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PREVENT Use Cases: Identifying High Impact Attack Paths

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22
Feb 2023
22
Feb 2023
This blog explains the benefits of thinking like an attacker and modeling attack paths in order to understand where you need to invest your defenses.

What are the people, process and technology assets that would do the most harm, if compromised by an attacker?

Attack path modeling provides a detailed map of all the roads that lead to an organization's crown jewels, prioritized in order of likelihood and potential impact. CISO's are increasingly looking to this kind of solution to complement their security stack because it highlights risks that are specific to this organization's structure, as well as potentially unexpected relationships between devices or users that would prove catastrophic if they were exploited.  

What makes Darktrace's Attack Path Modeling solution stand out?

  • Data sources are varied and information from the entire digital estate is considered
  • Modeling is real-time and continuously re-evaluated
  • Output does not require expert technical knowledge to be leveraged
  • Valuable as a standalone for vulnerability prioritization
  • As a component of the Cyber AI Loop, the solution provides immediate value by feeding back into DETECT and RESPOND (e.g. tag critical assets for detection) but also provides long term systemic improvements as outcomes are followed up.

Thinking like an attacker

In 2023, CISOs will move beyond just insurance and checkbox compliance, as underwriters include more and more exclusions for certain types of cyber-attacks and the limits of compliance ticking the protection box rather than bolstering operational assurance become more apparent. They will push their teams to opt for more proactive cyber security measures to maximize ROI in the face of budget cuts, shifting investment into tools and capabilities that continuously improve their cyber resilience and demonstrate cyber risk reduction.

While red teams can provide insight into where effort and resource should be most immediately applied, the exercises themselves are often costly, non-exhaustive and infrequently run.

Hackers are constantly seeking pathways, preferably those of least resistance, to compromise a system by exploiting its vulnerabilities. Attack path modeling enables security teams to look at their environment from the perspective of the attacker. In turn, this helps them eliminate attack paths progressively, reducing the options an attacker would have, should they breach the walls.

A deeper dive into Attack Path Modeling

An attack path is a visual representation of the path that an attacker takes to exploit a weakness in the system. It highlights the series of steps (attack vectors) that a threat actor might take from one of the doors into the organization (attack surface) to access valuable assets.

It is typically unusual for an attacker to have a boulevard straight down to the crown jewels. They will most likely leverage a couple of loopholes, unexpected relationships and blind spots in the security stack to piece together a path to these confidential assets. Attack path modeling can help to highlight the attack vectors that connect, to form this path to compromise.  

Figure 1: Screengrabs from the Darktrace PREVENT/End-To-End user interface.

How to model attack paths

Darktrace's proprietary Self-Learning AI models relationships, and graph theory is incorporated to understand the importance of users, documents and relationships between these.

Darktrace PREVENT's Attack Path Modeling component identifies target nodes (users, accounts, devices), it then calculates the shortest paths to these target nodes and weights the results according to the likelihood of this attack path and the damage caused if the target asset was compromised. This is exactly what an attacker would do when planning an attack, albeit with a significant advantage to Darktrace PREVENT's AI Engine, which has access to more information than the attacker. For the first time, defenders have the upper hand against attackers.

Avoiding siloed efforts

According to a Gartner survey, 75% of organizations are looking at consolidating security tools, not primarily because of cost, but because it helps drive cyber risk reduction. Ensuring that security efforts are part of a wider security ecosystem, rather than siloed efforts, is crucial to maximize the return on these investments. Darktrace's Attack Path Modeling solution is a component of Darktrace PREVENT's End-to-End (E2E) offering.

Darktrace PREVENT integrates with Darktrace's DETECT and RESPOND to ensure that the organization's security posture is hardened, even if the team doesn't have time to eliminate the attack path.

Defensive superiority is key, and Attack Path Modeling is one way to help security teams gain back an advantage. Find out how you can test it in your own environment.

Attack Path Modeling is an objective, however, and there are a few important questions to consider when assessing the different methods of creating these models.

Are we considering all the relevant data when building my attack paths map?

