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Entry via Sentry: Analyzing the Exploitation of a Critical Vulnerability in Ivanti Sentry

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20
Dec 2023
20
Dec 2023
In late August 2023, Darktrace observed malicious actors exploiting vulnerabilities on Ivanti Sentry servers within customer networks. Following these successful exploits, a variety of cryptomining and reconnaissance tools were delivered. In this blog, we will provide details of these chains of activity, along with details of Darktrace/Network’s coverage of the steps involved in them.

In an increasingly interconnected digital landscape, the prevalence of critical vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems stands as an open invitation to malicious actors. These vulnerabilities serve as a near limitless resource, granting attackers a continually array of entry points into targeted networks.

In the final week of August 2023, Darktrace observed malicious actors validating exploits for one such critical vulnerability, likely the critical RCE vulnerability, CVE-2023-38035, on Ivanti Sentry servers within multiple customer networks. Shortly after these successful tests were carried out, malicious actors were seen delivering crypto-mining and reconnaissance tools onto vulnerable Ivanti Sentry servers.

Fortunately, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to identify this post-exploitation activity on the compromised servers at the earliest possible stage, allowing the customer security teams to take action against affected devices. In environments where Darktrace RESPOND™ was enabled in autonomous response mode, Darktrace was further able inhibit the identified post-exploitation activity and stop malicious actors from progressing towards their end goals.

Exploitation of Vulnerabilities in Ivanti Products

The software provider, Ivanti, offers a variety of widely used endpoint management, service management, and security solutions. In July and August 2023, the Norwegian cybersecurity company, Mnemonic, disclosed three vulnerabilities in Ivanti products [1]/[2]/[3]; two in Ivanti's endpoint management solution, Ivanti Endpoint Manager Mobile (EPMM) (formerly called 'MobileIron Core'), and one in Ivanti’s security gateway solution, Ivanti Sentry (formerly called 'MobileIron Sentry'):

CVE-2023-35078

  • CVSS Score: 10.0
  • Affected Product: Ivanti EPMM
  • Details from Ivanti: [4]/[5]/[6]
  • Vulnerability type: Authentication bypass

CVE-2023-35081

  • CVSS Score: 7.2
  • Affected Product: Ivanti EPMM
  • Details from Ivanti: [7]/[8]/[9]
  • Vulnerability type: Directory traversal

CVE-2023-38035

  • CVSS Score:
  • Affected Product: Ivanti Sentry
  • Details from Ivanti: [10]/[11]/[12]
  • Vulnerability type: Authentication bypass

At the beginning of August 2023, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Norwegian National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC-NO) provided details of advanced persistent threat (APT) activity targeting EPMM systems within Norwegian private sector and government networks via exploitation of CVE-2023-35078 combined with suspected exploitation of CVE-2023-35081.

In an article published in August 2023 [12], Ivanti disclosed that a very limited number of their customers had been subjected to exploitation of the Ivanti Sentry vulnerability, CVE-2023-38035, and on the August 22, 2023, CISA added the Ivanti Sentry vulnerability, CVE-2023-38035 to its ‘Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalogue’.  CVE-2023-38035 is a critical authentication bypass vulnerability affecting the System Manager Portal of Ivanti Sentry systems. The System Manager Portal, which is accessible by default on port 8433, is used for administration of the Ivanti Sentry system. Through exploitation of CVE-2023-38035, an unauthenticated actor with access to the System Manager Portal can achieve Remote Code Execution (RCE) on the underlying Ivanti Sentry system.

Observed Exploitation of CVE-2023-38035

On August 24, Darktrace observed Ivanti Sentry servers within several customer networks receiving successful SSL connections over port 8433 from the external endpoint, 34.77.65[.]112. The usage of port 8433 indicates that the System Manager Portal was accessed over the connections. Immediately after receiving these successful connections, Ivanti Sentry servers made GET requests over port 4444 to 34.77.65[.]112. The unusual string ‘Wget/1.14 (linux-gnu)’ appeared in the User-Agent headers of these requests, indicating that the command-line utility, wget, was abused to initiate the requests.

Figure 1: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry system showing the device breaching a range of DETECT models after contacting 34.77.65[.]112.The suspicious behavior highlighted by DETECT was subsequently investigated by Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™, which was able to weave together these separate behaviors into single incidents representing the whole attack chain.

Figure 2: AI Analyst Incident representing a chain of suspicious activities from an Ivanti Sentry server.

