Inside the SOC

Analyzing Post-Exploitation on Papercut Servers| Darktrace

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Aug 2023
Aug 2023
Dive into our analysis covering post-exploitation activity on PaperCut servers. Learn the details and impact of this attack and how to keep yourself safe!


Malicious cyber actors are known to exploit vulnerabilities in Internet-facing systems and services to gain entry to organizations’ digital environments. Keeping track of the vulnerabilities which malicious actors are exploiting is seemingly futile, with malicious actors continually finding new avenues of exploitation.  

In mid-April 2023, Darktrace, along with the wider security community, observed malicious cyber actors gaining entry to networks through exploitation of a critical vulnerability in the print management system, PaperCut. Darktrace observed two types of attack chain within its customer base, one involving the deployment of payloads to facilitate crypto-mining, and the other involving the deployment of a payload to facilitate Tor-based command-and-control (C2) communication.

Walking Through the Front Door

One of the most widely abused Initial Access methods attackers use to gain entry to an organization’s digital environment is the exploitation of vulnerabilities in Internet-facing systems and services [1]. The public disclosure of a critical vulnerability in a widely used, Internet-facing service, along with a proof of concept (POC) exploit for such vulnerability, provides malicious cyber actors with a key to the front door of countless organizations. Once malicious actors are in possession of such a key, security teams are in a race against time to patch all their vulnerable systems and services. But until organizations accomplish this, the doors are left open.

This year, the security community has seen malicious actors gaining entry to networks through the exploitation of vulnerabilities in a range of services. These services include familiar suspects, such as Microsoft Exchange and ManageEngine, along with less familiar suspects, such as PaperCut. PaperCut is a system for managing and tracking printing, copying, and scanning activity within organizations. In 2021, PaperCut was used in more than 50,000 sites across over 100 countries [2], making PaperCut a widely used print management system.

In January 2023, Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) notified PaperCut of a critical RCE vulnerability, namely CVE-2023–27350, in certain versions of PaperCut NG (PaperCut’s ‘print only’ variant) and PaperCut MF (PaperCut’s ‘extended feature’ variant) [3,4]. In March 2023, PaperCut released versions of PaperCut NG and PaperCut MF containing a fix for CVE-2023–27350 [4]. Despite this, security teams observed a surge in cases of malicious actors exploiting CVE-2023–27350 to compromise PaperCut servers in April 2023 [4-10]. This trend was mirrored in Darktrace’s customer base, where a surge in compromises of PaperCut servers was observed in April 2023.

Observed Attack Chains

In mid-April 2023, Darktrace identified two related clusters of attack chains. The attack chains within the first of these clusters involved Internet-facing PaperCut servers downloading payloads with crypto-mining capabilities from the external location, 50.19.48[.]59. While the attack chains within the second of the clusters involved Internet-facing PaperCut servers downloading payloads with Tor-based C2 capabilities from 192.184.35[.]216. The attack chains within the first cluster, which were observed on April 22, 2023, will be referred to as ‘50.19.48[.]59 chains’ and the attack chains in the second cluster, observed on April 24, 2023, will be called ‘192.184.35[.]216 chains’.

Both attack chains started with highly unusual external endpoints contacting the '/SetupCompleted' endpoint of an Internet-facing PaperCut server. These requests to the ‘/SetupCompleted’ endpoint likely represented attempts to exploit CVE-2023–27350 [10].  50.19.48[.]59 chains started with exploit connections from the external endpoint, 85.106.112[.]60, whereas 192.184.35[.]216 chains started with exploit connections from Tor nodes, such as 185.34.33[.]2.

Figure 1: Darktrace’s Advanced Search data showing likely CVE-2023-27350 exploitation activity from the suspicious, external endpoint, 85.106.112[.]60.

After the exploitation step, the two attack chains took different paths. In the 50.19.48[.]59 chains, the exploitation step was followed by the affected PaperCut server making HTTP GET requests over port 82 to the rare external endpoint, 50.19.48[.]59. In the 192.184.35[.]216 chains, the exploitation step was followed by the affected PaperCut server making an HTTP GET request over port 443 to 192.184.35[.]216.

The HTTP GET requests to 50.19.48[.]59 had Target URIs such as ‘/me1.bat’, ‘/me2.bat’, ‘/’, ‘/mazar.bat’, and ‘/’, whilst the HTTP GET requests to 192.184.35[.]216 had the Target URI ‘/4591187629.exe’. The User-Agent header of the GET requests to 192.184.35[.]216 indicated that that the malicious file transfers were initiated through Microsoft’s pre-installed Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS).

