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Modern Extortion: Detecting Data Theft from the Cloud

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20
Sep 2022
20
Sep 2022
Now one of the most popular talking points in the security world, the ransom industry continues to see growth. First ransomware, then double extortion and now simple data theft have been used to meet threat actors’ extortion needs. This blog highlights an example of this in a US customer’s SaaS environment.

Ransomware Industry

The ransomware industry has benefitted from a number of factors in recent years: inadequate cyber defenses, poorly regulated cryptocurrency markets, and geopolitical tensions have allowed gangs to extort increasingly large ransoms while remaining sheltered from western law enforcement [1]. However, one of the biggest success stories of the ransomware industry has been the adaptability and evolution of attacker TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures). The WannaCry and NotPetya attacks of 2017 popularized a form of ransomware which used encryption algorithms to hold data to ransom in exchange for a decryption key. Last year in 2021, almost all ransomware strains evolved to use double extortion tactics: holding stolen data to ransom as well as encrypted data [2]. Now, some ransomware gangs have dropped encryption entirely, and are using data theft as their sole means of extortion. 

Using data theft for extortion is not new. In 2020 the Finnish psychotherapy center Vastaamo had over 40,000 patient records stolen. Impacted patients were told that their psychiatric transcripts would be published online if they failed to pay a Bitcoin ransom. [3]. A later report by BlackFog in May 2021 predicted data theft extortion would become one of the key emerging cybersecurity trends that year [4]. Adoption of offline back-ups and endpoint detection had made encryption harder, while a large-scale move to Cloud and SaaS platforms offered new vectors for data theft. By moving from data encryption to data exfiltration, ransomware attackers pivoted from targeting data availability within the CIA triad (Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability) to threatening data confidentiality.

In November 2021, Darktrace detected a data theft incident following the compromise of two SaaS accounts within an American tech customer’s Office365 environment. The client was a longstanding user of Darktrace DETECT/Network, and was in the process of expanding their coverage by trialing Darktrace DETECT+RESPOND/ Apps + Cloud.

Attack Overview

On November 23rd 2021, an Ask the Expert (ATE) ticket was raised prompting investigation into a breached SaaS model, ‘SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use’, and the activities of a user (censored as UserA) over the prior week.

1. Office365: UserA 

The account UserA had been logging in from an unusual location in Nigeria on November 21st. At the time of the incident there were no flags of malicious activity from this IP in widely used OSINT sources. It is also highly probable the attacker was not located in Nigeria but using Nigerian infrastructure in order to hide their true location. Regardless, the location of the login from this IP and ASN was considered highly unusual for users within the customer’s digital estate. The specific user in question most commonly accessed their account from IP ranges located in the US.

Figure 1: In the Geolocation tab of the External Sites Summary on the SaaS Console, UserA was seen logging in from Nigeria when previous logins were exclusively from USA

Further investigation revealed an additional anomaly in the Outlook Web activity of UserA. The account was using the Firefox browser to access their account for the first time in at least 4 weeks (the maximum period for which the customer stored such data). SaaS logs detailing the access of confidential folders and other suspicious actions were identified using the Advanced Search (AS) query:

@fields.saas_actor:"UserA@[REDACTED]" AND @fields.saas_software:"Firefox"

Most actions were ‘MailItemsAccessed’ events originating from IPs located in Nigeria [5,6] and one other potentially malicious IP located in the US [7].

‘MailItemsAccessed’ is part of the new Advanced Audit functionality from Microsoft and can be used to determine when email data is accessed by mail protocols and clients. A bind mail access type denotes an individual access to an email message [8]. 

