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Broken Trust: Darktrace’s Detection of Trusted Network Relationship Abuse

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17
Jan 2024
17
Jan 2024
This blog details how Darktrace DETECT and the Darktrace SOC team were able to help a customer whose network had been compromised via the exploitation of a trusted relationship with one of their partners.

Trusted relationships between organizations and third parties have become an increasingly popular target for cyber threat actors to gain access to sensitive networks. These relationships are typically granted by organizations to external or adjacent entities and allow for the access of internal resources for business purposes.1 Trusted network relations can exist between constituent elements of an overarching corporation, IT-service providers and their customers, and even implicitly between IT product vendors and their customers.

Several high-profile compromises have occurred due to the leveraging of privileged network access by such third parties. One prominent example is the 2016 DNC network attack, in which the trust between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was exploited. Supply chain attacks, which also leverage the implicit trust between IT vendors and customers, are also on the rise with some estimates projecting that by 2025, almost half of all organizations will be impact by supply chain compromises.2 These trends may also be attributed to the prevalence of remote work as well as the growth in IT-managed service providers.3

Given the nature of such network relationships and threat techniques, signatures-based detection is heavily disadvantaged in the identification and mitigation of such trust abuses; network administrators cannot as easily use firewalls to block IPs that need access to networks. However, Darktrace DETECT™, and its Self-Learning AI, has proven successful in the identification and mitigation of these compromises. In September 2023, Darktrace observed an incident involving the abuse of such a trusted relationship on the network of a healthcare provider.

Attack Overview

In early September 2023, a Darktrace customer contacted the Darktrace Security Operations Center (SOC) through the Ask the Expert™ (ATE) service requesting assistance with suspicious activity detected on their network. Darktrace had alerted the customer’s security team to an unknown device that had appeared on their network and proceeded to perform a series of unexpected activities, including reconnaissance, lateral movement, and attempted data exfiltration.

Unfortunately for this customer, Darktrace RESPOND™ was not enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of this compromise, meaning any preventative actions suggested by RESPOND had to be applied manually by the customer’s security team after the fact.  Nevertheless, Darktrace’s prompt identification of the suspicious activity and the SOC’s investigation helped to disrupt the intrusion in its early stages, preventing it from developing into a more disruptive compromise.

Initial Access

Darktrace initially observed a new device that appeared within the customers internal network with a Network Address Translated (NAT) IP address that suggested remote access from a former partner organization’s network. Further investigation carried out by the customer revealed that poor credential policies within the partner’s organization had likely been exploited by attackers to gain access to a virtual desktop interface (VDI) machine.

Using the VDI appliance of a trusted associate, the threat actor was then able to gain access to the customer’s environment by utilizing NAT remote access infrastructure. Devices within the customer’s network had previously been utilized for remote access from the partner network when such activity was permitted and expected. Since then, access to this network was thought to have been removed for all parties. However, it became apparent that the remote access functionality remained operational. While the customer also had firewalls within the environment, a misconfiguration at the time of the attack allowed inbound port access to the remote environment resulting in the suspicious device joining the network on August 29, 2023.

Internal Reconnaissance

Shortly after the device joined the network, Darktrace observed it carrying out a string of internal reconnaissance activity. This activity was initiated with internal ICMP address connectivity, followed by internal TCP connection attempts to a range of ports associated with critical services like SMB, RDP, HTTP, RPC, and SSL. The device was also detected attempting to utilize privileged credentials, which were later identified as relating to a generic multi-purpose administrative account. The threat actor proceeded to conduct further internal reconnaissance, including reverse DNS sweeps, while also attempting to use six additional user credentials.

In addition to the widespread internal connectivity, Darktrace observed persistent connection attempts focused on the RDP and SMB protocols. Darktrace also detected additional SMB enumeration during this phase of the attacker’s reconnaissance. This reconnaissance activity largely attempted to access a wide variety of SMB shares, previously unseen by the host to identify available share types and information available for aggregation. As such, the breach host conducted a large spike in SMB writes to the server service (srvsvc) endpoint on a range of internal hosts using the credential: extramedwb. SMB writes to this endpoint traditionally indicate binding attempts.