In cases where Darktrace RESPOND was enabled in autonomous response mode, RESPOND was able to automatically enforce the Ivanti Sentry server’s normal pattern of life, thus blocking further exploit testing.

Figure 3: Event Log for an Ivanti Sentry server showing the device receiving a RESPOND action immediately after trying to 34.77.65[.]112.

The GET requests to 34.77.65[.]112 were responded to with the following HTML document:

Figure 4: Snapshot of the HTML document returned by 34.77.65[.]112.

None of the links within this HTML document were functional. Furthermore, the devices’ downloads of these HTML documents do not appear to have elicited further malicious activities. These facts suggest that the observed 34.77.65[.]112 activities were representative of a malicious actor validating exploits (likely for CVE-2023-38035) on Ivanti Sentry systems.

Over the next 24 hours, these Ivanti Sentry systems received successful SSL connections over port 8433 from a variety of suspicious external endpoints, such as 122.161.66[.]161. These connections resulted in Ivanti Sentry systems making HTTP GET requests to subdomains of ‘oast[.]site’ and ‘oast[.]live’. Strings containing ‘curl’ appeared in the User-Agent headers of these requests, indicating that the command-line utility, cURL, was abused to initiate the requests.

These ‘oast[.]site’ and ‘oast[.]live’ domains are used by the out-of-band application security testing (OAST) service, Interactsh. Malicious actors are known to abuse this service to carry out out-of-band (OOB) exploit testing. It, therefore, seems likely that these activities were also representative of a malicious actor validating exploits for CVE-2023-38035 on Ivanti Sentry systems.

Figure 5: Event Log for Ivanti Sentry system showing the device contacting an 'oast[.]site' endpoint after receiving connections from the suspicious, external endpoint 122.161.66[.]161.

The actors seen validating exploits for CVE-2023-38035 may have been conducting such activities in preparation for their own subsequent malicious activities. However, given the variety of attack chains which ensued from these exploit validation activities, it is also possible that they were carried out by Initial Access Brokers (IABs) The activities which ensued from exploit validation activities identified by Darktrace fell into two categories: internal network reconnaissance and cryptocurrency mining.

Reconnaissance Activities

In one of the reconnaissance cases, immediately after receiving successful SSL connections over port 8443 from the external endpoints 190.2.131[.]204 and 45.159.248[.]179, an Ivanti Sentry system was seen making a long SSL connection over port 443 to 23.92.29[.]148, and making wget GET requests over port 4444 with the Target URIs '/ncat' and ‘/TxPortMap’ to the external endpoints, 45.86.162[.]147 and 195.123.240[.]183.  

Figure 6: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry system showing the device making connections to the external endpoints, 45.86.162[.]147, 23.92.29[.]148, and 195.123.240[.]183, immediately after receiving connections from rare external endpoints.

The Ivanti Sentry system then went on to scan for open SMB ports on systems within the internal network. This activity likely resulted from an attacker dropping a port scanning utility on the vulnerable Ivanti Sentry system.

Figure 7: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry server showing the device breaching several DETECT models after downloading a port scanning tool from 195.123.240[.]183.

In another reconnaissance case, Darktrace observed multiple wget HTTP requests with Target URIs such as ‘/awp.tar.gz’ and ‘/resp.tar.gz’ to a suspicious, external server (78.128.113[.]130).  Shortly after making these requests, the Ivanti Sentry system started to scan for open SMB ports and to respond to LLMNR queries from other internal devices. These behaviors indicate that the server may have installed an LLMNR poisoning tool, such as Responder. The Ivanti Sentry server also went on to conduct further information-gathering activities, such as LDAP reconnaissance, HTTP-based vulnerability scanning, HTTP-based password searching, and RDP port scanning.

Figure 8: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry system showing the device making connections to 78.128.113[.]130, scanning for an open SMB port on internal endpoints, and responding to LLMNR queries from internal endpoints.

In cases where Darktrace RESPOND was active, reconnaissance activities resulted in RESPOND enforcing the Ivanti Sentry server’s pattern of life.

Figure 9: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry system receiving a RESPOND action as a result of its SMB port scanning activity.
Figure 10: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry system receiving a RESPOND action as a result of its LDAP reconnaissance activity.

Crypto-Mining Activities

In one of the cryptomining cases, Darktrace detected an Ivanti Sentry server making SSL connections to aelix[.]xyz and mining pool endpoints after receiving successful SSL connections over port 8443 from the external endpoint, 140.228.24[.]160.

