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A l'intérieur du SOC

Pikabot Malware: Battling a Fast-Moving Loader Malware in the Wild

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19
Mar 2024
19
Mar 2024
This blog details Darktrace’s investigation into the Pikabot loader malware, observed across multiple customers in 2023. In an October 2023 incident, Darktrace identified Pikabot employing new tactics that may have bypassed traditional security measures. With Darktrace’s support, the customer was able to contain the attack and prevent it from escalating into a ransomware infection.

How does Loader Malware work?

Throughout 2023, the Darktrace Threat Research team identified and investigated multiple strains of loader malware affecting customers across its fleet. These malicious programs typically serve as a gateway for threat actors to gain initial access to an organization’s network, paving the way for subsequent attacks, including additional malware infections or disruptive ransomware attacks.

How to defend against loader malware

The prevalence of such initial access threats highlights the need for organizations to defend against multi-phase compromises, where modular malware swiftly progresses from one stage of an attack to the next. One notable example observed in 2023 was Pikabot, a versatile loader malware used for initial access and often accompanied by secondary compromises like Cobalt Strike and Black Basta ransomware.

While Darktrace initially investigated multiple instances of campaign-like activity associated with Pikabot during the summer of 2023, a new campaign emerged in October which was observed targeting a Darktrace customer in Europe. Thanks to the timely detection by Darktrace DETECT™ and the support of Darktrace’s Security Operations Center (SOC), the Pikabot compromise was quickly shut down before it could escalate into a more disruptive attack.

What is Pikabot?

Pikabot is one of the latest modular loader malware strains that has been active since the first half of 2023, with several evolutions in its methodology observed in the months since. Initial researchers noted similarities to the Qakbot aka Qbot or Pinkslipbot and Mantanbuchus malware families, and while Pikabot appears to be a new malware in early development, it shares multiple commonalities with Qakbot [1].

First, both Pikabot and Qakbot have similar distribution methods, can be used for multi-stage attacks, and are often accompanied by downloads of Cobalt Strike and other malware strains. The threat actor known as TA577, which has also been referred to as Water Curupira, has been seen to use both types of malware in spam campaigns which can lead to Black Basta ransomware attacks [2] [3].Notably, a rise in Pikabot campaigns were observed in September and October 2023, shortly after the takedown of Qakbot in Operation Duck Hunt, suggesting that Pikabot may be serving as a replacement for initial access to target network [4].

How does Pikabot malware work?

Many Pikabot infections start with a malicious email, particularly using email thread hijacking; however, other cases have been distributed via malspam and malvertising [5]. Once downloaded, Pikabot runs anti-analysis techniques and checks the system’s language, self-terminating if the language matches that of a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country, such as Russian or Ukrainian. It will then gather key information to send to a command-and-control (C2) server, at which point additional payload downloads may be observed [2]. Early response to a Pikabot infection is important for organizations to prevent escalation to a significant compromise such as ransomware.

Darktrace’s Coverage of Pikabot malware

Between April and July 2023, the Darktrace Threat Research team investigated Pikabot infections affected more than 15 customer environments; these attacks primarily targeted US and European organizations spanning multiple industries, and most followed the below lifecycle:

  1. Initial access via malspam or email, often outside of Darktrace’s scope
  2. Suspicious executable download from a URI in the format /\/[a-z0-9A-Z]{3,}\/[a-z0-9A-Z]{5,}/ and using a Windows PowerShell user agent
  3. C2 connections to IP addresses on uncommon ports including 1194 and 2078
  4. Some cases involved further C2 activity to Cobalt Strike endpoints

In October 2023, a second campaign emerged that largely followed the same attack pattern, with a notable difference that cURL was used for the initial payload download as opposed to PowerShell. All the Pikabot cases that Darktrace has observed since October 2023 have used cURL, which could indicate a shift in approach from targeting Windows devices to multi-operating system environments.

Figure 1: Timeline of the Pikabot infection over a 2-hour period.

On October 17, 2023, Darktrace observed a Pikabot infection on the network of a European customer after an internal user seemingly clicked a malicious link in a phishing email, thereby compromising their device. As the customer did not have Darktrace/Email™ deployed on their network, Darktrace did not have visibility over the email. Despite this, DETECT was still able to provide full visibility over the network-based activity that ensued.