Beginning on August 31, Darktrace identified a new host associated with the aforementioned NAT IP address. This new host appeared to have taken over as the primary host conducting the reconnaissance and lateral movement on the network taking advantage of the VDI infrastructure. Like the previous host, this one was observed sustaining reconnaissance activity on August 31, featuring elevated SMB enumeration, SMB access failures, RDP connection attempts, and reverse DNS sweeps.  The attackers utilized several credentials to execute their reconnaissance, including generic and possibly default administrative credentials, including “auditor” and “administrator”.

Figure 1: Advanced Search query highlighting anomalous activity from the second observed remote access host over the course of one week surrounding the time of the breach.

Following these initial detections by Darktrace DETECT, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ launched an autonomous investigation into the scanning and privileged internal connectivity and linked these seemingly separate events together into one wider internal reconnaissance incident.

Figure 2: Timeline of an AI Analyst investigation carried out between August 29 and August 31, 2023, during which it detected an increased volume of scanning and unusual privileged internal connectivity.

Lateral Movement

Following the reconnaissance activity performed by the new host observed exploiting the remote access infrastructure, Darktrace detected an increase in attempts to move laterally within the customer’s network, particularly via RPC commands and SMB file writes.

Specifically, the threat actor was observed attempting RPC binds to several destination devices, which can be used in the calling of commands and/or the creation of services on destination devices. This activity was highlighted in repeated failed attempts to bind to the ntsvcs named pipe on several destination devices within the network. However, given the large number of connection attempts, Darktrace did also detect a number of successful RPC connections.

Darktrace also detected a spike in uncommon service control (SVCCTL) ExecMethod, Create, and Start service operations from the breach device.

Figure 3: Model breach details noting the affected device performing unsuccessful RPC binds to endpoints not supported on the destination device.

Additional lateral movement activity was performed using the SMB/NTLM protocols. The affected device also conducted a series of anonymous NTLM logins, whereby NTLM authentication attempts occurred without a named client principal, to a range of internal hosts. Such activity is highly indicative of malicious or unauthorized activity on the network. The host also employed the outdated SMB version 1 (SMBv1) protocol during this phase of the kill chain. The use of SMBv1 often represents a compliance issue for most networks due to the high number of exploitable vulnerabilities associated with this version of the protocol.

Lastly, Darktrace identified the internal transfer of uncommon executables, such as ‘TRMtZSqo.exe’, via SMB write. The breach device was observed writing this file to the hidden administrative share (ADMIN$) on a destination server. Darktrace recognized that this activity was highly unusual for the device and may have represented the threat actor transferring a malicious payload to the destination server for further persistence, data aggregation, and/or command and control (C2) operations. Further SMB writes of executable files, and the subsequent delete of these binaries, were observed from the device at this time. For example, the additional executable ‘JAqfhBEB.exe’ was seen being deleted by the breach device. This deletion, paired with the spike in SVCCTL Create and Start operations occurring, suggests the transfer, execution, and removal of persistence and data harvesting binaries within the network.

Figure 4: AI Analyst details highlighting the SMB file writes of the unusual executable from the remote access device during the compromise.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Darktrace was able to successfully identify and alert for suspicious activity being performed by a threat actor who had gained unauthorized access to the customer’s network by abusing one of their trusted relationships.

The identification of scanning, RPC commands and SMB sessions directly assisted the customer in their response to contain and mitigate this intrusion. The investigation carried out by the Darktrace SOC enabled the customer to promptly triage and remediate the attack, mitigating the potential damage and preventing the compromise from escalating further. Had Darktrace RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of the attack, it would have been able to take swift action to inhibit the scanning, share enumerations and file write activity, thereby thwarting the attacker’s network reconnaissance and lateral movement attempts.

By exploiting trusted relationships between organizations, threat actors are often able to bypass traditional signatured-based security methods that have previously been reconfigured to allow and trust connections from and to specific endpoints. Rather than relying on the configurations of specific rules and permitted IP addresses, ports, and devices, Darktrace DETECT’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection meant it was able to identify suspicious network activity at the earliest stage, irrespective of the offending device and whether the domain or relationship was trusted.

Credit to Adam Potter, Cyber Security Analyst, Taylor Breland, Analyst Team Lead, San Francisco.