Figure 2: Darktrace’s Advanced Search data showing a PaperCut server downloading Batch and ZIP files from 50.19.48[.]59 straight after receiving likely exploit connections from 85.106.112[.]60.
Figure 3: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server downloading an executable file from 192.184.35[.]216 immediately after receiving a likely exploit connection from the Tor node, 185.34.33[.]2.

Downloads from 50.19.48[.]59 were followed by cURL GET requests to 138.68.61[.]82 and then connections to external endpoints associated with the cryptocurrency miner, Mimu (as seen in Fig 4). Downloads from 192.184.35[.]216 were followed by Python-urllib GET requests to api.ipify[.]org and long connections to Tor nodes (as seen in Fig 5).  

These facts suggest that the actor behind the 50.19.48[.]59 chains were seeking to drop cryptocurrency miners on PaperCut servers, with the intention of abusing the customer’s network to carry out resource intensive and costly cryptocurrency mining activity. Meanwhile, the actors behind the 192.184.35[.]216 chains were likely attempting to establish a Tor-based C2 channel with PaperCut servers to allow actors to further communicate with compromised devices.

Figure 4: Darktrace's Event Log data showing a PaperCut contacting 50.19.48[.]59 to download payloads, and then making a cURL request to 138.68.61[.]82 before contacting a Mimu crypto-mining endpoint.
Figure 5: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server contacting 192.184.35[.]216 to download a payload, and then making connections to api.ipify[.]org and several Tor nodes.

The activities ensuing from both attack chains were varied, making it difficult to ascertain whether the activities were steps of separate attack chains, or steps of the existing 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains. A wide variety of activities ensued from observed 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains, including the abuse of pre-installed tools, such as cURL, CertUtil, and PowerShell to transfer further payloads to PaperCut servers, Cobalt Strike C2 communication, Ngrok usage, Mimikatz usage, AnyDesk usage, and in one case, detonation of the LockBit ransomware strain.

Figure 6: Diagram representing the steps of observed 50.19.48[.]59 chains.
Figure 7: Diagram representing the steps of observed 192.184.35[.]215 chains.

As the PaperCut servers that were targeted by malicious actors are Internet-facing, they regularly receive connections from unusual external endpoints. The exploit connections in the 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains, which originated from unusual external endpoints, were therefore not detected by Darktrace DETECT™, which relies on anomaly-based methods to detect network-based steps of an intrusion.

On the other hand, the post-exploitation steps of the 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains yielded ample anomaly-based detections, given that they consisted of PaperCut servers displaying highly unusual behaviors. As such Darktrace DETECT was able to successfully identify multiple chains of suspicious activity, including unusual file downloads from external endpoints and beaconing activity to rare external locations.

The file downloads from 50.19.48[.]59 observed in the 50.19.48[.]59 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

- Anomalous File / Internet Facing System File Download

- Anomalous File / Script from Rare External Location

- Anomalous File / Zip or Gzip from Rare External Location

- Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

Figure 8: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching several models immediately after contacting 50.19.48[.]59.

The file downloads from 192.184.35[.]216 observed in the 192.184.35[.]216 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

- Anomalous File / Numeric File Download

- Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

Figure 9: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching several models immediately after contacting 192.184.35[.]216.

Subsequent C2, beaconing, and crypto-mining connections in the 50.19.48[.]59 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

- Anomalous Server Activity / New User Agent from Internet Facing System

- Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server

- Compromise / Crypto Currency Mining Activity

- Compromise / High Priority Crypto Currency Mining

- Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score

- Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections

- Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination

- Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

- Device / Large Number of Model Breaches

Figure 10: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching models as a result of its connections to a Mimu crypto-mining endpoint.

Subsequent C2, beaconing, and Tor connections in the 192.184.35[.]216 chains caused the following Darktrace DETECT models to breach:

- Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

- Compromise / Anomalous File then Tor

- Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

- Compromise / Possible Tor Usage

- Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare

- Compromise / Uncommon Tor Usage

- Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

Figure 11: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing a PaperCut server breaching several models as a result of its connections to Tor nodes.

