threat landscape, botnets persist as a significant concern for organizations, with many threat actors utilizing them for political, strategic, or financial gain. Botnets pose a particularly persistent threat to security teams; even if one compromised device is detected, attackers will likely have infected multiple devices and can continue to operate. Moreover, threat actors are able to easily replace the malware communication channels between infected devices and their command-and-control (C2) servers, making it incredibly difficult to remove the infection.

Botnet example: Socks5Systemz

One example of a botnet recently investigated by the Darktrace Threat Research team is Socks5Systemz. Socks5Systemz is a proxy-for-rent botnet, whereby actors can rent blocks of infected devices to perform proxying services.  Between August and November 2023, Darktrace detected indicators of Socks5Systemz botnet compromise within a cross-industry section of the customer base. Although open-source intelligence (OSINT) research of the botnet only appeared in November 2023, the anomaly-based approach of Darktrace DETECT™ allowed it to identify multiple stages of the network-based activity on affected customer systems well before traditional rules and signatures would have been implemented.

Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ complemented DETECT’s successful identification of Socks5Systemz activity on customer networks, playing a pivotal role in piecing together the seemingly separate events that comprised the wider compromise. This allowed Darktrace to build a clearer picture of the attack, empowering its customers with full visibility over emerging incidents.

In the customer environments highlighted in this blog, Darktrace RESPOND™ was not configured to operate autonomously. As a result, Socks5Systemz attacks were able to advance through their kill chains until customer security teams acted upon Darktrace’s detections and began their remediation procedures.

What is Socks5Systemz?

The Socks5Systemz botnet is a proxy service where individuals can use infected devices as proxy servers.

These devices act as ‘middlemen’, forwarding connections from malicious actors on to their intended destination. As this additional connectivity conceals the true origin of the connections, threat actors often use botnets to increase their anonymity. Although unauthorized proxy servers on a corporate network may not appear at first glance to be a priority for organizations and their security teams, complicity in proxy botnets could result in reputational damage and significant financial losses.

Since it was first observed in the wild in 2016, the Socks5Systemz botnet has grown steadily, seemingly unnoticed by cyber security professionals, and has infected a reported 10,000 devices worldwide [1]. Cyber security researchers noted a high concentration of compromised devices in India, with lower concentrations of devices infected in the United States, Latin America, Australia and multiple European and African countries [2]. Renting sections of the Socks5Systemz botnet costs between 1 USD and 4,000 USD, with options to increase the threading and time-range of the rentals [2]. Due to the lack of affected devices in Russia, some threat researchers have concluded that the botnet’s operators are likely Russian [2].

Darktrace’s Coverage of Socks5Systemz

The Darktrace Threat Research team conducted investigations into campaign-like activity across the customer base between August and November 2023, where multiple indicators of compromise (IoCs) relating to the Socks5Systemz proxy botnet were observed. Darktrace identified several stages of the attack chain described in static malware analysis by external researchers. Darktrace was also able to uncover additional IoCs and stages of the Socks5Systemz attack chain that had not featured in external threat research.

Delivery and Execution

Prior research on Socks5Systemz notes how the malware is typically delivered via user input, with delivery methods including phishing emails, exploit kits, malicious ads, and trojanized executables downloaded from peer-to-peer (P2P) networks [1].

Threat actors have also used separate malware loaders such as PrivateLoader and Amadey deliver the Socks5Systemz payload. These loaders will drop executable files that are responsible for setting up persistence and injecting the proxy bot into the infected device’s memory [2]. Although evidence of initial payload delivery did not appear during its investigations, Darktrace did discover IoCs relating to PrivateLoader and Amadey on multiple customer networks. Such activity included HTTP POST requests using PHP to rare external IPs and HTTP connections with a referrer header field, indicative of a redirected connection.

However, additional adjacent activity that may suggest initial user execution and was observed during Darktrace’s investigations. For example, an infected device on one deployment made a HTTP GET request to a rare external domain with a “.fun” top-level domain (TLD) for a PDF file. The URI also appears to have contained a client ID. While this download and HTTP request likely corresponded to the gathering and transmission of further telemetry data and infection verification [2], the downloaded PDF file may have represented a malicious payload.

Advanced Search log details highlighting a device infected by Socks5Systemz downloading a suspicious PDF file.
Figure 1: Advanced Search log details highlighting a device infected by Socks5Systemz downloading a suspicious PDF file.