Darktrace observed the device using a cURL user agent when initiating the download of an unusual executable (.exe) file from an IP address that had never previously been observed on the network. Darktrace further recognized that the executable file was attempting to masquerade as a different file type, likely to evade the detection of security teams and their security tools. Within one minute, the device began to communicate with additional unusual IP addresses on uncommon ports (185.106.94[.]174:5000 and 80.85.140[.]152:5938), both of which have been noted by open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors as Pikabot C2 servers [6] [7].

Figure 2: Darktrace model breach Event Log showing the initial file download, immediately followed by a connection attempt to a Pikabot C2 server.

Around 40 minutes after the initial download, Darktrace detected the device performing suspicious DNS tunneling using a pattern that resembled the Cobalt Strike Beacon. This was accompanied by beaconing activity to a rare domain, ‘wordstt182[.]com’, which was registered only 4 days prior to this activity [8]. Darktrace observed additional DNS connections to the endpoint, ‘building4business[.]net’, which had been linked to Black Basta ransomware [2].

Figure 3: The affected device making successful TXT DNS requests to known Black Basta endpoints.

As this customer had integrated Darktrace with the Microsoft Defender, Defender was able to contextualize the DETECT model breaches with endpoint insights, such as known threats and malware, providing customers with unparalleled visibility of the host-level detections surrounding network-level anomalies.

In this case, the behavior of the affected device triggered multiple Microsoft Defender alerts, including one alert which linked the activity to the threat actor Storm-0464, another name for TA577 and Water Curupira. These insights were presented to the customer in the form of a Security Integration alert, allowing them to build a full picture of the ongoing incident.

Figure 4: Security Integration alert from Microsoft Defender in Darktrace, linking the observed activity to the threat group Storm-0464.

As the customer had subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, the customer received timely alerts from Darktrace’s SOC notifying them of the suspicious activity associated with Pikabot. This allowed the customer’s security team to quickly identify the affected device and remove it from their environment for remediation.

Although the customer did have Darktrace RESPOND™ enabled on their network, it was configured in human confirmation mode, requiring manual application for any RESPOND actions. RESPOND had suggested numerous actions to interrupt and contain the attack, including blocking connections to the observed Pikabot C2 addresses, which were manually actioned by the customer’s security team after the fact. Had RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode during the attack, it would have autonomously blocked these C2 connections and prevented the download of any suspicious files, effectively halting the escalation of the attack.

Nonetheless, Darktrace DETECT’s prompt identification and alerting of this incident played a crucial role in enabling the customer to mitigate the threat of Pikabot, preventing it from progressing into a disruptive ransomware attack.

Figure 5: Darktrace RESPOND actions recommended from the initial file download and throughout the C2 traffic, ranging from blocking specific connections to IP addresses and ports to enforcing a normal pattern of life for the source device.

Conclusion

Pikabot is just one recent example of a modular strain of loader known for its adaptability and speed, seamlessly changing tactics from one campaign to the next and utilizing new infrastructure to initiate multi-stage attacks. Leveraging commonly used tools and services like Windows PowerShell and cURL, alongside anti-analysis techniques, this malware can evade the detection and often bypass traditional security tools.

In this incident, Darktrace detected a Pikabot infection in its early stages, identifying an anomalous file download using a cURL user agent, a new tactic for this particular strain of malware. This timely detection, coupled with the support of Darktrace’s SOC, empowered the customer to quickly identify the compromised device and act against it, thwarting threat actors attempting to connect to malicious Cobalt Strike and Black Basta servers. By preventing the escalation of the attack, including potential ransomware deployment, the customer’s environment remained safeguarded.

Had Darktrace RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of this attack, it would have been able to further support the customer by applying targeted mitigative actions to contain the threat of Pikabot at its onset, bolstering their defenses even more effectively.