Darktrace DETECT Model Breach Coverage:

  • Device / ICMP Address Scan
  • Device / Network Scan
  • Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity
  • Device / RDP Scan
  • Device / Possible SMB/NTLM Reconnaissance
  • Device / Reverse DNS Sweep
  • Anomalous Connection / SMB Enumeration
  • Device / Large Number of Model Breaches
  • Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Activity On High Risk Device
  • Unusual Activity / Possible RPC Recon Activity
  • Device / Anonymous NTLM Logins
  • Anomalous Connection / Unusual SMB Version 1 Connectivity
  • Device / Repeated Unknown RPC Service Bind Errors
  • Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control
  • Compliance / SMB Drive Write
  • Anomalous File / Internal / Unusual Internal EXE File Transfer
  • Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches

AI Analyst Incidents:

  • Scanning of Multiple Devices
  • Extensive Unusual RDPConnections
  • SMB Write of Suspicious File
  • Suspicious DCE-RPC Activity

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

  • Tactic: Initial Access
  • Technique: T1199 - Trusted Relationship
  • Tactic: Discovery
  • Technique:
  • T1018 - Remote System Discovery
  • T1046 - Network Service Discovery
  • T1135 - Network Share Discovery
  • T1083 - File and Directory Discovery
  • Tactic: Lateral Movement
  • Technique:
  • T1570 - Lateral Tool Transfer
  • T1021 - Remote Services
  • T1021.002 - SMB/Windows Admin Shares
  • T1021.003 - Distributed Component Object Model
  • T1550 - Use Alternate Authentication Material

References

1https://attack.mitre.org/techniques/T1199/

2https://www.cloudflare.com/learning/insights-supply-chain-attacks/

3https://newsroom.cisco.com/c/r/newsroom/en/us/a/y2023/m09/companies-reliance-on-it-managed-services-increases-in-2023-sector-valued-at-us-472-billion-globally.html#:~:text=IT%20channel%20partners%20selling%20managed,US%24419%20billion%20in%202022.

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AUTEUR
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Adam Potter
Cyber Analyst
Taylor Breland
Analyst Team Lead, San Francisco
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Email

Beyond DMARC: Navigating the Gaps in Email Security

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29
Feb 2024

Email threat landscape  

Email has consistently ranked among the most targeted attack vectors, given its ubiquity and criticality to business operations. From September to December 2023, 10.4 million phishing emails were detected across Darktrace’s customer fleet demonstrating the frequency of attempted email-based attacks.

Businesses are searching for ways to harden their email security posture alongside email providers who are aiming to reduce malicious emails traversing their infrastructure, affecting their clients. Domain-based Message Authentication (DMARC) is a useful industry-wide protocol organizations can leverage to move towards these goals.  

What is DMARC?

DMARC is an email authentication protocol designed to enhance the security of email communication.

Major email service providers Google and Yahoo recently made the protocol mandatory for bulk senders in an effort to make inboxes safer worldwide. The new requirements demonstrate an increasing need for a standardized solution as misconfigured or nonexistent authentication systems continue to allow threat actors to evade detection and leverage the legitimate reputation of third parties.  

DMARC is a powerful tool that allows email administrators to confidently identify and stop certain spoofed emails; however, more organizations must implement the standard for it to reach its full potential. The success and effectiveness of DMARC is dependent on broad adoption of the standard – by organizations of all sizes.  

How does DMARC work?

DMARC builds on two key authentication technologies, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and helps to significantly improve their ability to prevent domain spoofing. SPF verifies that a sender’s IP address is authorized to send emails on behalf of a particular domain and DKIM ensures integrity of email content by providing a verifiable digital signature.  

DMARC adds to this by allowing domain owners to publish policies that set expectations for how SPF and DKIM verification checks relate to email addresses presented to users and whose authenticity the receiving mail server is looking to establish.  

These policies work in tandem to help authenticate email senders by verifying the emails are from the domain they say they are, working to prevent domain spoofing attacks. Key benefits of DMARC include:

  1. Phishing protection DMARC protects against direct domain spoofing in which a threat actor impersonates a legitimate domain, a common phishing technique threat actors use to trick employees to obtain sensitive information such as privileged credentials, bank information, etc.  
  2. Improving brand reputation: As DMARC helps to prevent impersonation of domains, it stands to maintain and increase an organization’s brand reputation. Additionally, as organizational reputation improves, so will the deliverability of emails.
  3. Increased visibility: DMARC provides enhanced visibility into email communication channels, including reports of all emails sent on behalf of your domain. This allows security teams to identify shadow-IT and any unauthorized parties using their domain.

