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Living off the Land : Comment les pirates informatiques se fondent dans votre environnement

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03
Nov 2021
03
Nov 2021
Cyber-criminals are increasingly ‘Living off the Land’, leveraging commonly-used tools to fly under the radar of conventional cyber defenses. Discover why Self-Learning AI is uniquely positioned to identify attacks leveraging this technique.

What is Living off the Land attack?

Living off the Land is a strategy which involves threat actors leveraging the utilities readily available within the target organization’s digital environment to move through the cyber kill chain. This is a popular method because It is often cheaper, easier, and more effective to make use of an organization’s own infrastructure in an attempt to attack rather than writing bespoke malware for every heist.

While the term was first coined in 2013, Living off the Land tools, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) have boomed in popularity in recent years. In part, this is because the traditional approach of defensive security — blocklisting file hashes, domains, and other traces of threats encountered in previous attacks — is ill-equipped to identify these attacks. So these stealthy, often fileless attacks, have pushed their way into the mainstream.

How does Living off the Land attack work?

Living off the Land attacks have a particular history in highly organized, targeted hacking. APT groups have long favored Living off the Land TTPs, since evasion is a top priority. And trends show that ransomware groups are opting for human-operated ransomware that relies heavily on Living off the Land techniques, instead of commodity malware.

Among some of the most commonly used tools exploited for nefarious purposes are Powershell, Windows Management Interface (WMI), and PsExec. These tools are regularly used by network administrators as part of their daily routines, and traditional security tools reliant on static rules and signatures often have a hard time distinguishing between legitimate and malicious use.

Hallmarks of a Living off the Land attack

Before a threat actor turns your infrastructure against you in a Living off the Land attack, they must be able to execute commands on a targeted system. Therefore, Living off the Land attacks are a post-infection framework for network reconnaissance, lateral movement, and persistence.

Once a device is infected, there are hundreds of system tools at the attacker’s disposal – these may be pre-installed on the system or downloaded via Microsoft-signed binaries. And, in the wrong hands, other trusted third-party administration tools on the network can also turn from friend to foe.

As Living off the Land techniques evolve, a single typical attack is hard to determine. However, we can group these TTPs in broader categories.

Microsoft-signed Living off the Land TTPs

Microsoft is ubiquitous in the business world and across industries. The Living off the Land Binaries and Scripts (LOLBAS) project aims to document all Microsoft-signed binaries and scripts that include functionality for APT groups in Living off the Land attacks. To date, there are 135 system tools on this list that are vulnerable to misuse, each aiding a different objective. These could be the creation of new user accounts, data compression and exfiltration, system information gathering, launching processes on a target destination or even the disablement of security services. Both Microsoft’s documentation of vulnerable pre-installed tools and the LOLBAS project are growing, non-exhaustive lists.

Command line

When it comes to delivering a malicious payload to the target, WMI (WMIC.exe), the command line tool (cmd.exe), and PowerShell (powershell.exe) were used most frequently by attackers, according to a recent study. These commonly exploited command line utilities are used during the configuration of security settings and system properties, provide sensitive network or device status updates, and facilitate the transfer and execution of files between devices.

Specifically, the command line group shares three key traits:

  1. They are readily available on Windows systems.
  2. They are frequently used by most administrators or internal processes to perform everyday tasks.
  3. They can perform their core functionalities without writing data to a disk.

Mimikatz

Mimikatz differs from other tools in that it is not pre-installed on most systems. It is an open-source utility used for the dumping of passwords, hashes, PINs and Kerberos tickets. While some network administrators may use Mimikatz to perform internal vulnerability assessments, it is not readily available on Windows systems.

Traditional security approaches used to detect the download, installation, and use of Mimikatz are often insufficient. There exists a wide range of verified and well documented techniques for obfuscating tooling like Mimikatz, meaning even an unsophisticated attacker can subvert basic string or hash-based detections.