Credit to Brianna Leddy, Director of Analysis, Signe Zaharka, Senior Cyber Security Analyst

Appendix

Darktrace DETECT Models

Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External

Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port

Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External

Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed

Anomalous Connection / Repeated Rare External SSL Self-Signed

Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer

Anomalous File / Multiple EXE from Rare External Locations

Compromise / Agent Beacon to New Endpoint

Compromise / Beacon to Young Endpoint

Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare

Compromise / DNS / DNS Tunnel with TXT Records

Compromise / New or Repeated to Unusual SSL Port

Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination

Compromise / Suspicious Beaconing Behaviour

Compromise / Suspicious File and C2

Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

Device / Large Number of Model Breaches

Device / New PowerShell User Agent

Device / New User Agent

Device / New User Agent and New IP

Device / Suspicious Domain

Security Integration / C2 Activity and Integration Detection

Security Integration / Egress and Integration Detection

Security Integration / High Severity Integration Detection

Security Integration / High Severity Integration Incident

Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Detection

Security Integration / Low Severity Integration Incident

Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena File then New Outbound Block

Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Suspicious Activity Block

Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena Suspicious File Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Breaches Over Time Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Controlled and Model Breach

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Enhanced Monitoring from Client Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Anomaly from Client Block

Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Significant Security Integration and Network Activity Block

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoC)

IOC - TYPE - DESCRIPTION + CONFIDENCE

128.140.102[.]132 - IP Address - Pikabot Download

185.106.94[.]174:5000 - IP Address: Port - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

80.85.140[.]152:5938 - IP Address: Port - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

building4business[.]net - Hostname - Cobalt Strike DNS Beacon

wordstt182[.]com - Hostname - Cobalt Strike Server

167.88.166[.]109 - IP Address - Cobalt Strike Server

192.9.135[.]73 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

192.121.17[.]68 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

185.87.148[.]132 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

129.153.22[.]231 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

129.153.135[.]83 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

154.80.229[.]76 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

192.121.17[.]14 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

162.252.172[.]253 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

103.124.105[.]147 - IP - Likely Pikabot Download

178.18.246[.]136 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

86.38.225[.]106 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

198.44.187[.]12 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

154.12.233[.]66 - IP - Pikabot C2 Endpoint

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

TACTIC - TECHNIQUE

Defense Evasion - Masquerading: Masquerade File Type (T1036.008)

Command and Control - Application Layer Protocol: Web Protocols (T1071.001)

Command and Control - Non-Standard Port (T1571)

Command and Control - Application Layer Protocol: DNS (T1071.004)

Command and Control - Protocol Tunneling (T1572)

References

[1] https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2023/06/12/deep-dive-into-the-pikabot-cyber-threat/?&web_view=true  

[2] https://www.trendmicro.com/en_be/research/24/a/a-look-into-pikabot-spam-wave-campaign.html

[3] https://thehackernews.com/2024/01/alert-water-curupira-hackers-actively.html

[4] https://www.darkreading.com/cyberattacks-data-breaches/pikabot-malware-qakbot-replacement-black-basta-attacks

[5] https://www.redpacketsecurity.com/pikabot-distributed-via-malicious-ads-6/

[6] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/185.106.94.174/detection

[7] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/80.85.140.152/detection

[8] https://www.domainiq.com/domain?wordstt182.com

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
Brianna Leddy
Directrice de l'analyse

Based in San Francisco, Brianna is Director of Analysis at Darktrace. She joined the analyst team in 2016 and has since advised a wide range of enterprise customers on advanced threat hunting and leveraging Self-Learning AI for detection and response. Brianna works closely with the Darktrace SOC team to proactively alert customers to emerging threats and investigate unusual behavior in enterprise environments. Brianna holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

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A l'intérieur du SOC

Sliver C2: How Darktrace Provided a Sliver of Hope in the Face of an Emerging C2 Framework

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17
Apr 2024

Offensive Security Tools

As organizations globally seek to for ways to bolster their digital defenses and safeguard their networks against ever-changing cyber threats, security teams are increasingly adopting offensive security tools to simulate cyber-attacks and assess the security posture of their networks. These legitimate tools, however, can sometimes be exploited by real threat actors and used as genuine actor vectors.

What is Sliver C2?

Sliver C2 is a legitimate open-source command-and-control (C2) framework that was released in 2020 by the security organization Bishop Fox. Silver C2 was originally intended for security teams and penetration testers to perform security tests on their digital environments [1] [2] [5]. In recent years, however, the Sliver C2 framework has become a popular alternative to Cobalt Strike and Metasploit for many attackers and Advanced Persistence Threat (APT) groups who adopt this C2 framework for unsolicited and ill-intentioned activities.