Figure 2: AS logs shows UserA had not used Firefox to access Office365 for at least 4 weeks prior to the unusual login on the 21st November

Below are details of the main suspicious SaaS activities: 

·      Time: 2021-11-21 09:05:25 - 2021-11-22 16:57:39 UTC

·      SaaS Actor: UserA@[REDACTED]

·      SaaS Service: Office365

·      SaaS Service Product: Exchange

·      SaaS Software: Firefox

·      SaaS Office365 Parent Folders:

          o   \Accounts/Passwords
          o   \Invoices
          o   \Sent Items
          o   \Inbox
          o   \Recoverable Items\Deletions

·      SaaS Event:

          o   MailItemsAccessed
          o   UserLoggedIn
          o   Update

·      SaaS Office365 Mail Access Type: Bind (47 times)

·      Source IP addresses:

          o   105.112.59[.]83
          o   105.112.36[.]212
          o   154.6.17[.]16
          o   45.130.83[.]129

·      SaaS User Agents: 

          o   Client=OWA;Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64; rv:80.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/80.0;
          o   Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64; rv:80.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/80.0

·      Total SaaS logs: 57 

At the start of the month on the 5th November, the user had also been seen logging in from a potentially malicious endpoint [9] in Europe, performing ‘MailItemsAccessed’ and ‘Updates’ events with subjects and a resource location related to invoices and wire transfers from the Sent items folder. This suggests the initial compromise had been earlier in the month, giving the threat actor time to make preparations for the final stages of the attack.

Figure 3: Event log showing the activity of UserA from IP 45.135.187[.]108 

2. Office365: UserB 

Looking into the model breach ‘SaaS / Access / Suspicious Credential Use And Login User-Agent’, it was seen that a second account, UserB, was also observed logging in from a rare and potentially malicious location in Bangladesh [7]. Similar to UserA, this user had previously logged in exclusively from the USA, and no other accounts within the digital estate had been observed interacting with the Bangladeshi IP address. The login event appeared to bypass MFA (Multi-factor Authentication) and a suspicious user agent, BAV2ROPC, was used. Against misconfigured accounts, this Microsoft user agent is commonly used by attackers to bypass MFA on Office365. It targets Exchange’s Basic Authentication (normally used in POP3/IMAP4 conditions) and results in an OAuth flow which circumvents the additional password security brought by MFA [10].  

During the session, additional resources were accessed which appear to be associated with bill and invoice payments. In addition, on the 4th November, two new suspicious email rules named “..” were created from rare IPs (107.10.56[.]48 and 76.189.202[.]66). This type of behavior is commonly seen during SaaS compromises to delete or forward emails. Typically, an email rule created by a human user will be named to reflect the change being made, such as ‘Move emails from Legal to Urgent’. In contrast, malicious email rules are often short and undescriptive. The rule “..” is likely to blend in without arousing suspicion, while also being easy for the attacker to create and remember. 

Details of these rule changes are as follows:

·      Time: 2021-11-04 13:25:06, 2021-11-05 15:50:00 [UTC]
·      SaaS Service: Office365
·      SaaS Service Product: Exchange
·      SaaS Status Message: True
·      SaaS Source IP addresses: 107.10.56[.]48, 76.189.202[.]66
·      SaaS Account Name: O365
·      SaaS Actor: UserB@[REDACTED]
·      SaaS Event: SetInboxRule
·      SaaS Office365 Modified Property Names:
          o   AlwaysDeleteOutlookRulesBlob, Force, Identity, MoveToFolder, Name, FromAddressContainsWords, StopProcessingRules
          o   AlwaysDeleteOutlookRulesBlob, Force, Identity, Name, FromAddressContainsWords, StopProcessingRules
·      SaaS Resource Name: .. 

During cloud account compromises, attackers will often use sync operations to download emails to their local email client. During the operations, these clients typically download a large set of mail items from the cloud to a local computer. If the attacker is able to sync all mail items to their mail client, the entire mailbox can be compromised. The attacker is able to disconnect from the account and review and search the email without generating additional event logs. 

