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Enemies on Our Teams: Darktrace Stops DarkGate Malware through Microsoft Teams

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15
Dec 2023
15
Dec 2023
This blog discusses how Darktrace was able to detect and respond to malicious attempts to use Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint to deliver the DarkGate malware onto a customer network in September 2023.

Securing Microsoft Teams and SharePoint

Given the prevalence of the Microsoft Teams and Microsoft SharePoint platforms in the workplace in recent years, it is essential that organizations stay vigilant to the threat posed by applications vital to hybrid and remote work and prioritize the security and cyber hygiene of these services. For just as the use of these platforms has increased exponentially with the rise of remote and hybrid working, so too has the malicious use of them to deliver malware to unassuming users.

Researchers across the threat landscape have begun to observe these legitimate services being leveraged by malicious actors as an initial access method. Microsoft Teams can easily be exploited to send targeted phishing messages to individuals within an organization, while appearing legitimate and safe. Although the exact contents of these messages may vary, the messages frequently use social engineering techniques to lure users to click on a SharePoint link embedded into the message. Interacting with the malicious link will then download a payload [1].

Darktrace observed one such malicious attempt to use Microsoft Teams and SharePoint in September 2023, when a device was observed downloading DarkGate, a commercial trojan that is known to deploy other strains of malware, also referred to as a commodity loader [2], after clicking on SharePoint link. Fortunately for the customer, Darktrace’s suite of products was perfectly poised to identify the initial signs of suspicious activity and Darktrace RESPOND™ was able to immediately halt the advancement of the attack.

DarkGate Attack Overview

On September 8, 2023, Darktrace DETECT™ observed around 30 internal devices on a customer network making unusual SSL connections to an external SharePoint site which contained the name of a person, 'XXXXXXXX-my.sharepoint[.]com' (107.136[.]8, 13.107.138[.]8). The organization did not have any employees who went by this name and prior to this activity, no internal devices had been seen contacting the endpoint.

At first glance, this initial attack vector would have appeared subtle and seemingly trustworthy to users. Malicious actors likely sent various users a phishing message via Microsoft Teams that contained the spoofed SharePoint link to the personalized SharePoint link ''XXXXXXXX-my.sharepoint[.]com'.

Figure 1: Advanced Search query showing a sudden spike in connections to ''XXXXXXXX -my.sharepoint[.]com'.

Darktrace observed around 10 devices downloading approximately 1 MB of data during their connections to the Sharepoint endpoint. Darktrace DETECT observed some of the devices making subsequent HTTP GET requests to a range of anomalous URIs. The devices utilized multiple user-agents for these connections, including ‘curl’, a command line tool that allows individuals to request and transfer data from a specific URL. The connections were made to the IP 5.188.87[.]58, an endpoint that has been flagged as an indicator of compromise (IoC) for DarkGate malware by multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) sources [3], commonly associated with HTTP GET requests:

  1. GET request over port 2351 with the User-Agent header 'Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)' and the target URI '/bfyxraav' to 5.188.87[.]58
  2. GET request over port 2351 with the user-agent header 'curl' and the target URI '/' to 5.188.87[.]58
  3. GET request over port 2351 with the user-agent header 'curl/8.0.1' and the target URI '/msibfyxraav' to 5.188.87[.]58

The HTTP GET requests made with the user-agent header 'curl' and the target URI '/' to 5.188.87[.]58 were responded to with a filename called 'Autoit3.exe'. The other requests received script files with names ending in '.au3, such as 'xkwtvq.au3', 'otxynh.au3', and 'dcthbq.au3'. DarkGate malware has been known to make use of legitimate AutoIt files, and typically runs multiple AutoIt scripts (‘.au3’) [4].

Following these unusual file downloads, the devices proceeded to make hundreds of HTTP POST requests to the target URI '/' using the user-agent header 'Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Synapse)' to 5.188.87[.]58. The contents of these requests, along with the contents of the responses, appear to be heavily obfuscated.

Figure 2: Example of obfuscated response, as shown in a packet capture downloaded from Darktrace.

While Microsoft’s Safe Attachments and Safe Links settings were unable to detect this camouflaged malicious activity, Darktrace DETECT observed the unusual over-the-network connectivity that occurred. While Darktrace DETECT identified multiple internal devices engaging in this anomalous behavior throughout the course of the compromise, the activity observed on one device in particular best showcases the overall kill chain of this attack.