The use of Sliver C2 has been observed in conjunction with various strains of Rust-based malware, such as KrustyLoader, to provide backdoors enabling lines of communication between attackers and their malicious C2 severs [6]. It is unsurprising, then, that it has also been leveraged to exploit zero-day vulnerabilities, including critical vulnerabilities in the Ivanti Connect Secure and Policy Secure services.

In early 2024, Darktrace observed the malicious use of Sliver C2 during an investigation into post-exploitation activity on customer networks affected by the Ivanti vulnerabilities. Fortunately for affected customers, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to recognize the suspicious network-based connectivity that emerged alongside Sliver C2 usage and promptly brought it to the attention of customer security teams for remediation.

How does Silver C2 work?

Given its open-source nature, the Sliver C2 framework is extremely easy to access and download and is designed to support multiple operating systems (OS), including MacOS, Windows, and Linux [4].

Sliver C2 generates implants (aptly referred to as ‘slivers’) that operate on a client-server architecture [1]. An implant contains malicious code used to remotely control a targeted device [5]. Once a ‘sliver’ is deployed on a compromised device, a line of communication is established between the target device and the central C2 server. These connections can then be managed over Mutual TLS (mTLS), WireGuard, HTTP(S), or DNS [1] [4]. Sliver C2 has a wide-range of features, which include dynamic code generation, compile-time obfuscation, multiplayer-mode, staged and stageless payloads, procedurally generated C2 over HTTP(S) and DNS canary blue team detection [4].

Why Do Attackers Use Sliver C2?

Amidst the multitude of reasons why malicious actors opt for Sliver C2 over its counterparts, one stands out: its relative obscurity. This lack of widespread recognition means that security teams may overlook the threat, failing to actively search for it within their networks [3] [5].

Although the presence of Sliver C2 activity could be representative of authorized and expected penetration testing behavior, it could also be indicative of a threat actor attempting to communicate with its malicious infrastructure, so it is crucial for organizations and their security teams to identify such activity at the earliest possible stage.

Darktrace’s Coverage of Sliver C2 Activity

Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection means that it does not explicitly attempt to attribute or distinguish between specific C2 infrastructures. Despite this, Darktrace was able to connect Sliver C2 usage to phases of an ongoing attack chain related to the exploitation of zero-day vulnerabilities in Ivanti Connect Secure VPN appliances in January 2024.

Around the time that the zero-day Ivanti vulnerabilities were disclosed, Darktrace detected an internal server on one customer network deviating from its expected pattern of activity. The device was observed making regular connections to endpoints associated with Pulse Secure Cloud Licensing, indicating it was an Ivanti server. It was observed connecting to a string of anomalous hostnames, including ‘cmjk3d071amc01fu9e10ae5rt9jaatj6b.oast[.]live’ and ‘cmjft14b13vpn5vf9i90xdu6akt5k3pnx.oast[.]pro’, via HTTP using the user agent ‘curl/7.19.7 (i686-redhat-linux-gnu) libcurl/7.63.0 OpenSSL/1.0.2n zlib/1.2.7’.

Darktrace further identified that the URI requested during these connections was ‘/’ and the top-level domains (TLDs) of the endpoints in question were known Out-of-band Application Security Testing (OAST) server provider domains, namely ‘oast[.]live’ and ‘oast[.]pro’. OAST is a testing method that is used to verify the security posture of an application by testing it for vulnerabilities from outside of the network [7]. This activity triggered the DETECT model ‘Compromise / Possible Tunnelling to Bin Services’, which breaches when a device is observed sending DNS requests for, or connecting to, ‘request bin’ services. Malicious actors often abuse such services to tunnel data via DNS or HTTP requests. In this specific incident, only two connections were observed, and the total volume of data transferred was relatively low (2,302 bytes transferred externally). It is likely that the connections to OAST servers represented malicious actors testing whether target devices were vulnerable to the Ivanti exploits.