Figure 11: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry system showing the device contacting aelix[.]xyz and mining pool endpoints immediately after receiving connections from the external endpoint, 140.228.24[.]160.

In a cryptomining case on another customer’s network, an Ivanti Sentry server was seen making GET requests indicative of Kinsing malware infection. These requests included wget GET requests to 185.122.204[.]197 with the Target URIs ‘/unk.sh’ and ‘/se.sh’ and a combination of GET and POST requests to 185.221.154[.]208 with the User-Agent header ‘Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/99.0.4844.51 Safari/537.36’ and the Target URIs, ‘/mg’, ‘/ki’, ‘/get’, ‘/h2’, ‘/ms’, and ‘/mu’. These network-based artefacts have been observed in previous Kinsing infections [13].

Figure 12: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry system showing the device displaying likely Kinsing C2 activity.

On customer environments where RESPOND was active, Darktrace was able to take swift autonomous action by blocking cryptomining connection attempts to malicious command-and-control (C2) infrastructure, in this case Kinsing servers.

Figure 13: Event Log data for an Ivanti Sentry server showing the device receiving a RESPOND action after attempting to contact Kinsing C2 infrastructure.

Fortunately, due to Darktrace DETECT+RESPOND prompt identification and targeted actions against these emerging threats, coupled with remediating steps taken by affected customers’ security teams, neither the cryptocurrency mining activities nor the network reconnaissance activities led to significant disruption.  

Figure 14: Timeline of observed malicious activities.

Conclusion The inevitable presence of critical vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems underscores the perpetual challenge of defending against malicious intrusions. The near inexhaustible supply of entry routes into organizations’ networks available to malicious actors necessitates a more proactive and vigilant approach to network security.

While it is, of course, essential for organizations to secure their digital environments through the regular patching of software and keeping abreast of developing vulnerabilities that could impact their network, it is equally important to have a safeguard in place to mitigate against attackers who do manage to exploit newly discovered vulnerabilities.

In the case of Ivanti Sentry, Darktrace observed malicious actors validating exploits against affected servers on customer networks just a few days after the public disclosure of the critical vulnerability.  This activity was followed up by a variety of malicious and disruptive, activities including cryptocurrency mining and internal network reconnaissance.

Darktrace DETECT immediately detected post-exploitation activities on compromised Ivanti Sentry servers, enabling security teams to intervene at the earliest possible stage. Darktrace RESPOND, when active, autonomously inhibited detected post-exploitation activities. These DETECT detections, along with their accompanying RESPOND interventions, prevented malicious actors from being able to progress further towards their likely harmful objectives.

Credit to Sam Lister, Senior Cyber Analyst, and Trent Kessler, SOC Analyst  

Appendices

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Initial Access techniques:

  • Exploit Public-Facing Application (T1190)

Credential Access techniques:

  • Unsecured Credentials: Credentials In Files (T1552.001)
  • Adversary-in-the-Middle: LLMNR/NBT-NS Poisoning and SMB Relay (T1557.001)

Discovery

  • Network Service Discovery (T1046)
  • Remote System Discovery (T1018)
  • Account Discovery: Domain Account (T1087.002)

Command and Control techniques:

  • Application Layer Protocol: Web Protocols (T1071.001)
  • Ingress Tool Transfer (T1105)
  • Non-Standard Port (T1571)
  • Encrypted Channel: Asymmetric Cryptography (T1573.002)

Impact techniques

  • Resource Hijacking (T1496)
List of IoCs

Exploit testing IoCs:

·      34.77.65[.]112

·      Wget/1.14 (linux-gnu)

·      cjjovo7mhpt7geo8aqlgxp7ypod6dqaiz.oast[.]site • 178.128.16[.]97

·      curl/7.19.7 (x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu) libcurl/7.19.7 NSS/3.27.1 zlib/1.2.3 libidn/1.18 libssh2/1.4.2

·      cjk45q1chpqflh938kughtrfzgwiofns3.oast[.]site • 178.128.16[.]97

·      curl/7.29.0

Kinsing-related IoCs:

·      185.122.204[.]197

·      /unk.sh

·      /se.sh

·      185.221.154[.]208

·      185.221.154[.]208

·      45.15.158[.]124

·      Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/99.0.4844.51 Safari/537.36