Both accounts UserA and UserB were observed using ‘MailItemsAccessed’ sync operations between the 1st and 23rd November when this attack occurred. However, based on the originating IP of the sync operations, the activity is likely to have been initiated by the legitimate, US-based users. Once the security team were able to confirm the events were expected and legitimate, they could establish that the contents of the mailbox were not a part of the data breach. 

Accomplish Mission

After gaining access to the Office365 accounts, sensitive data was downloaded by the attackers to their local system. Either on or before 14th December, the attacker had seemingly uploaded the documents onto a data leak website. In total, 130MB of data had been made available for download in two separate packages. The packages included audit and accounting financial documents, with file extensions such as DB, XLSX, and PDF.

Figure 4: The two data packages uploaded by the attacker and the extracted contents

In a sample of past SaaS activity of UserA, the subject and attachments appear related to the ‘OUTSTANDING PREPAY WIRES 2021’ excel document found from the data leak website in Figure 4, suggesting a further possibility that the account was associated with the leaked data. 

Historic SaaS activity associated with UserA: 

·      Time: 2021-11-05 21:21:18 [UTC]
·      SaaS Office365 Logon Type: Owner
·      Protocol: OFFICE365
·      SaaS Account Name: O365
·      SaaS Actor: UserA@[REDACTED].com
·      SaaS Event: Send
·      SaaS Service: Office365
·      SaaS Service Product: Exchange
·      SaaS Status Message: Succeeded
·      SaaS Office365 Attachment: WIRE 2021.xlsx (92406b); image.png (9084b); image.png (1454b); image.png (1648b); image.png (1691b); image.png (1909b); image.png (2094b)
·      SaaS Office365 Subject: Wires 11/8/21
·      SaaS Resource Location: \Drafts
·      SaaS User Agent: Client=OWA;Action=ViaProxy 

Based on the available evidence, it is highly likely that the data packages contain the data stolen during the account compromise the previous month.  

Once the credentials of an Office365 account are stolen, an attacker can not only access the user's mailbox, but also a full range of Office365 applications such as SharePoint folders, Teams Chat, or files in the user's OneDrive [11]. For example, files shared in Teams chat are stored in OneDrive for Business in a folder named Microsoft Teams Chat Files in the default Document library on SharePoint. One of the files visible on the data leak website, called ‘[REDACTED] CONTRACT.3.1.2020.pdf’, was also observed in the default document folder of a third user account (UserC) within the victim organization, suggesting the compromised accounts may have been able to access shared files stored on other accounts by moving laterally via other O365 applications such as Teams. 

One example can be seen in the below AS logs: 

·      Time: 2021-11-11 01:58:35 [UTC]
·      SaaS Resource Type: File
·      Protocol: OFFICE365
·      SaaS Account Name: 0365
·      SaaS Actor: UserC@[REDACTED]
·      SaaS Event: FilePreviewed
·      SaaS Service Product: OneDrive
·      SaaS Metric: ResourceViewed
·      SaaS Office365 Application Name: Media Analysis and Transformation Service
·      SaaS Office365 File Extension: pdf
·      SaaS Resource Location: https://[REDACTED]-my.sharepoint.com/personal/userC_[REDACTED]_com/Documents/Microsoft Teams Chat Files/[REDACTED] CONTRACT 3.1.2020.pdf
·      SaaS Resource Name: [REDACTED] CONTRACT 3.1.2020.pdf
·      SaaS Service: Office365
·      SaaS Service Product: OneDrive
·      SaaS User Agent: OneDriveMpc-Transform_Thumbnail/1.0 

In the period between the 1st and 30th November, the customer’s Darktrace DETECT/Apps trial had raised multiple high-level alerts associated with SaaS account compromise, but there was no evidence of file encryption.  

Establish Foothold 

Looking back at the start of the attack, it is unclear exactly how the attacker evaded the customer’s pre-existing security stack. At the time of the incident, the victim was using a Barracuda email gateway and Microsoft 365 Threat Management for their cloud environment. 