Understanding DMARC’s Limitations

DMARC is often positioned as a way for organizations to ‘solve’ their email security problems, however, 65% of the phishing emails observed by Darktrace successfully passed DMARC verification, indicating that a significant number of threat actors are capable of manipulating email security and authentication systems in their exploits. While DMARC is a valuable tool in the fight against email-based attacks, the evolving threat landscape demands a closer look at its limitations.  

As threat actors continue to innovate, improving their stealth and evasion tactics, the number of attacks with valid DMARC authentication will only continue to increase in volume and sophistication. These can include:

  1. Phishing attacks that leverage non-spoofed domains: DMARC allows an organization to protect the domains that they own, preventing threat actors from being able to send phishing emails from their domains. However, threat actors will often create and use ‘look-a-like’ domains that closely resemble an organization’s domain to dupe users. 3% of the phishing emails identified by Darktrace utilized newly created domains, demonstrating shifting tactics.  
  2. Email Account Takeovers: If a threat actor gains access to a user’s email account through other social engineering means such as credential stuffing, they can then send phishing emails from the legitimate domain to pursue further attacks. Even though these emails are malicious, DMARC would not identify them as such because they are coming from an authorized domain or sender.  

Organizations must also ensure their inbound analysis of emails is not skewed by successful DMARC authentication. Security teams cannot inherently trust emails that pass DMARC, because the source cannot always be legitimized, like in the event of an account takeover. If a threat actor gains access to an authenticated email account, emails sent by the threat actor from that account will pass DMARC – however the contents of that email may be malicious. Sender behavior must be continuously evaluated and vetted in real time as past communication history and validated DMARC cannot be solely relied upon amid an ever-changing threat landscape.  

Security teams should lean on other security measures, such as anomaly detection tools that can identify suspicious emails without relying on historical attack rules and static data. While DMARC is not a silver bullet for email security, it is nevertheless foundational in helping organizations protect their brand identity and must be viewed as an essential layer in an organization's overall cyber security strategy.  

Implementing DMARC

Despite the criticality of DMARC for preserving brand reputation and trust, adoption of the standard has been inconsistent. DMARC can be complex to implement with many organizations lacking the time required to understand and successfully implement the standard. Because of this, DMARC set-up is often outsourced, giving security and infrastructure teams little to no visibility into or control of the process.  

Implementation of DMARC is only the start of this process, as DMARC reports must be consistently monitored to ensure organizations have visibility into who is sending mail from their domain, the volume of mail being sent and whether the mail is passing authentication protocols. This process can be time consuming for security teams who are already faced with mounting responsibilities, tight budgets, and personnel shortages. These complexities unfortunately delay organizations from using DMARC – especially as many today still view it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential.  

With the potential complexities of the DMARC implementation process, there are many ways security and infrastructure teams can still successfully roll out the standard. Initial implementation should start with monitoring, policy adjustment and then enforcement. As business changes over time, DMARC should be reviewed regularly to ensure ongoing protection and maintain domain reputation.

The Future of Email Security

As email-based attacks continue to rise, the industry must recognize the importance of driving adoption of foundational email authentication protocols. To do this, a new and innovative approach to DMARC is needed. DMARC products must evolve to better support organizations throughout the ongoing DMARC monitoring process, rather than just initial implementation. These products must also be able to share intelligence across an organization’s security stack, extending beyond email security tools. Integration across these products and tools will help organizations optimize their posture, ensuring deep understanding of their domain and increased visibility across the entire enterprise.

DMARC is critical in protecting brand identity and mitigating exact-domain based attacks. However, organizations must understand DMARC’s unique benefits and limitations to ensure their inboxes are fully protected. In today’s evolving threat landscape, organizations require a robust, multi-layered approach to stop email threats – in inbound mail and beyond. Email threats have evolved – its time security does too.

Join Darktrace on 9 April for a virtual event to explore the latest innovations needed to get ahead of the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Register today to hear more about our latest innovations coming to Darktrace’s offerings. For additional insights check out Darktrace’s 2023 End of Year Threat Report.