The device in question was observed using two different user agents (curl/8.0.1 and Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)) when connecting to the endpoint 5.188.87[.]58 and target URI ‘/bfyxraav’. Additionally, Darktrace DETECT recognized that it was unusual for this device to be making these HTTP connections via destination port 2351.

As a result, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ launched an autonomous investigation into the suspicious activity and was able to connect the unusual external connections together, viewing them as one beaconing incident as opposed to isolated series of connections.

Figure 3: Cyber AI Analyst investigation summarizing the unusual repeated connections made to 5.188.87[.]58 via destination port 2351.

Darktrace then observed the device downloading the ‘Autoit3.exe’ file. Darktrace RESPOND took swift mitigative action by blocking similar connections to this endpoint, preventing the device from downloading any additional suspicious files.

Figure 4: Suspicious ‘Autoit3.exe’ downloaded by the source device from the malicious external endpoint.

Just one millisecond later, Darktrace observed the device making suspicious HTTP GET requests to URIs including ‘/msibfyxraav’. Darktrace recognized that the device had carried out several suspicious actions within a relatively short period of time, breaching multiple DETECT models, indicating that it may have been compromised. As a result, RESPOND took action against the offending device by preventing it from communicating externally [blocking all outbound connections] for a period of one hour, allowing the customer’s security team precious time to address the issue.

It should be noted that, at this point, had the customer subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, the Darktrace Security Operations Center (SOC) would have investigated these incidents in greater detail, and likely would have sent a notification directly to the customer to inform them of the suspicious activity.

Additionally, AI Analyst collated various distinct events and suggested that these stages were linked as part of an attack. This type of augmented understanding of events calculated at machine speed is extremely valuable since it likely would have taken a human analyst hours to link all the facets of the incident together.  

Figure 5: AI Analyst investigation showcasing the use of the ‘curl’ user agent to connect to the target URI ‘/msibfyxraav’.
Figure 6: Darktrace RESPOND moved to mitigate any following connections by blocking all outgoing traffic for 1 hour.

Following this, an automated investigation was launched by Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. Darktrace is designed to coordinate with multiple third-party security tools, allowing for information on ongoing incidents to be seamlessly exchanged between Darktrace and other security tools. In this instance, Microsoft Defender identified a ‘low severity’ incident on the device, this automatically triggered a corresponding alert within DETECT, presented on the Darktrace Threat Visuallizer.

The described activity occurred within milliseconds. At each step of the attack, Darktrace RESPOND took action either by enforcing expected patterns of life [normality] on the affected device, blocking connections to suspicious endpoints for a specified amount of time, and/or blocking all outgoing traffic from the device. All the relevant activity was detected and promptly stopped for this device, and other compromised devices, thus containing the compromise and providing the security team invaluable remediation time.

Figure 7: Overview of the compromise activity, all of which took place within a matter of miliseconds.

Darktrace identified similar activity on other devices in this customer’s network, as well as across Darktrace’s fleet around the same time in early September.

On a different customer environment, Darktrace DETECT observed more than 25 ‘.au3’ files being downloaded; this activity can be seen in Figure 9.

Figure 8: High volume of file downloads following GET request and 'curl' commands.

Figure 9 provides more details of this activity, including the source and destination IP addresses (5.188.87[.]58), the destination port, the HTTP method used and the MIME/content-type of the file

Figure 9: Additional information of the anomalous connections.

A compromised server in another customer deployment was seen establishing unusual connections to the external IP address 80.66.88[.]145 – an endpoint that has been associated with DarkGate by OSINT sources [5]. This activity was identified by Darktrace/DETECT as a new connection for the device via an unusual destination port, 2840. As the device in question was a critical server, Darktrace DETECT treated it with suspicion and generated an ‘Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device’ model breach.  

Figure 10: Model breach and model breach event log for suspicious connections to additional endpoint.

Conclusion

While Microsoft Teams and SharePoint are extremely prominent tools that are essential to the business operations of many organizations, they can also be used to compromise via living off the land, even at initial intrusion. Any Microsoft Teams user within a corporate setting could be targeted by a malicious actor, as such SharePoint links from unknown senders should always be treated with caution and should not automatically be considered as secure or legitimate, even when operating within legitimate Microsoft infrastructure.