Self-Learning AI fights Living off the Land attacks

Living off the Land techniques have proven incredibly effective at enabling attackers to blend into organizations’ digital environments. It is normal for millions of credentials, network tools, and processes to be logged each day across a single digital ecosystem. So how can defenders spot malicious use of legitimate tools amidst this digital noise?

As with most threats, basic network hygiene is the first step. This includes implementing the principle of least privilege, de-activating all unnecessary programs, setting up software whitelisting, and performing asset and application inventory checks. However, while these measures are a step in the right direction, with enough time a sophisticated attacker will always manage to work their way around them.

Self-Learning AI technology has become fundamental in shining a light on attackers using an organization’s own infrastructure against them. It learns any given unique digital environment from the ground up, understanding the ‘pattern of life’ for every device and user. Living off the Land attacks are therefore identified in real time from a series of subtle deviations. This might include a new credential or unusual SMB / DCE-RPC usage.

Its deep understanding of the business enables it to spot attacks that fly under the radar of other tools. With a Living off the Land attack, the AI will recognize that although usage of particular tool might be normal for an organization, the way in which that tool is used allows the AI to reveal seemingly benign behavior as unmistakably malicious.

For example, Self-Learning AI might observe the frequent usage of Powershell user-agents across multiple devices, but will only report an incident if the user agent is observed on a device at an unusual time.

Similarly, Darktrace might observe WMI commands being sent between thousands of combinations of devices each day, but will only alert on such activity if the commands are uncommon for both the source and the destination.

And even the subtle indicators of Mimikatz exploitation, like new credential usage or uncommon SMB traffic, will not be buried among the normal operations of the infrastructure.

Living off the Land techniques aren’t going away any time soon. Recognizing this, security teams are beginning to move away from ‘legacy’-based defenses that rely on historical attack data to catch the next attack, and towards AI that uses a bespoke and evolving understanding of its surroundings to detect subtle deviations indicative of a threat – even if that threat makes use of legitimate tools.

Thanks to Darktrace analysts Isabel Finn and Paul Jennings for their insights on the above threat find and supporting MITRE ATT&CK mapping.

Learn more about Self-Learning AI

DANS LE SOC
Darktrace sont des experts de classe mondiale en matière de renseignement sur les menaces, de chasse aux menaces et de réponse aux incidents. Ils fournissent une assistance SOC 24 heures sur 24 et 7 jours sur 7 à des milliers de clients Darktrace dans le monde entier. Inside the SOC est exclusivement rédigé par ces experts et fournit une analyse des cyberincidents et des tendances en matière de menaces, basée sur une expérience réelle sur le terrain.
AUTEUR
à propos de l'auteur
Oakley Cox
Analyst Technical Director, APAC

Oakley is a technical expert with 5 years’ experience as a Cyber Analyst. After leading a team of Cyber Analysts at the Cambridge headquarters, he relocated to New Zealand and now oversees the defense of critical infrastructure and industrial control systems across the APAC region. His research into cyber-physical security has been published by Cyber Security journals and CISA. Oakley is GIAC certified in Response and Industrial Defense (GRID), and has a Doctorate (PhD) from the University of Oxford.

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Lost in Translation: Darktrace Blocks Non-English Phishing Campaign Concealing Hidden Payloads

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15
May 2024

Email – the vector of choice for threat actors

In times of unprecedented globalization and internationalization, the enormous number of emails sent and received by organizations every day has opened the door for threat actors looking to gain unauthorized access to target networks.

Now, increasingly global organizations not only need to safeguard their email environments against phishing campaigns targeting their employees in their own language, but they also need to be able to detect malicious emails sent in foreign languages too [1].

Why are non-English language phishing emails more popular?

Many traditional email security vendors rely on pre-trained English language models which, while function adequately against malicious emails composed in English, would struggle in the face of emails composed in other languages. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that this limitation is becoming increasingly taken advantage of by attackers.  