Credit to Carlos Gray and Stephen Pickman for their contribution to this blog

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

Blog

A l'intérieur du SOC

Quasar Remote Access Tool: When a Legitimate Admin Tool Falls into the Wrong Hands

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23
Feb 2024

The threat of interoperability

As the “as-a-Service” market continues to grow, indicators of compromise (IoCs) and malicious infrastructure are often interchanged and shared between multiple malware strains and attackers. This presents organizations and their security teams with a new threat: interoperability.

Interoperable threats not only enable malicious actors to achieve their objectives more easily by leveraging existing infrastructure and tools to launch new attacks, but the lack of clear attribution often complicates identification for security teams and incident responders, making it challenging to mitigate and contain the threat.

One such threat observed across the Darktrace customer base in late 2023 was Quasar, a legitimate remote administration tool that has becoming increasingly popular for opportunistic attackers in recent years. Working in tandem, the anomaly-based detection of Darktrace DETECT™ and the autonomous response capabilities of Darktrace RESPOND™ ensured that affected customers were promptly made aware of any suspicious activity on the attacks were contained at the earliest possible stage.

What is Quasar?

Quasar is an open-source remote administration tool designed for legitimate use; however, it has evolved to become a popular tool used by threat actors due to its wide array of capabilities.  

How does Quasar work?

For instance, Quasar can perform keylogging, take screenshots, establish a reverse proxy, and download and upload files on a target device [1].  A report released towards the end of 2023 put Quasar back on threat researchers’ radars as it disclosed the new observation of dynamic-link library (DLL) sideloading being used by malicious versions of this tool to evade detection [1].  DLL sideloading involves configuring legitimate Windows software to run a malicious file rather than the legitimate file it usually calls on as the software loads.  The evolving techniques employed by threat actors using Quasar highlights defenders’ need for anomaly-based detections that do not rely on pre-existing knowledge of attacker techniques, and can identify and alert for unusual behavior, even if it is performed by a legitimate application.

Although Quasar has been used by advanced persistent threat (APT) groups for global espionage operations [2], Darktrace observed the common usage of default configurations for Quasar, which appeared to use shared malicious infrastructure, and occurred alongside other non-compliant activity such as BitTorrent use and cryptocurrency mining.  

Quasar Attack Overview and Darktrace Coverage

Between September and October 2023, Darktrace detected multiple cases of malicious Quasar activity across several customers, suggesting probable campaign activity.  

Quasar infections can be difficult to detect using traditional network or host-based tools due to the use of stealthy techniques such as DLL side-loading and encrypted SSL connections for command-and control (C2) communication, that traditional security tools may not be able to identify.  The wide array of capabilities Quasar possesses also suggests that attacks using this tool may not necessarily be modelled against a linear kill chain. Despite this, the anomaly-based detection of Darktrace DETECT allowed it to identify IoCs related to Quasar at multiple stages of the kill chain.

Quasar Initial Infection

During the initial infection stage of a Quasar compromise observed on the network of one customer, Darktrace detected a device downloading several suspicious DLL and executable (.exe) files from multiple rare external sources using the Xmlst user agent, including the executable ‘Eppzjtedzmk[.]exe’.  Analyzing this file using open-source intelligence (OSINT) suggests this is a Quasar payload, potentially indicating this represented the initial infection through DLL sideloading [3].

Interestingly, the Xmlst user agent used to download the Quasar payload has also been associated with Raccoon Stealer, an information-stealing malware that also acts as a dropper for other malware strains [4][5]. The co-occurrence of different malware components is increasingly common across the threat landscape as MaaS operating models increases in popularity, allowing attackers to employ cross-functional components from different strains.

Figure 1: Cyber AI Analyst Incident summarizing the multiple different downloads in one related incident, with technical details for the Quasar payload included. The incident event for Suspicious File Download is also linked to Possible HTTP Command and Control, suggesting escalation of activity following the initial infection.  

Quasar Establishing C2 Communication

During this phase, devices on multiple customer networks were identified making unusual external connections to the IP 193.142.146[.]212, which was not commonly seen in their networks. Darktrace analyzed the meta-properties of these SSL connections without needing to decrypt the content, to alert the usage of an unusual port not typically associated with the SSL protocol, 4782, and the usage of self-signed certificates.  Self-signed certificates do not provide any trust value and are commonly used in malware communications and ill-reputed web servers.  