The device proceeded to make several SSL connections to the IP address 103.13.28[.]40, using the destination port 53, which is typically reserved for DNS requests. Darktrace recognized that this activity was unusual as the offending device had never previously been observed using port 53 for SSL connections.

Model Breach Event Log displaying the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breaching in response to the unusual use of port 53.
Figure 1: Model Breach Event Log displaying the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breaching in response to the unusual use of port 53.

Figure 2: Model Breach Event Log displaying details pertaining to the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breach, including the 100% rarity of the port usage.
Figure 2: Model Breach Event Log displaying details pertaining to the ‘Application Protocol on Uncommon Port’ DETECT model breach, including the 100% rarity of the port usage.

Further investigation into the suspicious IP address revealed that it had been flagged as malicious by multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors [8]. In addition, OSINT sources also identified that the JARM fingerprint of the service running on this IP and port (00000000000000000043d43d00043de2a97eabb398317329f027c66e4c1b01) was linked to the Sliver C2 framework and the mTLS protocol it is known to use [4] [5].

An Additional Example of Darktrace’s Detection of Sliver C2

However, it was not just during the January 2024 exploitation of Ivanti services that Darktrace observed cases of Sliver C2 usages across its customer base.  In March 2023, for example, Darktrace detected devices on multiple customer accounts making beaconing connections to malicious endpoints linked to Sliver C2 infrastructure, including 18.234.7[.]23 [10] [11] [12] [13].

Darktrace identified that the observed connections to this endpoint contained the unusual URI ‘/NIS-[REDACTED]’ which contained 125 characters, including numbers, lower and upper case letters, and special characters like “_”, “/”, and “-“, as well as various other URIs which suggested attempted data exfiltration:

‘/upload/api.html?c=[REDACTED] &fp=[REDACTED]’

  • ‘/samples.html?mx=[REDACTED] &s=[REDACTED]’
  • ‘/actions/samples.html?l=[REDACTED] &tc=[REDACTED]’
  • ‘/api.html?gf=[REDACTED] &x=[REDACTED]’
  • ‘/samples.html?c=[REDACTED] &zo=[REDACTED]’

This anomalous external connectivity was carried out through multiple destination ports, including the key ports 443 and 8888.

Darktrace additionally observed devices on affected customer networks performing TLS beaconing to the IP address 44.202.135[.]229 with the JA3 hash 19e29534fd49dd27d09234e639c4057e. According to OSINT sources, this JA3 hash is associated with the Golang TLS cipher suites in which the Sliver framework is developed [14].

Conclusion

Despite its relative novelty in the threat landscape and its lesser-known status compared to other C2 frameworks, Darktrace has demonstrated its ability effectively detect malicious use of Sliver C2 across numerous customer environments. This included instances where attackers exploited vulnerabilities in the Ivanti Connect Secure and Policy Secure services.

While human security teams may lack awareness of this framework, and traditional rules and signatured-based security tools might not be fully equipped and updated to detect Sliver C2 activity, Darktrace’s Self Learning AI understands its customer networks, users, and devices. As such, Darktrace is adept at identifying subtle deviations in device behavior that could indicate network compromise, including connections to new or unusual external locations, regardless of whether attackers use established or novel C2 frameworks, providing organizations with a sliver of hope in an ever-evolving threat landscape.

Credit to Natalia Sánchez Rocafort, Cyber Security Analyst, Paul Jennings, Principal Analyst Consultant

Appendices

DETECT Model Coverage

  • Compromise / Repeating Connections Over 4 Days
  • Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port
  • Anomalous Server Activity / Server Activity on New Non-Standard Port
  • Compromis / Activité soutenue de balisage TCP vers un endpoint rare.
  • Compromise / Quick and Regular Windows HTTP Beaconing
  • Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / HTTP Beaconing to Rare Destination
  • Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Compromise / SSL or HTTP Beacon
  • Compromise / Possible Malware HTTP Comms
  • Compromise / Possible Tunnelling to Bin Services
  • Anomalous Connection / Low and Slow Exfiltration to IP
  • Device / New User Agent
  • Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
  • Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location
  • Anomalous File / Numeric File Download
  • Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External
  • Anomalous Server Activity / New Internet Facing System