Darktrace detected no indication the accounts were compromised via credential bruteforcing, which would have enabled the attacker to bypass the Azure Active Directory smart lockout (if enabled). The credentials may have been harvested via a phishing campaign which successfully evaded the list of known ‘bad’ domains maintained by their email gateway.  

Upon gaining access to the account, the Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps anomaly detection policies would have been expected to raise an alert [12]. In this instance, the unusual login from Nigeria occurred over 16 hours after the previous login from the US, potentially evading anomaly detection policies such as the ‘Impossible Travel’ rule. 

Figure 5: Event log showing the user accessing mail from USA a day before the suspicious usage from Nigeria 

Darktrace Coverage

Darktrace DETECT 

Throughout this event, high scoring model breaches associated with the attack were visible in the customer’s SaaS Console. In addition, there were two Cyber AI Analyst incidents for ‘Possible Account Hijack’ associated with the two compromised SaaS Office365 accounts, UserA and UserB. The visibility given by Darktrace DETECT also enabled the security team to confirm which files had been accessed and were likely part of the data leak.

Figure 6: Example Cyber AI Analyst incident of UserB SaaS Office365 account

Darktrace RESPOND

In this incident, the attackers successfully compromised O365 accounts in order to exfiltrate customer data. Whilst Darktrace RESPOND/Apps was being trialed and suggested several actions, it was configured in human confirmation mode. The following RESPOND/Apps actions were advised for these activities:  

·      ‘Antigena [RESPOND] Unusual Access Block’ triggered by the successful login from an unusual IP address, would have actioned the ‘Block IP’ inhibitor, preventing access to the account from the unusual IP for up to 24 hours
·      ‘Suspicious Source Activity Block’, triggered by the suspicious user agent used to bypass MFA, would have actioned the ‘Disable User’ inhibitor, disabling the user account for up to 24 hours 

During this incident, Darktrace RESPOND/Network was being used in fully autonomous mode in order to prevent the threat actor from pivoting into the network. The security team were unable to conclusively say if any attempts by the attacker to do this had been made. 

Concluding Thoughts  

Data theft extortion has become a widely used attack technique, and ransomware gangs may increasingly use this technique alone to target organizations without secure data encryption and storage policies.  

This case study describes a SaaS data theft extortion incident which bypassed MFA and existing security tools. The attacker appeared to compromise credentials without bruteforce activity, possibly with the use of social engineering through phishing. However, from the first new login, Darktrace DETECT identified the unusual credential use in spite of it being an existing account. Had Darktrace RESPOND/Apps been configured, it would have autonomously responded to halt this login and prevent the attacker from accomplishing their data theft mission.

Thanks to Oakley Cox, Brianna Leddy and Shuh Chin Goh for their contributions.

Appendices

References 

[1] https://securelist.com/new-ransomware-trends-in-2022/106457/

[2] https://www.itpro.co.uk/security/ransomware/367624/the-rise-of-double-extortion-ransomware

[3] https://www.malwarebytes.com/blog/news/2020/10/vastaamo-psychotherapy-data-breach-sees-the-most-vulnerable-victims-extorted

[4] https://www.blackfog.com/shift-from-ransomware-to-data-theft-extortion/

[5] https://www.abuseipdb.com/check/105.112.59.83

[6] https://www.abuseipdb.com/check/105.112.36.212

[7] https://www.abuseipdb.com/check/45.130.83.129

[8] https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/compliance/mailitemsaccessed-forensics-investigations?view=o365-worldwide

[9] https://www.abuseipdb.com/check/45.135.187.108

[10] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/45.137.20.65/details

[11] https://tidorg.com/new-bec-phishing-attack-steals-office-365-credentials-and-bypasses-mfa/

[12] https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/security/office-365-security/responding-to-a-compromised-email-account?view=o365-worldwide

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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.
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Adrianne Marques
Senior Research Analyst
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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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Carlos Gray
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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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