Darktrace RESPOND

Darktrace RESPOND™ was not active in any of the networks affected by 192.184.35[.]216 activity, however, RESPOND was active in some of the networks affected by 50.19.48[.]59 activity.  In those environments where RESPOND was enabled in autonomous mode, observed malicious activities resulted in intervention from RESPOND, including autonomous actions like blocking connections to specific external endpoints, blocking all outgoing traffic, and restricting affected devices to a pre-established pattern of behavior.

Figure 12: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing Darktrace RESPOND automatically performing inhibitive actions on a device in response to the device’s connection to 50.19.48[.]59.
Figure 13: Darktrace’s Event Log data showing Darktrace RESPOND automatically performing inhibitive actions on a device in response to the device’s connections to a Mimu crypto-mining endpoint.

Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst

Cyber AI Analyst autonomously investigated model breaches caused by events within these 50.19.48[.]59 and 192.184.35[.]216 chains. Cyber AI Analyst created user-friendly and detailed descriptions of these events, and then linked together these descriptions into threads representing the attack chains. Darktrace DETECT thus uncovered the individual steps of the attack chains, while Cyber AI Analyst was able to piece together the individual steps and uncover the attack chains themselves.  

Figure 14: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the first event in a 50.19.48[.]59 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 15: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the second event in a 50.19.48[.]59 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 16: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the third event in a 50.19.48[.]59 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 17: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the first event in a 192.184.35[.]216 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.
Figure 18: An AI Analyst Incident entry showing the second event in a 192.184.35[.]216 chain uncovered by Cyber AI Analyst.


The existence of critical vulnerabilities in third-party software leaves organizations at constant risk of malicious actors breaching the perimeters of their networks. This risk can be mitigated through attack surface management and regular patching. However, this does not eliminate cyber risk entirely, meaning that organizations must be prepared for the eventuality of malicious actors getting inside their digital estate.

In April 2023, Darktrace observed malicious actors breaching the perimeters of several customer networks through exploitation of a critical vulnerability in PaperCut. Darktrace DETECT observed actors exploiting PaperCut servers to conduct a wide variety of post-exploitation activities, including downloading malicious payloads associated with cryptocurrency mining or payloads with Tor-based C2 capabilities. Darktrace DETECT created numerous model breaches based on this activity which alerted then customer’s security teams early in their development, providing them with ample time to take mitigative steps.

The successful detection of this payload delivery activity, along with the crypto-mining, beaconing, and Tor C2 activities which followed, elicited Darktrace RESPOND to take autonomous inhibitive action against the ongoing activity in those environments where it was operating in autonomous response mode.

If left to unfold, these intrusions developed in a variety of ways, in some cases leading to Cobalt Strike and ransomware activity. The detection of these intrusions in their early stages thus played a vital role in preventing malicious cyber actors from causing significant disruption.

Credit to: Sam Lister, Senior SOC Analyst, Zoe Tilsiter, Senior Cyber Analyst.



Initial Access techniques:

- Exploit Public-Facing Application (T1190)

Execution techniques:

- Command and Scripting Interpreter: PowerShell (T1059.001)

Discovery techniques:

- System Network Configuration Discovery (T1016)

Command and Control techniques

- Application Layer Protocol: Web Protocols (T1071.001)

- Encrypted Channel: Asymmetric Cryptography (T1573.002)

- Ingress Tool Transfer (T1105)

- Non-Standard Port (T1571)

- Protocol Tunneling (T1572)

- Proxy: Multi-hop Proxy (T1090.003)

- Remote Access Software (T1219)

Defense Evasion techniques:

- BITS Jobs (T1197)

Impact techniques:

- Data Encrypted for Impact (T1486)

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoCs from 50.19.48[.]59 attack chains:

- 85.106.112[.]60

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/me1.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/me2.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/

- 138.68.61[.]82

- update.mimu-me[.]cyou • 102.130.112[.]157

- 34.195.77[.]216

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/mazar.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/prx.bat

- http://50.19.48[.]59:82/lol.exe  

- http://77.91.85[.]117/122.exe

- windows.n1tro[.]cyou • 176.28.51[.]151

- 77.91.85[.]117

- 91.149.237[.]76

- kernel-mlclosoft[.]site • 104.21.29[.]206

-[.]com • 3.134.73[.]173

- 212.113.116[.]105

- c34a54599a1fbaf1786aa6d633545a60 (JA3 client fingerprint of crypto-mining client)