Establishing C2 Communication  

Once the proxy bot has been injected into the device’s memory, the malware attempts to contact servers owned by the botnet’s operators. Across several customer environments, Darktrace identified infected devices attempting to establish connections with such C2 servers. First, affected devices would make repeated HTTP GET requests over port 80 to rare external domains; these endpoints typically had “.ua” and “.ru” TLDs. The majority of these connection attempts were not preceded by a DNS host lookup, suggesting that the domains were already loaded in the device’s cache memory or hardcoded into the code of running processes.

Figure 2: Breach log data connections identifying repeated unusual HTTP connections over port 80 for domains without prior DNS host lookup.

While most initial HTTP GET requests across investigated incidents did not feature DNS host lookups, Darktrace did identify affected devices on a small number of customer environments performing a series of DNS host lookups for seemingly algorithmically generated domains (DGA). These domains feature the same TLDs as those seen in connections without prior DNS host lookups.  

Figure 3: Cyber AI Analyst data indicating a subset of DGAs queried via DNS by infected devices.

These DNS requests follow the activity reported by researchers, where infected devices query a hardcoded DNS server controlled by the threat actor for an DGA domain [2]. However, as the bulk of Darktrace’s investigations presented HTTP requests without a prior DNS host lookup, this activity indicates a significant deviation from the behavior reported by OSINT sources. This could indicate that multiple variations of the Socks5Systemz botnet were circulating at the time of investigation.

Most hostnames observed during this time of investigation follow a specific regular expression format: /[a-z]{7}\.(ua|net|info|com|ru)/ or /[a-z0-9]{15}\.(ua)/. Darktrace also noticed the HTTP GET requests for DGA domains followed a consistent URI pattern: /single.php?c=<STRING>. The requests were also commonly made using the “Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 9.0; en-US)” user agent over port 80.

This URI pattern observed during Darktrace’s investigations appears to reflect infected devices contacting Socks5Systemz C2 servers to register the system and details of the host, and signal it is ready to receive further instructions [2]. These URIs are encrypted with a RC4 stream cipher and contain information relating to the device’s operating system and architecture, as well as details of the infection.

The HTTP GET requests during this time, which involved devices made to a variety a variety of similar DGA domains, appeared alongside IP addresses that were later identified as Socks5Systemz C2 servers.

Figure 4: Cyber AI Analyst investigation details highlighting HTTP GET activity whereby RC4 encrypted data is sent to proxy C2 domains.

However, not all affected devices observed by Darktrace used DGA domains to transmit RC4 encoded data. Some investigated systems were observed making similar HTTP GET requests over port 80, albeit to the external domain: “bddns[.]cc”, using the aforementioned Mozilla user agent. During these requests, Darktrace identified a consistent URI pattern, similar to that seen in the DGA domain GET requests: /sign/<RC4 cipher text>.  

Darktrace DETECT recognized the rarity of the domains and IPs that were connected to by affected devices, as well as the usage of the new Mozilla user agent.  The HTTP connections, and the corresponding Darktrace DETECT model breaches, parallel the analysis made by external researchers: if the initial DGA DNS requests do not return a valid C2 server, infected devices connect to, and request the IP address of a server from, the above-mentioned domain [2].

Connection to Proxy

After sending host and infection details via HTTP and receiving commands from the C2 server, affected devices were frequently observed initiating activity to join the Sock5Systemz botnet. Infected hosts would first make HTTP GET requests to an IP identified as Socks5Systemz’s proxy checker application, usually sending the URI “proxy-activity.txt” to the domain over the HTTP protocol. This likely represents an additional validation check to confirm that the infected device is ready to join the botnet.

Figure 5: Cyber AI Analyst investigation detailing HTTP GET requests over port 80 to the Socks5Systemz Proxy Checker Application.

Following the final validation checks, devices would then attempt TCP connections to a range of IPs, which have been associated with BackConnect proxy servers, over port 1074. At this point, the device is able to receive commands from actors who login to and operate the corresponding BackConnect server. This BackConnect server will transmit traffic from the user renting the segment of the botnet [2].

Darktrace observed a range of activity associated with this stage of the attack, including the use of new or unusual user agents, connections to suspicious IPs, and other anomalous external connectivity which represented a deviation from affected devices’ expected behavior.