List of Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

18.234.7[.]23 - Destination IP - Likely C2 Server

103.13.28[.]40 - Destination IP - Likely C2 Server

44.202.135[.]229 - Destination IP - Likely C2 Server

References

[1] https://bishopfox.com/tools/sliver

[2] https://vk9-sec.com/how-to-set-up-use-c2-sliver/

[3] https://www.scmagazine.com/brief/sliver-c2-framework-gaining-traction-among-threat-actors

[4] https://github[.]com/BishopFox/sliver

[5] https://www.cybereason.com/blog/sliver-c2-leveraged-by-many-threat-actors

[6] https://securityaffairs.com/158393/malware/ivanti-connect-secure-vpn-deliver-krustyloader.html

[7] https://www.xenonstack.com/insights/out-of-band-application-security-testing

[8] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/103.13.28.40/detection

[9] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/browse.php?search=ioc%3A107.174.78.227

[10] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/1074576/

[11] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/1093887/

[12] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/846889/

[13] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/1093889/

[14] https://github.com/projectdiscovery/nuclei/issues/3330

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About the author
Natalia Sánchez Rocafort
Cyber Security Analyst

Blog

Email

Looking Beyond Secure Email Gateways with the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/Email

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09
Apr 2024

Organizations Should Demand More from their Email Security

In response to a more intricate threat landscape, organizations should view email security as a critical component of their defense-in-depth strategy, rather than defending the inbox alone with a traditional Secure Email Gateway (SEG). Organizations need more than a traditional gateway – that doubles, instead of replaces, the capabilities provided by native security vendor – and require an equally granular degree of analysis across all messaging, including inbound, outbound, and lateral mail, plus Teams messages.  

Darktrace/Email is the industry’s most advanced cloud email security, powered by Self-Learning AI. It combines AI techniques to exceed the accuracy and efficiency of leading security solutions, and is the only security built to elevate, not duplicate, native email security.  

With its largest update ever, Darktrace/Email introduces the following innovations, finally allowing security teams to look beyond secure email gateways with autonomous AI:

  • AI-augmented data loss prevention to stop the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats
  • an easy way to deploy DMARC quickly with AI
  • major enhancements to streamline SOC workflows and increase the detection of sophisticated phishing links
  • expansion of Darktrace’s leading AI prevention to lateral mail, account compromise and Microsoft Teams

What’s New with Darktrace/Email  

Data Loss Prevention  

Block the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats with advanced data loss prevention that builds on tags in native email to stop unknown, accidental, and malicious data loss

Darktrace understands normal at individual user, group and organization level with a proven AI that detects abnormal user behavior and dynamic content changes. Using this understanding, Darktrace/Email actions outbound emails to stop unknown, accidental and malicious data loss.  

Traditional DLP solutions only take into account classified data, which relies on the manual input of labelling each data piece, or creating rules to catch pattern matches that try to stop data of certain types leaving the organization. But in today’s world of constantly changing data, regular expression and fingerprinting detection are no longer enough.

  • Human error – Because it understands normal for every user, Darktrace/Email can recognize cases of misdirected emails. Even if the data is correctly labelled or insensitive, Darktrace recognizes when the context in which it is being sent could be a case of data loss and warns the user.  
  • Unclassified data – Whereas traditional DLP solutions can only take action on classified data, Darktrace analyzes the range of data that is either pending labels or can’t be labeled with typical capabilities due to its understanding of the content and context of every email.  
  • Insider threat – If a malicious actor has compromised an account, data exfiltration may still be attempted on encrypted, intellectual property, or other forms of unlabelled data to avoid detection. Darktrace analyses user behaviour to catch cases of unusual data exfiltration from individual accounts.

And classification efforts already in place aren’t wasted – Darktrace/Email extends Microsoft Purview policies and sensitivity labels to avoid duplicate workflows for the security team, combining the best of both approaches to ensure organizations maintain control and visibility over their data.

End User and Security Workflows

Achieve more than 60% improvement in the quality of end-user phishing reports and detection of sophisticated malicious weblinks1

Darktrace/Email improves end-user reporting from the ground up to save security team resource. Employees will always be on the front line of email security – while other solutions assume that end-user reporting is automatically of poor quality, Darktrace prioritizes improving users’ security awareness to increase the quality of end-user reporting from day one.  