Consider the case where one of your marketing executives has a close friendship with someone in your development team. How do you model that into your attack paths cartography? Attack paths encompass the full digital estate, so the attack path modeling solution should consider information from various parts, internal and external. This may include data from the Email environment, the Network, Endpoints, SaaS & Cloud, Active Directory, Vulnerability Scanners, etc.  

Cross-data analysis is the only way to understand holistic attack paths.

Are we looking at the most up to date map of attack paths?

Relationships between users, devices and other sensitive assets can evolve on a daily basis, this implies attack paths evolve on a daily basis. Ensuring that the methods or solutions used update their understanding continuously and in real-time is vital if security teams want the most up to date understanding of their organization's risk posture.

To improve our security posture, how do we know which attack paths to start with?

One thing is to map the sum-total of attack paths, another is to prioritize them. Attack path modeling gives you the map but adding a risk-assessment (explored in more depth below) layer on top is how you prioritize. This is where graph theory can be very useful to identify choke points that you may want to strengthen.  

Does this output yield actionable insights?

The prime objective of this solution is not simply to provide an assessment of cyber risk posture, but rather to help drive security efforts in the right direction. To that end, the output needs to be accessible to team members that may not have expert cyber skills. Lowering barriers to entry with usable insights and mitigation advice is key to successfully improve the organization's security posture.

Assessing risk to prioritize attack paths

Darktrace Attack Path Modeling (APM) is a risk-based approach to assessing cyber-attack pathways, thinking like an attacker, and probing the path of least resistance. 'Risk' in this case is defined as the product of two factors: Probability and Impact. By using this information to categorize possible attack paths in the risk matrix below, Darktrace's APM can prioritize attack paths to ensure security team efforts are spent on controlling for the most relevant risks for their organization.

Figure 2: Risk matrix for attack path prioritization

A: Defining Probability

There are two types of probability to consider:

The likelihood of one particular door being chosen by an attacker to infiltrate the organization (among the assets at the attack surface - this could be an internet-facing server, an inbox, a SaaS/Cloud account, etc). And,

The likelihood of one particular node (defined as a device or user account) being compromised next, via lateral movement.

Figure 3: Simplified example of calculating probability of lateral movement from a compromised agent to one of two servers

B Defining Impact

Impact refers to the overall impact of an asset being compromised and unusable. In the case of an asset (e.g.: a key server), the bigger the disruption if this asset goes down, the higher the impact score. If considering a particular document, restricted access and sensitivity score of users accessing it are some of the variables used to estimate impact.

Figure 4: Diagram showing a simplified example of mapping access volume and sensitivity to estimate document value.

Both variables are calculated by the AI autonomously, without requiring human input. Security teams can of course reinforce the AI's understanding of the organization with their business expertise (by tagging additional sensitive devices for example).

A more in-depth description of how impact is propagated to identify key servers or sensitive documents, as well as other components that comprise the Darktrace Attack Path Modeling module can be found in this white paper.

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.
AUTHOR
ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
Elliot Stocker
Product SME

After 2 years in a commercial role helping to deploy Darktrace across a broad range of digital environments, Elliot currently occupies the role of Product Subject Matter Expert, where he helps to articulate the value of Darktrace’s technology to customers around the world. Elliot holds a Masters degree in Data Science and Machine Learning, using this knowledge to communicate concepts around machine learning and AI in an accessible way to different audiences.

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Inside the SOC

The Price of Admission: Countering Stolen Credentials with Darktrace

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03
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; https://nmap.org/book/nse[.]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 “delete.me” 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.

Conclusions

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

Appendices

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)

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

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

References

  1. 2024 Google Cloud Threat Horizons Report
    https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/threat_horizons_report_h12024.pdf
  2. IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2024
    https://www.ibm.com/reports/threat-intelligence
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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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03
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.

References

1.    https://www.ibm.com/reports/data-breach

2.    https://www.passports.gov.au/news/sumo-data-breach

3.    https://www.smh.com.au/technology/sumo-slammed-by-data-breach-as-energy-and-internet-customers-have-details-leaked-20240515-p5jdwp.html

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About the author
Oakley Cox
Analyst Technical Director, APAC
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