Darktrace/Email™, on the other hand, focuses on behavioral analysis and its Self-Learning AI understands what is considered ‘normal’ for every user within an organization’s email environment, bypassing any limitations that would come from relying on language-trained models [1].

In March 2024, Darktrace observed anomalous emails on a customer’s network that were sent from email addresses belonging to an international fast-food chain. Despite this seeming legitimacy, Darktrace promptly identified them as phishing emails that contained malicious payloads, preventing a potentially disruptive network compromise.

Attack Overview and Darktrace Coverage

On March 3, 2024, Darktrace observed one of the customer’s employees receiving an email which would turn out to be the first of more than 50 malicious emails sent by attackers over the course of three days.

The Sender

Darktrace/Email immediately understood that the sender never had any previous correspondence with the organization or its employees, and therefore treated the emails with caution from the onset. Not only was Darktrace able to detect this new sender, but it also identified that the emails had been sent from a domain located in China and contained an attachment with a Chinese file name.

The phishing emails detected by Darktrace sent from a domain in China and containing an attachment with a Chinese file name.
Figure 1: The phishing emails detected by Darktrace sent from a domain in China and containing an attachment with a Chinese file name.

Darktrace further detected that the phishing emails had been sent in a synchronized fashion between March 3 and March 5. Eight unique senders were observed sending a total of 55 emails to 55 separate recipients within the customer’s email environment. The format of the addresses used to send these suspicious emails was “12345@fastflavor-shack[.]cn”*. The domain “fastflavor-shack[.]cn” is the legitimate domain of the Chinese division of an international fast-food company, and the numerical username contained five numbers, with the final three digits changing which likely represented different stores.

*(To maintain anonymity, the pseudonym “Fast Flavor Shack” and its fictitious domain, “fastflavor-shack[.]cn”, have been used in this blog to represent the actual fast-food company and the domains identified by Darktrace throughout this incident.)

The use of legitimate domains for malicious activities become commonplace in recent years, with attackers attempting to leverage the trust endpoint users have for reputable organizations or services, in order to achieve their nefarious goals. One similar example was observed when Darktrace detected an attacker attempting to carry out a phishing attack using the cloud storage service Dropbox.

As these emails were sent from a legitimate domain associated with a trusted organization and seemed to be coming from the correct connection source, they were verified by Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and were able to evade the customer’s native email security measures. Darktrace/Email; however, recognized that these emails were actually sent from a user located in Singapore, not China.

Darktrace/Email identified that the email had been sent by a user who had logged in from Singapore, despite the connection source being in China.
Figure 2: Darktrace/Email identified that the email had been sent by a user who had logged in from Singapore, despite the connection source being in China.

The Emails

Darktrace/Email autonomously analyzed the suspicious emails and identified that they were likely phishing emails containing a malicious multistage payload.

Darktrace/Email identifying the presence of a malicious phishing link and a multistage payload.
Figure 3: Darktrace/Email identifying the presence of a malicious phishing link and a multistage payload.

There has been a significant increase in multistage payload attacks in recent years, whereby a malicious email attempts to elicit recipients to follow a series of steps, such as clicking a link or scanning a QR code, before delivering a malicious payload or attempting to harvest credentials [2].

In this case, the malicious actor had embedded a suspicious link into a QR code inside a Microsoft Word document which was then attached to the email in order to direct targets to a malicious domain. While this attempt to utilize a malicious QR code may have bypassed traditional email security tools that do not scan for QR codes, Darktrace was able to identify the presence of the QR code and scan its destination, revealing it to be a suspicious domain that had never previously been seen on the network, “sssafjeuihiolsw[.]bond”.

Suspicious link embedded in QR Code, which was detected and extracted by Darktrace.
Figure 4: Suspicious link embedded in QR Code, which was detected and extracted by Darktrace.