Additional Activities Following Proxy Addition

The Darktrace Threat Research team found evidence of the possible deployment of additional malware strains during their investigation into devices affected by Socks5Systemz. IoCs associated with both the Amadey and PrivateLoader loader malware strains, both of which are known to distribute Socks5Systemz, were also observed on affected devices. Additionally, Darktrace observed multiple infected systems performing cryptocurrency mining operations around the time of the Sock5Systemz compromise, utilizing the MinerGate protocol to conduct login and job functions, as well as making DNS requests for mining pools.

While such behavior would fall outside of the expected activity for Socks5Systemz and cannot be definitively attributed to it, Darktrace did observe devices affected by the botnet performing additional malicious downloads and operations during its investigations.


Ultimately, Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection enabled it to effectively identify and alert for malicious Socks5Systemz botnet activity long before external researchers had documented its IoCs and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).  

In fact, Darktrace not only identified multiple distinct attack phases later outlined in external research but also uncovered deviations from these expected patterns of behavior. By proactively detecting emerging threats through anomaly detection rather than relying on existing threat intelligence, Darktrace is well positioned to detect evolving threats like Socks5Systemz, regardless of what their future iterations might look like.

Faced with the threat of persistent botnets, it is crucial for organizations to detect malicious activity in its early stages before additional devices are compromised, making it increasingly difficult to remediate. Darktrace’s suite of products enables the swift and effective detection of such threats. Moreover, when enabled in autonomous response mode, Darktrace RESPOND is uniquely positioned to take immediate, targeted actions to contain these attacks from the onset.

Credit to Adam Potter, Cyber Security Analyst, Anna Gilbertson, Cyber Security Analyst


DETECT Model Breaches

  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port
  • Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / DGA Beacon
  • Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination
  • Compromise / Quick and Regular Windows HTTP Beaconing
  • Compromise / Agent Beacon (Medium Period)
  • Compromise / Agent Beacon (Long Period)
  • Device / New User Agent
  • Device / New User Agent and New IP

Cyber AI Analyst Incidents

  • Possible HTTP Command and Control
  • Possible HTTP Command and Control to Multiple Endpoints
  • Unusual Repeated Connections
  • Unusual Repeated Connections to Multiple Endpoints
  • Multiple DNS Requests for Algorithmically Generated Domains

Indicators of Compromise

IoC - Type - Description

185.141.63[.]172 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz C2 Endpoint

193.242.211[.]141 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz C2 Endpoint

109.230.199[.]181 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz C2 Endpoint

109.236.88[.]134 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz C2 Endpoint

217.23.5[.]14 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Proxy Checker App

88.80.148[.]8 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

88.80.148[.]219 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

185.141.63[.]4 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

185.141.63[.]2 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

195.154.188[.]211 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

91.92.111[.]132 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

91.121.30[.]185 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

94.23.58[.]173 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

37.187.148[.]204 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

188.165.192[.]18 - IP Address - Socks5Systemz Backconnect Endpoint

/single.php?c=<RC4 data hex encoded> - URI - Socks5Systemz HTTP GET Request

/sign/<RC4 data hex encoded> - URI - Socks5Systemz HTTP GET Request

/proxy-activity.txt - URI - Socks5Systemz HTTP GET Request

datasheet[.]fun - Hostname - Socks5Systemz C2 Endpoint

bddns[.]cc - Hostname - Socks5Systemz C2 Endpoint

send-monitoring[.]bit - Hostname - Socks5Systemz C2 Endpoint


Command and Control

T1071 - Application Layer Protocol

T1071.001 – Web protocols

T1568 – Dynamic Resolution

T1568.002 – Domain Generation Algorithms

T1132 – Data Encoding

T1132 – Non-Standard Encoding

T1090 – Proxy

T1090.002 – External Proxy


T1041 – Exfiltration over C2 channel


T1496 – Resource Hijacking




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.
Adam Potter
Cyber Analyst
Book a 1-1 meeting with one of our experts
share this article
No items found.
No items found.
COre coverage
No items found.

More in this series

No items found.


Inside the SOC

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

Default blog imageDefault blog image
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.

Continue reading
About the author
Alexandra Sentenac
Cyber Analyst


No items found.

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

Default blog imageDefault blog image
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.

Continue reading
About the author
Mikey Anderson
Product Manager, Network Detection & Response
Our ai. Your data.

Elevate your cyber defenses with Darktrace AI

Start your free trial
Darktrace AI protecting a business from cyber threats.