IoCs from 192.184.35[.]216 attack chains:

- 185.56.83[.]83

- 185.34.33[.]2

- http://192.184.35[.]216:443/4591187629.exe

- api.ipify[.]org • 104.237.62[.]211

- www.67m4ipctvrus4cv4qp[.]com • 192.99.43[.]171

- www.ynbznxjq2sckwq3i[.]com • 51.89.106[.]29

- www.kuo2izmlm2silhc[.]com • 51.89.106[.]29

- 148.251.136[.]16

- 51.158.231[.]208

- 51.75.153[.]22

- 82.66.61[.]19

- backmainstream-ltd[.]com • 77.91.72[.]149

- 159.65.42[.]223

- 185.254.37[.]236

- http://137.184.56[.]77:443/for.ps1

- http://137.184.56[.]77:443/c.bat

- 45.88.66[.]59

- http://5.8.18[.]237/download/Load64.exe

- http://5.8.18[.]237/download/sdb64.dll

- 140e0f0cad708278ade0984528fe8493 (JA3 client fingerprint of Tor-based client)












Darktrace cyber analysts are world-class experts in threat intelligence, threat hunting and incident response, and provide 24/7 SOC support to thousands of Darktrace customers around the globe. Inside the SOC is exclusively authored by these experts, providing analysis of cyber incidents and threat trends, based on real-world experience in the field.
Sam Lister
SOC Analyst
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Inside the SOC

The Price of Admission: Countering Stolen Credentials with Darktrace

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Jun 2024

Using leaked credentials to gain unauthorized access

Dark web marketplaces selling sensitive data have increased accessibility for malicious actors, similar to Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS), lowering the barrier to entry usually associated with malicious activity. By utilizing leaked credentials, malicious actors can easily gain unauthorized access to accounts and systems which they can leverage to carry out malicious activities like data exfiltration or malware deployment.

Usage of leaked credentials by malicious actors is a persistent concern for both organizations and security providers. Google Cloud’s ‘H1 2024 Threat Horizons Report’ details that initial access seen in 2.9% of cloud compromises observed on Google Cloud resulted from leaked credential usage [1], with the ‘IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2024’ reporting 71% year-on-year increase in cyber-attacks which utilize stolen or compromised credentials [2].

Darktrace coverage of leaked credentials

In early 2024, one Darktrace customer was compromised by a malicious actor after their internal credentials had been leaked on the dark web. Subsequent attack phases were detected by Darktrace/Network and the customer was alerted to the suspicious activity via the Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, following an investigation by Darktrace’s Security Operation Center (SOC).

Darktrace detected a device on the network of a customer in the US carrying out a string of anomalous activity indicative of network compromise. The device was observed using a new service account to authenticate to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) server, before proceeding to perform a range of suspicious activity including internal reconnaissance and lateral movement.

Malicious actors seemingly gained access to a previously unused service account for which they were able to set up multi-factor authentication (MFA) to access the VPN. As this MFA setup was made possible by the configuration of the customer’s managed service provider (MSP), the initial access phase of the attack fell outside of Darktrace’s purview.

Unfortunately for the customer in this case, Darktrace RESPOND™ was not enabled on the network at the time of the attack. Had RESPOND been active, it would have been able to autonomously act against the malicious activity by disabling users, strategically blocking suspicious connections and limiting devices to their expected patterns of activity.

Attack timeline of leaked credentials spotted by darktrace

Network Scanning Activity

On February 22, 2024, Darktrace detected the affected device performing activity indicative of network scanning, namely initiating connections on multiple ports, including ports 80, 161 389 and 445, to other internal devices. While many of these internal connection attempts were unsuccessful, some successful connections were observed.

Devices on a network can gather information about other internal devices by performing network scanning activity. Defensive scanning can be used to support network security, allowing internal security teams to discover vulnerabilities and potential entry points that require their attention, however attackers are also able to take advantage of such information, such as open ports and services available on internal devices, with offensive scanning.

Brute Force Login Attempts

Darktrace proceeded to identify the malicious actor attempting to access a previously unused service account for which they were able to successfully establish MFA to access the organization’s VPN. As the customer’s third-party MSP had been configured to allow all users to login to the organization’s VPN using MFA, this login was successful. Moreover, the service account had never previously been used and MFA and never been established, allowing the attacker to leverage it for their own nefarious means.