Malicious actors can leverage these commonly used platforms as a means to carry out their cyber-attacks, therefore organizations must take appropriate measures to protect and secure their digital environments. As demonstrated here, threat actors can attempt to deploy malware, like DarkGate, by targeting users with spoofed Microsoft Teams messages. By masking malicious links as legitimate SharePoint links, these attempts can easily convince targets and bypass traditional security tools and even Microsoft’s own Safe Links and Safe Attachments security capabilities.

When the chain of events of an attack escalates within milliseconds, organizations must rely on AI-driven tools that can quickly identify and automatically respond to suspicious events without latency. As such, the value of Darktrace DETECT and Darktrace RESPOND cannot be overstated. Given the efficacy and efficiency of Darktrace’s detection and autonomous response capabilities, a more severe network compromise in the form of the DarkGate commodity loader was ultimately averted.

Credit to Natalia Sánchez Rocafort, Cyber Security Analyst, Zoe Tilsiter.

Appendices

Darktrace DETECT Model Detections

  • [Model Breach: Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114039 ] (Enhanced Monitoring)·      [Model Breach: Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114124 ] (Enhanced Monitoring)
  • [Model Breach: Device / New User Agent and New IP 62% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114030 ]
  • [Model Breach: Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port 46% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114031 ]
  • [Model Breach: Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname 62% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114032 ]
  • [Model Breach: Device / New User Agent 32% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114035 ]
  • [Model Breach: Device / Three Or More New User Agents 31% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114036 ]
  • [Model Breach: Anomalous Server Activity / Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device 62% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/612173 ]
  • [Model Breach: Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location 61% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114037 ]
  • [Model Breach: Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port 61% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114042 ]
  • [Model Breach: Security Integration / Integration Ransomware Detected 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114049 ]
  • [Model Breach: Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare 62% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114059 ]
  • [Model Breach: Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to New Endpoint 30% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114067 ]
  • [Model Breach: Security Integration / C2 Activity and Integration Detection 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114069 ]
  • [Model Breach: Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location 55% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114077 ]
  • [Model Breach: Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score 66% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114260 ]
  • [Model Breach: Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection 59% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114293 ]
  • [Model Breach: Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection 33% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114462 ]
  • [Model Breach: Security Integration / Integration Ransomware Detected 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114109 ]·      [Model Breach: Device / Three Or More New User Agents 31% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114118 ]·      [Model Breach: Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port 46% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114113 ] ·      [Model Breach: Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname 62% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114114 ]·      [Model Breach: Device / New User Agent 32% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114117 ]·      [Model Breach: Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location 61% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114122 ]·      [Model Breach: Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection 54% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114310 ]
  • [Model Breach: Security Integration / Integration Ransomware Detected 65% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114662 ]Darktrace/Respond Model Breaches
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Suspicious File Block 61% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114033 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena File then New Outbound Block 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114038 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Enhanced Monitoring from Client Block 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114040 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114041 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Controlled and Model Breach 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114043 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Ransomware Block 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114052 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Significant Security Integration and Network Activity Block 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114070 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Breaches Over Time Block 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114071 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Suspicious Activity Block 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114072 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Suspicious File Block 53% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114079 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Breaches Over Time Block 64% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114539 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Ransomware Block 66% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114667 ]
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Suspicious Activity Block 79% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114684 ]·      
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Ransomware Block 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114110 ]·      
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114111 ]·      
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Controlled and Model Breach 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114115 ]·      
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Breaches Over Time Block 87% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114116 ]·      
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena Suspicious File Block 61% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114121 ]·      
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::External Threat::Antigena File then New Outbound Block 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114123 ]·      
  • [Model Breach: Antigena / Network::Significant Anomaly::Antigena Enhanced Monitoring from Client Block 100% –– Breach URI: /#modelbreach/114125 ]

List of IoCs

IoC - Type - Description + Confidence

5.188.87[.]58 - IP address - C2 endpoint

80.66.88[.]145 - IP address - C2 endpoint

/bfyxraav - URI - Possible C2 endpoint URI

/msibfyxraav - URI - Possible C2 endpoint URI

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5) - User agent - Probable user agent leveraged

curl - User agent - Probable user agent leveraged

curl/8.0.1 - User agent - Probable user agent leveraged

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Synapse) - User agent - Probable user agent leveraged