·      /mg

·      /ki

·      /get

·      /h2

·      /ms

·      /mu

·      vocaltube[.]ru • 185.154.53[.]140

·      92.255.110[.]4

·      194.87.254[.]160

Responder-related IoCs:

·      78.128.113[.]130

·      78.128.113[.]34

·      /awp.tar.gz

·      /ivanty

·      /resp.tar.gz

Crypto-miner related IoCs:

·      140.228.24[.]160

·      aelix[.]xyz • 104.21.60[.]147 / 172.67.197[.]200

·      c8446f59cca2149cb5f56ced4b448c8d (JA3 client fingerprint)

·      b5eefe582e146aed29a21747a572e11c (JA3 client fingerprint)

·      pool.supportxmr[.]com

·      xmr.2miners[.]com

·      xmr.2miners[.]com

·      monerooceans[.]stream

·      xmr-eu2.nanopool[.]org

Port scanner-related IoCs:

·      122.161.66[.]161

·      192.241.235[.]32

·      45.86.162[.]147

·      /ncat

·      Wget/1.14 (linux-gnu)

·      45.159.248[.]179

·      142.93.115[.]146

·      23.92.29[.]148

·      /TxPortMap

·      195.123.240.183

·      6935a8d379e086ea1aed159b8abcb0bc8acf220bd1cbc0a84fd806f14014bca7 (SHA256 hash of downloaded file)

Darktrace DETECT Model Breaches

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

·      Device / New User Agent

·      Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

·      Device / New User Agent and New IP

·      Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

·      Anomalous Connection / Callback on Web Facing Device

·      Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score

·      Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections

·      Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score

·      Compromise / Beacon for 4 Days

·      Compromise / Agent Beacon (Short Period)

·      Device / Large Number of Model Breaches

·      Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server

·      Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections

·      Compromise / Monero Mining

·      Compromise / High Priority Crypto Currency Mining

·      Compromise / Sustained TCP Beaconing Activity To Rare Endpoint

·      Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

·      Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity

·      Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

·      Device / Network Scan

·      Device / Unusual LDAP Bind and Search Activity

·      Compliance / Vulnerable Name Resolution

·      Device / Anomalous SMB Followed By Multiple Model Breaches

·      Device / New User Agent To Internal Server

·      Anomalous Connection / Suspicious HTTP Activity

·      Anomalous Connection / Unusual Internal Connections

·      Anomalous Connection / Suspicious HTTP Activity

·      Device / RDP Scan

·      Device / Large Number of Model Breaches

·      Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

·      Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint

·      Anomalous Connection / Suspicious HTTP Activity

·      Compromise / Suspicious Internal Use Of Web Protocol

·      Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

·      Anomalous File / Internet Facing System File Download

·      Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity

·      Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert

·      Device / Network Scan

·      Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

References

[1] https://www.mnemonic.io/resources/blog/ivanti-endpoint-manager-mobile-epmm-authentication-bypass-vulnerability/
[2] https://www.mnemonic.io/resources/blog/threat-advisory-remote-file-write-vulnerability-in-ivanti-epmm/
[3] https://www.mnemonic.io/resources/blog/threat-advisory-remote-code-execution-vulnerability-in-ivanti-sentry/
[4] https://www.ivanti.com/blog/cve-2023-35078-new-ivanti-epmm-vulnerability
[5] https://forums.ivanti.com/s/article/CVE-2023-35078-Remote-unauthenticated-API-access-vulnerability?language=en_US
[6] https://forums.ivanti.com/s/article/KB-Remote-unauthenticated-API-access-vulnerability-CVE-2023-35078?language=en_US
[7] https://www.ivanti.com/blog/cve-2023-35081-new-ivanti-epmm-vulnerability
[8] https://forums.ivanti.com/s/article/CVE-2023-35081-Arbitrary-File-Write?language=en_US
[9] https://forums.ivanti.com/s/article/KB-Arbitrary-File-Write-CVE-2023-35081?language=en_US
[10] https://www.ivanti.com/blog/cve-2023-38035-vulnerability-affecting-ivanti-sentry
[11] https://forums.ivanti.com/s/article/CVE-2023-38035-API-Authentication-Bypass-on-Sentry-Administrator-Interface?language=en_US
[12] https://forums.ivanti.com/s/article/KB-API-Authentication-Bypass-on-Sentry-Administrator-Interface-CVE-2023-38035?language=en_US
[13] https://isc.sans.edu/diary/Your+Business+Data+and+Machine+Learning+at+Risk+Attacks+Against+Apache+NiFi/29900

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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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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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