Further analysis into these alerts using OSINT indicated that 193.142.146[.]212 is a Quasar C2 server and 4782 is the default port used by Quasar [6][7].  Expanding on the self-signed certificate within the Darktrace UI (see Figure 3) reveals a certificate subject and issuer of “CN=Quasar Server CA”, which is also the default self-signed certificate compiled by Quasar [6].

Figure 2: Cyber AI Analyst Incident summarizing the repeated external connections to a rare external IP that was later associated with Quasar.
Figure 3: Device Event Log of the affected device, showing Darktrace’s analysis of the SSL Certificate associated with SSL connections to 193.142.146[.]212.

A number of insights can be drawn from analysis of the Quasar C2 endpoints detected by Darktrace across multiple affected networks, suggesting a level of interoperability in the tooling used by different threat actors. In one instance, Darktrace detected a device beaconing to the endpoint ‘bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org’ using the aforementioned “CN=Quasar Server CA” certificate. DuckDNS is a dynamic DNS service that could be abused by attackers to redirect users from their intended endpoint to malicious infrastructure, and may be shared or reused in multiple different attacks.

Figure 4: A device’s Model Event Log, showing the Quasar Server CA SSL certificate used in connections to 41.233.139[.]145 on port 5, which resolves via passive replication to ‘bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org’.  

The sharing of malicious infrastructure among threat actors is also evident as several OSINT sources have also associated the Quasar IP 193.142.146[.]212, detected in this campaign, with different threat types.

While 193.142.146[.]212:4782 is known to be associated with Quasar, 193.142.146[.]212:8808 and 193.142.146[.]212:6606 have been associated with AsyncRAT [11], and the same IP on port 8848 has been associated with RedLineStealer [12].  Aside from the relative ease of using already developed tooling, threat actors may prefer to use open-source malware in order to avoid attribution, making the true identity of the threat actor unclear to incident responders [1][13].  

Quasar Executing Objectives

On multiple customer deployments affected by Quasar, Darktrace detected devices using BitTorrent and performing cryptocurrency mining. While these non-compliant, and potentially malicious, activities are not necessarily specific IoCs for Quasar, they do suggest that affected devices may have had greater attack surfaces than others.

For instance, one affected device was observed initiating connections to 162.19.139[.]184, a known Minergate cryptomining endpoint, and ‘zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org’, a dynamic DNS endpoint linked to the Quasar Botnet by multiple OSINT vendors [9].

Figure 5: A Darktrace DETECT Event Log showing simultaneous connections to a Quasar endpoint and a cryptomining endpoint 162.19.139[.]184.

Not only does cryptocurrency mining use a significant amount of processing power, potentially disrupting an organization’s business operations and racking up high energy bills, but the software used for this mining is often written to a poor standard, thus increasing the attack surfaces of devices using them. In this instance, Quasar may have been introduced as a secondary payload from a user or attacker-initiated download of cryptocurrency mining malware.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for malicious actors to attach malware to torrented files and there were a number of examples of Darktrace detect identifying non-compliant activity, like BitTorrent connections, overlapping with connections to external locations associated with Quasar. It is therefore important for organizations to establish and enforce technical and policy controls for acceptable use on corporate devices, particularly when remote working introduces new risks.  

Figure 6: A device’s Event Log filtered by Model Breaches, showing a device connecting to BitTorrent shortly before making new or repeated connections to unusual endpoints, which were subsequently associated to Quasar.

In some cases observed by Darktrace, devices affected by Quasar were also being used to perform data exfiltration. Analysis of a period of unusual external connections to the aforementioned Quasar C2 botnet server, ‘zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org’, revealed a small data upload, which may have represented the exfiltration of some data to attacker infrastructure.

Darktrace’s Autonomous Response to Quasar Attacks

On customer networks that had Darktrace RESPOND™ enabled in autonomous response mode, the threat of Quasar was mitigated and contained as soon as it was identified by DETECT. If RESPOND is not configured to respond autonomously, these actions would instead be advisory, pending manual application by the customer’s security team.

For example, following the detection of devices downloading malicious DLL and executable files, Darktrace RESPOND advised the customer to block specific connections to the relevant IP addresses and ports. However, as the device was seen attempting to download further files from other locations, RESPOND also suggested enforced a ‘pattern of life’ on the device, meaning it was only permitted to make connections that were part its normal behavior. By imposing a pattern of life, Darktrace RESPOND ensures that a device cannot perform suspicious behavior, while not disrupting any legitimate business activity.