Darktrace/Network identified the attacker attempting to authenticate over the Kerberos protocol using a total of 30 different usernames, of which two were observed successfully authenticating. There was a total of 6 successful Kerberos logins identified from two different credentials.  Darktrace also observed over 100 successful NTLM attempts from the same device for multiple usernames including “Administrator” and “mail”. These credentials were later confirmed by the customer to have been stolen and leaked on the dark web.

Advanced Search query results showing the usernames that successfully authenticated via NTLM.
Figure 1: Advanced Search query results showing the usernames that successfully authenticated via NTLM.

Even though MFA requirements had been satisfied when the threat actor accessed the organization’s VPN, Darktrace recognized that this activity represented a deviation from its previously learned behavior.

Malicious actors frequently attempt to gain unauthorized access to accounts and internal systems by performing login attempts using multiple possible usernames and passwords. This type of brute-force activity is typically accomplished using computational power via the use of software or scripts to attempt different username/password combinations until one is successful.

By purchasing stolen credentials from dark web marketplaces, attackers are able to significantly increase the success rate of brute-force attacks and, if they do gain access, they can easily act on their objectives, be that exfiltrating sensitive data or moving through their target networks to further the compromise.

Share Enumeration

Around 30 minutes after the initial network scanning activity, the compromised device was observed performing SMB enumeration using one of the aforementioned accounts. Darktrace understood that this activity was suspicious as the device had never previously been used to perform SMB activity and had not been tagged as a security device.

Darktrace/Network identifying the suspicious SMB enumeration performed by the compromised device.
Figure 2: Darktrace/Network identifying the suspicious SMB enumeration performed by the compromised device.

Such enumeration can be used by malicious actors to gain insights into the structures and configurations of a target device, view permissions associated with shared resources, and also view general identifying information about the system.

Darktrace further identified that the device connected to the named pipe “srvsvc”. By enumerating over srvsvc, a threat actor is able to request a list of all available SMB shares on a destination device, enabling further data gathering as part of network reconnaissance. Srvsvc also provides access to remote procedure call (RPC) for various services on a destination device.

At this stage, a Darktrace/Network Enhanced Monitoring model was triggered for lateral movement activity taking place on the customer’s network. As this particular customer was subscribed to the PTN service, the Enhanced Monitoring model alert was promptly triaged and investigated by the Darktrace SOC. The customer was alerted to the emerging activity and given full details of the incident and the SOC team’s investigation.

Attack and Reconnaissance Tool Usage

A few minutes later, Darktrace observed the device making a connection with a user agent associated with the Nmap network scanning tool, “Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Nmap Scripting Engine;[.]html)”. While these tools are often used legitimately by an organization’s security team, they can also be used maliciously by attackers to exploit vulnerabilities that attackers may have unearthed during earlier reconnaissance activity.

As such services are often seen as normal network traffic, attackers can often use them to bypass traditional security measures. Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI, however, was able to recognize that the affected device was not a security device and therefore not expected to carry out such activity, even if it was using a legitimate Nmap service.

Darktrace/Network identifying the compromised device using the Nmap scanning tool.
Figure 3: Darktrace/Network identifying the compromised device using the Nmap scanning tool.

Further Lateral Movement

Following this suspicious Nmap usage, Darktrace observed a range of additional anomalous SMB activity from the aforementioned compromised account. The affected device attempted to establish almost 900 SMB sessions, as well as performing 65 unusual file reads from 29 different internal devices and over 300 file deletes for the file “” from over 100 devices using multiple paths, including ADMIN$, C$, print$.

Darktrace also observed the device making several DCE-RPC connections associated with Active Directory Domain enumeration, including DRSCrackNames and DRSGetNCChanges; a total of more than 1000 successful DCE-RPC connection were observed to a domain controller.

As this customer did not have Darktrace/Network's autonomous response deployed on their network, the above detailed lateral movement and network reconnaissance activity was allowed to progress unfettered, until Darktrace’s SOC alerted the customer’s security team to take urgent action. The customer also received follow-up support through Darktrace’s Ask the Expert (ATE) service, allowing them to contact the analyst team directly for further details and support on the incident.

Thanks to this early detection, the customer was able to quickly identify and disable affected user accounts, effectively halting the attack and preventing further escalation.