At the time of the attack, there was no open-source intelligence (OSINT) on the domain in question as it had only been registered earlier the same day. This is significant as newly registered domains are typically much more likely to bypass gateways until traditional security tools have enough intelligence to determine that these domains are malicious, by which point a malicious actor may likely have already gained access to internal systems [4]. Despite this, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI enabled it to recognize the activity surrounding these unusual emails as suspicious and indicative of a malicious phishing campaign, without needing to rely on existing threat intelligence.

The most commonly used sender name line for the observed phishing emails was “财务部”, meaning “finance department”, and Darktrace observed subject lines including “The document has been delivered”, “Income Tax Return Notice” and “The file has been released”, all written in Chinese.  The emails also contained an attachment named “通知文件.docx” (“Notification document”), further indicating that they had been crafted to pass for emails related to financial transaction documents.

 Darktrace/Email took autonomous mitigative action against the suspicious emails by holding the message from recipient inboxes.
Figure 5: Darktrace/Email took autonomous mitigative action against the suspicious emails by holding the message from recipient inboxes.

Conclusion

Although this phishing attack was ultimately thwarted by Darktrace/Email, it serves to demonstrate the potential risks of relying on solely language-trained models to detect suspicious email activity. Darktrace’s behavioral and contextual learning-based detection ensures that any deviations in expected email activity, be that a new sender, unusual locations or unexpected attachments or link, are promptly identified and actioned to disrupt the attacks at the earliest opportunity.

In this example, attackers attempted to use non-English language phishing emails containing a multistage payload hidden behind a QR code. As traditional email security measures typically rely on pre-trained language models or the signature-based detection of blacklisted senders or known malicious endpoints, this multistage approach would likely bypass native protection.  

Darktrace/Email, meanwhile, is able to autonomously scan attachments and detect QR codes within them, whilst also identifying the embedded links. This ensured that the customer’s email environment was protected against this phishing threat, preventing potential financial and reputation damage.

Credit to: Rajendra Rushanth, Cyber Analyst, Steven Haworth, Head of Threat Modelling, Email

Appendices  

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)  

IoC – Type – Description

sssafjeuihiolsw[.]bond – Domain Name – Suspicious Link Domain

通知文件.docx – File - Payload  

References

[1] https://darktrace.com/blog/stopping-phishing-attacks-in-enter-language  

[2] https://darktrace.com/blog/attacks-are-getting-personal

[3] https://darktrace.com/blog/phishing-with-qr-codes-how-darktrace-detected-and-blocked-the-bait

[4] https://darktrace.com/blog/the-domain-game-how-email-attackers-are-buying-their-way-into-inboxes

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Rajendra Rushanth
Cyber Analyst

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The State of AI in Cybersecurity: The Impact of AI on Cybersecurity Solutions

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13
May 2024

About the AI Cybersecurity Report

Darktrace surveyed 1,800 CISOs, security leaders, administrators, and practitioners from industries around the globe. Our research was conducted to understand how the adoption of new AI-powered offensive and defensive cybersecurity technologies are being managed by organizations.

This blog continues the conversation from “The State of AI in Cybersecurity: Unveiling Global Insights from 1,800 Security Practitioners” which was an overview of the entire report. This blog will focus on one aspect of the overarching report, the impact of AI on cybersecurity solutions.

To access the full report, click here.

The effects of AI on cybersecurity solutions

Overwhelming alert volumes, high false positive rates, and endlessly innovative threat actors keep security teams scrambling. Defenders have been forced to take a reactive approach, struggling to keep pace with an ever-evolving threat landscape. It is hard to find time to address long-term objectives or revamp operational processes when you are always engaged in hand-to-hand combat.                  

The impact of AI on the threat landscape will soon make yesterday’s approaches untenable. Cybersecurity vendors are racing to capitalize on buyer interest in AI by supplying solutions that promise to meet the need. But not all AI is created equal, and not all these solutions live up to the widespread hype.  

Do security professionals believe AI will impact their security operations?