Had RESPOND been configured to act autonomously, these mitigative actions would have been applied without any input from the customer’s security team and the Quasar compromise would have been contained in the first instance.

Figure 7: The advisory actions Darktrace RESPOND initiated to block specific connections to a malicious IP and to enforce the device’s normal patterns of life in response to the different anomalies detected on the device.

In another case, one customer affected by Quasar did have enabled RESPOND to take autonomous action, whilst also integrating it with a firewall. Here, following the detection of a device connecting to a known Quasar IP address, RESPOND initially blocked it from making connections to the IP via the customer’s firewall. However, as the device continued to perform suspicious activity after this, RESPOND escalated its response by blocking all outgoing connections from the device, effectively preventing any C2 activity or downloads.

Figure 8: RESPOND actions triggered to action via integrated firewall and TCP Resets.

Conclusion

When faced with a threat like Quasar that utilizes the infrastructure and tools of both legitimate services and other malicious malware variants, it is essential for security teams to move beyond relying on existing knowledge of attack techniques when safeguarding their network. It is no longer enough for organizations to rely on past attacks to defend against the attacks of tomorrow.

Crucially, Darktrace’s unique approach to threat detection focusses on the anomaly, rather than relying on a static list of IoCs or "known bads” based on outdated threat intelligence. In the case of Quasar, alternative or future strains of the malware that utilize different IoCs and TTPs would still be identified by Darktrace as anomalous and immediately alerted.

By learning the ‘normal’ for devices on a customer’s network, Darktrace DETECT can recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that could indicate an ongoing compromise. Darktrace RESPOND is subsequently able to follow this up with swift and targeted actions to contain the attack and prevent it from escalating further.

Credit to Nicole Wong, Cyber Analyst, Vivek Rajan Cyber Analyst

Appendices

Darktrace DETECT Model Breaches

  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External
  • Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port
  • Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed
  • Compromise / New or Repeated to Unusual SSL Port
  • Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Activity

List of IoCs

IP:Port

193.142.146[.]212:4782 -Quasar C2 IP and default port

77.34.128[.]25: 8080 - Quasar C2 IP

Domain

zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org - Quasar C2 Botnet Endpoint

bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org - Possible Quasar C2 endpoint

Certificate

CN=Quasar Server CA - Default certificate used by Quasar

Executable

Eppzjtedzmk[.]exe - Quasar executable

IP Address

95.214.24[.]244 - Quasar C2 IP

162.19.139[.]184 - Cryptocurrency Miner IP

41.233.139[.]145[VR1] [NW2] - Possible Quasar C2 IP

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Command and Control

T1090.002: External Proxy

T1071.001: Web Protocols

T1571: Non-Standard Port

T1001: Data Obfuscation

T1573: Encrypted Channel

T1071: Application Layer Protocol

Resource Development

T1584: Compromise Infrastructure

References

[1] https://thehackernews.com/2023/10/quasar-rat-leverages-dll-side-loading.html

[2] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/cicada-apt10-japan-espionage

[3]https://www.virustotal.com/gui/file/bd275a1f97d1691e394d81dd402c11aaa88cc8e723df7a6aaf57791fa6a6cdfa/community

[4] https://twitter.com/g0njxa/status/1691826188581298389

[5] https://www.linkedin.com/posts/grjk83_raccoon-stealer-announce-return-after-hiatus-activity-7097906612580802560-1aj9

[6] https://community.netwitness.com/t5/netwitness-community-blog/using-rsa-netwitness-to-detect-quasarrat/ba-p/518952

[7] https://www.cisa.gov/news-events/analysis-reports/ar18-352a

[8]https://any.run/report/6cf1314c130a41c977aafce4585a144762d3fb65f8fe493e836796b989b002cb/7ac94b56-7551-4434-8e4f-c928c57327ff

[9] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/891454/

[10] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/41.233.139.145/relations

[11] https://raw.githubusercontent.com/stamparm/maltrail/master/trails/static/malware/asyncrat.txt

[12] https://sslbl.abuse.ch/ssl-certificates/signature/RedLineStealer/

[13] https://www.botconf.eu/botconf-presentation-or-article/hunting-the-quasar-family-how-to-hunt-a-malware-family/

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About the author
Nicole Wong
Cyber Security Analyst

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