Given the increasing trend of ransomware attackers exfiltrating sensitive data for double extortion and the rise of information stealers, stolen credentials are commonplace across dark web marketplaces. Malicious actors can exploit these leaked credentials to drastically lower the barrier to entry associated with brute-forcing access to their target networks.

While implementing well-configured MFA and enforcing regular password changes can help protect organizations, these measures alone may not be enough to fully negate the advantage attackers gain with stolen credentials.

In this instance, an attacker used leaked credentials to compromise an unused service account, allowing them to establish MFA and access the customer’s VPN. While this tactic may have allowed the attacker to evade human security teams and traditional security tools, Darktrace’s AI detected the unusual use of the account, indicating a potential compromise despite the organization’s MFA requirements being met. This underscores the importance of adopting an intelligent decision maker, like Darktrace, that is able to identify and respond to anomalies beyond standard protective measures.

Credit to Charlotte Thompson, Cyber Security Analyst, Ryan Traill, Threat Content Lead


Darktrace DETECT Model Coverage

-       Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity (Model Alert)

-       Device / ICMP Address Scan (Model Alert)

-       Device / Network Scan (Model Alert)

-       Device / Suspicious LDAP Search Operation (Model Alert)

-       User / Kerberos Username Brute Force (Model Alert)

-       Device / Large Number of Model Breaches (Model Alert)

-       Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration (Model Alert)

-       Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches (Enhanced Monitoring Model Alert)

-       Device / Possible SMB/NTLM Reconnaissance (Model Alert)

-       Anomalous Connection / Possible Share Enumeration Activity (Model Alert)

-       Device / Attack and Recon Tools (Model Alert)


Tactic – Technique - Code

INITIAL ACCESS - Hardware Additions     -T1200

DISCOVERY - Network Service Scanning -T1046

DISCOVERY - Remote System Discovery - T1018

DISCOVERY - Domain Trust Discovery      - T1482

DISCOVERY - File and Directory Discovery - T1083

DISCOVERY - Network Share Discovery - T1135

RECONNAISSANCE - Scanning IP Blocks - T1595.001

RECONNAISSANCE - Vulnerability Scanning - T1595.002

RECONNAISSANCE - Client Configurations - T1592.004

RECONNAISSANCE - IP Addresses - T1590.005

CREDENTIAL ACCESS - Brute Force - T1110

LATERAL MOVEMENT - Exploitation of Remote Services -T1210


  1. 2024 Google Cloud Threat Horizons Report
  2. IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2024
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About the author
Charlotte Thompson
Cyber Analyst


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Exploring the Benefits and Risks of Third-Party Data Solutions

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Jun 2024

Why do companies allow third parties to handle their data?

Companies seek out third parties to handle their data for operational efficiency.

The scale and cost of maintaining in-house infrastructure can be outsourced to third parties who specialize in data management or in certain business functions.

Third parties who handle an organization’s data can range from large public cloud providers such as Azure or AWS, to boutique companies who handle specific business functions such as telemarketing, payment systems, or webpage hosting.

The operational efficiencies gained through third-party data management can be summarized by three key benefits:

  • Global accessibility: Third-party data storage enables data access across the globe, allowing businesses to access data from anywhere.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Third-party data storage allows for file sharing, real-time editing, and integration with other applications and services enhancing a business’s collaboration efforts.
  • Reliability and uptime: Reputable third-party storage providers offer high reliability and uptime guarantees, ensuring that data is available whenever needed. They typically have robust disaster recovery and backup systems in place to prevent data loss.

Given these benefits, it is no surprise that businesses are using these services to expand their operations and scale efforts with the need of a growing business. This strategic move not only optimizes resource allocation but also enhances operational agility, enabling businesses to adapt swiftly to evolving data demands and maintain a competitive edge in a dynamic market.

Security risks of entrusted data to third-party vendors

Entrusting data to third parties can expose businesses to supply chain risks and increase the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access. A business has less control over its data and becomes dependent on the third party's policies, practices, and uptime. Many third-party vendors are the target of hackers who specialize in monetizing sensitive data and exploiting gray areas around who is responsible for securing the data.

Thus, businesses are vulnerable when they entrust sensitive data to third-party platforms, which often lack transparency about data usage and security. The platforms, chosen mainly for cost, efficiency, and user experience, are frequent targets for cyber criminals, hacktivists, and opportunistic lone hackers looking for sensitive data accidentally exposed due to misconfigurations or poor data management policies.