Yes! 95% of cybersecurity professionals agree that AI-powered solutions will level up their organization’s defenses.                                                                

Not only is there strong agreement about the ability of AI-powered cybersecurity solutions to improve the speed and efficiency of prevention, detection, response, and recovery, but that agreement is nearly universal, with more than 95% alignment.

This AI-powered future is about much more than generative AI. While generative AI can help accelerate the data retrieval process within threat detection, create quick incident summaries, automate low-level tasks in security operations, and simulate phishing emails and other attack tactics, most of these use cases were ranked lower in their impact to security operations by survey participants.

There are many other types of AI, which can be applied to many other use cases:

Supervised machine learning: Applied more often than any other type of AI in cybersecurity. Trained on attack patterns and historical threat intelligence to recognize known attacks.

Natural language processing (NLP): Applies computational techniques to process and understand human language. It can be used in threat intelligence, incident investigation, and summarization.

Large language models (LLMs): Used in generative AI tools, this type of AI applies deep learning models trained on massively large data sets to understand, summarize, and generate new content. The integrity of the output depends upon the quality of the data on which the AI was trained.

Unsupervised machine learning: Continuously learns from raw, unstructured data to identify deviations that represent true anomalies. With the correct models, this AI can use anomaly-based detections to identify all kinds of cyber-attacks, including entirely unknown and novel ones.

What are the areas of cybersecurity AI will impact the most?

Improving threat detection is the #1 area within cybersecurity where AI is expected to have an impact.                                                                                  

The most frequent response to this question, improving threat detection capabilities in general, was top ranked by slightly more than half (57%) of respondents. This suggests security professionals hope that AI will rapidly analyze enormous numbers of validated threats within huge volumes of fast-flowing events and signals. And that it will ultimately prove a boon to front-line security analysts. They are not wrong.

Identifying exploitable vulnerabilities (mentioned by 50% of respondents) is also important. Strengthening vulnerability management by applying AI to continuously monitor the exposed attack surface for risks and high-impact vulnerabilities can give defenders an edge. If it prevents threats from ever reaching the network, AI will have a major downstream impact on incident prevalence and breach risk.

Where will defensive AI have the greatest impact on cybersecurity?

Cloud security (61%), data security (50%), and network security (46%) are the domains where defensive AI is expected to have the greatest impact.        

Respondents selected broader domains over specific technologies. In particular, they chose the areas experiencing a renaissance. Cloud is the future for most organizations,
and the effects of cloud adoption on data and networks are intertwined. All three domains are increasingly central to business operations, impacting everything everywhere.

Responses were remarkably consistent across demographics, geographies, and organization sizes, suggesting that nearly all survey participants are thinking about this similarly—that AI will likely have far-reaching applications across the broadest fields, as well as fewer, more specific applications within narrower categories.

Going forward, it will be paramount for organizations to augment their cloud and SaaS security with AI-powered anomaly detection, as threat actors sharpen their focus on these targets.

How will security teams stop AI-powered threats?            

Most security stakeholders (71%) are confident that AI-powered security solutions are better able to block AI-powered threats than traditional tools.

There is strong agreement that AI-powered solutions will be better at stopping AI-powered threats (71% of respondents are confident in this), and there’s also agreement (66%) that AI-powered solutions will be able to do so automatically. This implies significant faith in the ability of AI to detect threats both precisely and accurately, and also orchestrate the correct response actions.

There is also a high degree of confidence in the ability of security teams to implement and operate AI-powered solutions, with only 30% of respondents expressing doubt. This bodes well for the acceptance of AI-powered solutions, with stakeholders saying they’re prepared for the shift.

On the one hand, it is positive that cybersecurity stakeholders are beginning to understand the terms of this contest—that is, that only AI can be used to fight AI. On the other hand, there are persistent misunderstandings about what AI is, what it can do, and why choosing the right type of AI is so important. Only when those popular misconceptions have become far less widespread can our industry advance its effectiveness.  

To access the full report, click here.

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