Autoit3.exe - Filename - Exe file

CvUYLoTv.au3    

eDVeqcCe.au3

FeLlcFRS.au3

FTEZlGhe.au3

HOrzcEWV.au3

rKlArXHH.au3

SjadeWUz.au3

ZgOLxJQy.au3

zSrxhagw.au3

ALOXitYE.au3

DKRcfZfV.au3

gQZVKzek.au3

JZrvmJXK.au3

kLECCtMw.au3

LEXCjXKl.au3

luqWdAzF.au3

mUBNrGpv.au3

OoCdHeJT.au3

PcEJXfIl.au3

ssElzrDV.au3

TcBwRRnp.au3

TFvAUIgu.au3

xkwtvq.au3

otxynh.au3

dcthbq.au3 - Filenames - Possible exe files delivered in response to curl/8.0.1 GET requests with Target URI '/msibfyxraav

f3a0a85fe2ea4a00b3710ef4833b07a5d766702b263fda88101e0cb804d8c699 - SHA256 file hash - Possible SHA256 hashes of 'Autoit3.exe' files

afa3feea5964846cd436b978faa7d31938e666288ffaa75d6ba75bfe6c12bf61 - SHA256 file hash - Possible SHA256 hashes of 'Autoit3.exe' files

63aeac3b007436fa8b7ea25298362330423b80a4cb9269fd2c3e6ab1b1289208 - SHA256 file hash - Possible SHA256 hashes of 'Autoit3.exe' files

ab6704e836a51555ec32d1ff009a79692fa2d11205f9b4962121bda88ba55486 - SHA256 file hash - Possible SHA256 hashes of 'Autoit3.exe' files

References

1. https://www.truesec.com/hub/blog/darkgate-loader-delivered-via-teams

2. https://feedit.cz/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/YiR2022_onepager_ransomware_loaders.pdf

3. https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/5.188.87[.]58

4. https://www.forescout.com/resources/darkgate-loader-malspam-campaign/

5. https://otx.alienvault.com/indicator/ip/80.66.88[.]145

DANS LE SOC
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Natalia Sánchez Rocafort
Cyber Security Analyst
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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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Attack Trends: VIP Impersonation Across the Business Hierarchy

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22
Feb 2024

What is VIP impersonation?

VIP impersonation involves a threat actor impersonating a trusted, prominent figure at an organization in an attempt to solicit sensitive information from an employee.

VIP impersonation is a high-priority issue for security teams, but it can be difficult to assess the exact risks, and whether those are more critical than other types of compromise. Looking across a range of Darktrace/Email™ customer deployments, this blog explores the patterns of individuals targeted for impersonation and evaluates if these target priorities correspond with security teams' focus on protecting attack pathways to critical assets.

How do security teams stop VIP Impersonation?

Protecting VIP entities within an organization has long been a traditional focus for security teams. The assumption is that VIPs, due to their prominence, possess the greatest access to critical assets, making them prime targets for cyber threats.  

Email remains the predominant vector for attacks, with over 90% of breaches originating from malicious emails. However, the dynamics of email-based attacks are shifting, as the widespread use of generative AI is lowering the barrier to entry by allowing adversaries to create hyper-realistic emails with minimal errors.

Given these developments, it's worth asking the question – which entities (VIP/non-VIP) are most targeted by threat actors via email? And, more importantly – which entities (VIP/non-VIP) are more valuable if they are successfully compromised?

There are two types of VIPs:  

1. When referring to emails and phishing, VIPs are the users in an organization who are well known publicly.  

2. When referring to attack paths, VIPs are users in an organization that are known publicly and have access to highly privileged assets.  

Not every prominent user has access to critical assets, and not every user that has access to critical assets is prominent.  

Darktrace analysis of VIP impersonation

We analyzed patterns of attack pathways and phishing attempts across 20 customer deployments from a large, randomized pool encompassing a diverse range of organizations.  

Understanding Attack Pathways

Our observations revealed that 57% of low-difficulty attack paths originated from VIP entities, while 43% of observed low-difficulty attack paths towards critical assets or entities began through non-VIP users. This means that targeting VIPs is not the only way attackers can reach critical assets, and that non-VIP users must be considered as well.  

While the sample size prevents us from establishing statistical significance across all customers, the randomized selection lends credence to the generalizability of these findings to other environments.

Phishing Attempts  

On average, 1.35% of total emails sent to these customers exhibited significantly malicious properties associated with phishing or some form of impersonation. Strikingly, nearly half of these malicious emails (49.6%) were directed towards VIPs, while the rest were sent to non-VIPs. This near-equal split is worth noting, as attack paths show that non-VIPs also serve as potential entry points for targeting critical assets.  