Consumers are putting pressure on businesses to improve cybersecurity when handling their personal data. Businesses who suffer a data breach face a high level of scrutiny from customers, investors, the media, and governments, even when the data breach is the result of a third party’s being hacked. For example, Uber made headlines in 2022 for a data breach which was the result of a compromised vendor who had access to data regarding Uber’s employees.

Similarly, the UK’s Ministry of Defence was the victim of a data breach earlier this year when hackers targeted a third party payroll system used by the government department.

Why do cyber-criminals target third parties?

Cyber-criminals can potentially gain access to multiple networks when targeting a third-party storage provider. A successful attack could give attackers access to the networks and systems of all its clients, amplifying the impact of a single breach.

For example, when Illuminate Education was the target of a cyber-attack, the data of 23 US School Districts was stolen via its student-tracking software. It included student data from the country's two largest school systems - New York City Public Schools and Los Angeles Unified School District.

Common third-party security risks

When collaborating with third parties, organizations should be aware of the most common types of security risks posed to their cybersecurity.

  • Software supply chain attacks: Software supply chain attacks occur when cyber criminals infiltrate and compromise software products or updates at any point in the development or distribution process. This allows attackers to insert malicious code into legitimate software, which then gets distributed to users through trusted channels.
  • Human error: Human error in cybersecurity refers to mistakes made by individuals that lead to security breaches or vulnerabilities. These errors can result from lack of awareness, insufficient training, negligence, or simple mistakes.
  • Privileged access misuse: Privileged access misuse involves the inappropriate or unauthorized use of elevated access rights by individuals within an organization. This can include intentionally malicious actions or unintentional misuse of administrative privileges.

What to look for in a security solution when using third parties to store or manage data

Understanding the security posture of a third party is important when partnering with it and entrusting it with your organization’s data. Understanding how basic cyber hygiene policies are implemented is a good place to start, such as data retention policies, use of encryption for data in storage, and how identity and access are managed.

In some circumstances, it is important to understand who is responsible for the data’s security. For example, when using public cloud infrastructure, it is generally the responsibility of the data owner to manage how the data is accessed and stored.

In that situation, an organization needs to ensure it has solutions in place which gives it full visibility of that third-party environment, and which can proactively identify misconfigurations and detect and respond to suspicious activity in real time.

Benefits of using AI tools to aid in managing sensitive data

According to research performed by IBM, organizations with extensive use of security AI and automation identified and contained a data breach 108 days faster in 2023 than organizations that did not use AI for cybersecurity. (1) This figure is only likely to improve as companies mature in their adoption of AI for cyber security and can be a key indicator in the security posture of a third-party vendor.

Example of third-party security incidents

Sumo data breach

Sumo, an Australian energy and internet provider, suffered a data breach which they became aware of on May 13th, 2024. Further investigation into the cyber incident has found that “the personal details of approximately 40,000 customers were compromised, including approximately 3,000 Australian passport numbers.” (2)

While none of Sumo’s systems were allegedly accessed or affected and the third-party application also worked as designed (3), the incident was blamed on an unnamed third party. The breach may have been the result of a misconfiguration or human error.

This incident underscores the importance of not only selecting third-party providers with robust security measures but also continuously monitoring and assessing their security practices.

How Darktrace helps monitor third-party data usage

Darktrace/Cloud uses Self-Learning AI to provide complete cyber resilience for multi-cloud environments.

Benefits of Darktrace/Cloud:

Architectural awareness: Gives users an understanding of their cloud footprint, including real-time visibility into cloud assets, architectures, users and permissions. Combines asset enumeration, modeled architectures, and flow log analysis. Cost insights give a better understanding of resource allocation, helping teams contextualize resources.

Cloud-native detection and response: AI understands ‘normal’ for your unique business and stops cyber-threats with autonomous response. Near-real-time response goes beyond simple email alerts or opening a ticket; and includes cloud-native actions like detaching EC2 instances and applying security groups to contain risky assets.

Cloud protection and compliance: Identify compliance issues and potential misconfigurations with attack path modeling and prioritized remediation steps. Darktrace’s attack surface management (ASM) adds a critical external view of your organization, highlighting vulnerabilities most impactful to your specific situation and revealing shadow IT.

Learn more about securing cloud environments by reading: The CISO’s Guide to Cloud Security here.





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About the author
Oakley Cox
Analyst Technical Director, APAC
Our ai. Your data.

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