Darktrace/Email UI
Figure 1: A phishing email actioned by Darktrace, sent to multiple VIP and non-VIP entities

For example, a recent phishing campaign targeted multiple customers across deployments, with five out of 13 emails specifically aimed at VIP users. Darktrace/Email actioned the malicious emails by double locking the links, holding the messages, and stripping the attachments.

Given that non-VIP users receive nearly half of the phishing or impersonation emails, it underscores the critical importance for security teams to recognize their blind spots in protecting critical assets. Overlooking the potential threat originating from non-VIP entities could lead to severe consequences. For instance, if a non-VIP user falls victim to a phishing attack or gets compromised, their credentials could be exploited to move laterally within the organization, potentially reaching critical assets.

This highlights the necessity for a sophisticated security tool that can identify targeted users, without the need for extensive customization and regardless of VIP status. By deploying a solution capable of promptly responding to email threats – including solicitation, phishing attempts, and impersonation – regardless of the status of the targeted user, security teams can significantly enhance their defense postures.

Darktrace vs Traditional Email Detection Methods

Traditional rules and signatures-based detection mechanisms fall short in identifying the evolving threats we’ve observed, due to their reliance on knowledge of past attacks to categorize emails.

Secure Email Gateway (SEG) or Integrated Cloud Email Security (ICES) tools categorize emails based on previous or known attacks, operating on a known-good or known-bad model. Even if tools use AI to automate this process, the approach is still fundamentally looking to the past and therefore vulnerable to unknown and zero-day threats.  

Darktrace uses AI to understand each unique organization and how its email environment interoperates with each user and device on the network. Consequently, it is able to identify the subtle deviations from normal behavior that qualify as suspicious. This approach goes beyond simplistic categorizations, considering factors such as the sender’s history and recipient’s exposure score.  

This nuanced analysis enables Darktrace to differentiate between genuine communications and malicious impersonation attempts. It automatically understands who is a VIP, without the need for manual input, and will action more strongly on incoming malicious emails  based on a user’s status.

Email does determine who is a VIP, without a need of manual input, and will action more strongly on incoming malicious emails.

Darktrace/Email also feeds into Darktrace’s preventative security tools, giving the interconnected AI engines further context for assessing the high-value targets and pathways to vital internal systems and assets that start via the inbox.

Leveraging AI for Enhanced Protection Across the Enterprise  

The efficacy of AI-driven security solutions lies in their ability to make informed decisions and recommendations based on real-time business data. By leveraging this data, AI driven solutions can identify exploitable attack pathways and an organizations most critical assets. Darktrace uniquely uses several forms of AI to equip security teams with the insights needed to make informed decisions about which pathways to secure, reducing human bias around the importance of protecting VIPs.

With the emergence of tools like AutoGPT, identifying potential targets for phishing attacks has become increasingly simplified. However, the real challenge lies in gaining a comprehensive understanding of all possible and low-difficulty attack paths leading to critical assets and identities within the organization.

At the same time, organizations need email tools that can leverage the understanding of users to prevent email threats from succeeding in the first instance. For every email and user, Darktrace/Email takes into consideration changes in behavior from the sender, recipient, content, and language, and many other factors.

Integrating Darktrace/Email with Darktrace’s attack path modeling capabilities enables comprehensive threat contextualization and facilitates a deeper understanding of attack pathways. This holistic approach ensures that all potential vulnerabilities, irrespective of the user's status, are addressed, strengthening the overall security posture.  

Conclusion

Contrary to conventional wisdom, our analysis suggests that the distinction between VIPs and non-VIPs in terms of susceptibility to impersonation and low-difficulty attack paths is not as pronounced as presumed. Therefore, security teams must adopt a proactive stance in safeguarding all pathways, rather than solely focusing on VIPs.  

Attack path modeling enhances Darktrace/Email's capabilities by providing crucial metrics on potential impact, damage, exposure, and weakness, enabling more targeted and effective threat mitigation strategies. For example, stronger email actions can be enforced for users who are known to have a high potential impact in case of compromise. 

In an era where cyber threats continue to evolve in complexity, an adaptive and non-siloed approach to securing inboxes, high-priority individuals, and critical assets is indispensable.  

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About the author
Kendra Gonzalez Duran
Director of Technology Innovation

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