Users are empowered to assess and report suspicious activity with contextual banners and Cyber AI Analyst generated narratives for potentially suspicious emails, resulting in 60% fewer benign emails reported.  

Out of the higher-quality emails that end up being reported, the next step is to reduce the amount of emails that reach the SOC. Darktrace/Email’s Mailbox Security Assistant automates their triage with secondary analysis combining additional behavioral signals – using x20 more metrics than previously – with advanced link analysis to detect 70% more sophisticated malicious phishing links.2 This directly alleviates the burden of manual triage for security analysts.

For the emails that are received by the SOC, Darktrace/Email uses automation to reduce time spent investigating per incident. With live inbox view, security teams gain access to a centralized platform that combines intuitive search capabilities, Cyber AI Analyst reports, and mobile application access. Analysts can take remediation actions from within Darktrace/Email, eliminating console hopping and accelerating incident response.

Darktrace takes a user-focused and business-centric approach to email security, in contrast to the attack-centric rules and signatures approach of secure email gateways

Microsoft Teams

Detect threats within your Teams environment such as account compromise, phishing, malware and data loss

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services, particularly Teams and SharePoint.3

Darktrace now leverages the same behavioral AI techniques for Microsoft customers across 365 and Teams, allowing organizations to detect threats and signals of account compromise within their Teams environment including social engineering, malware and data loss.  

The primary use case for Microsoft Teams protection is as a potential entry vector. While messaging has traditionally been internal only, as organizations open up it is becoming an entry vector which needs to be treated with the same level of caution as email. That’s why we’re bringing our proven AI approach to Microsoft Teams, that understands the user behind the message.  

Anomalous messaging behavior is also a highly relevant indicator of whether a user has been compromised. Unlike other solutions that analyze Microsoft Teams content which focus on payloads, Darktrace goes beyond basic link and sandbox analysis and looks at actual user behavior from both a content and context perspective. This linguistic understanding isn’t bound by the requirement to match a signature to a malicious payload, rather it looks at the context in which the message has been delivered. From this analysis, Darktrace can spot the early symptoms of account compromise such as early-stage social engineering before a payload is delivered.

Lateral Mail Analysis

Detect and respond to internal mailflow with multi-layered AI to prevent account takeover, lateral phishing and data leaks

The industry’s most robust account takeover protection now prevents lateral mail account compromise. Darktrace has always looked at internal mail to inform inbound and outbound decisions, but will now elevate suspicious lateral mail behaviour using the same AI techniques for inbound, outbound and Teams analysis.

Darktrace integrates signals from across the entire mailflow and communication patterns to determine symptoms of account compromise, now including lateral mailflow

Unlike other solutions which only analyze payloads, Darktrace analyzes a whole range of signals to catch lateral movement before a payload is delivered. Contributing yet another layer to the AI behavioral profile for each user, security teams can now use signals from lateral mail to spot the early symptoms of account takeover and take autonomous actions to prevent further compromise.

DMARC

Gain in-depth visibility and control of 3rd parties using your domain with an industry-first AI-assisted DMARC

Darktrace has created the easiest path to brand protection and compliance with the new Darktrace/DMARC. This new capability continuously stops spoofing and phishing from the enterprise domain, while automatically enhancing email security and reducing the attack surface.

Darktrace/DMARC helps to upskill businesses by providing step by step guidance and automated record suggestions provide a clear, efficient road to enforcement. It allows organizations to quickly achieve compliance with requirements from Google, Yahoo, and others, to ensure that their emails are reaching mailboxes.  

Meanwhile, Darktrace/DMARC helps to reduce the overall attack surface by providing visibility over shadow-IT and third-party vendors sending on behalf of an organization’s brand, while informing recipients when emails from their domains are sent from un-authenticated DMARC source.

Darktrace/DMARC integrates with the wider Darktrace product platform, sharing insights to help further secure your business across Email Attack Path and Attack Surface management.

Conclusion

To learn more about the new innovations to Darktrace/Email download the solution brief here.

All of the new updates to Darktrace/Email sit within the new Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform, creating a feedback loop between email security and the rest of the digital estate for better protection. Click to read more about the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform or to hear about the latest innovations to Darktrace/OT, the most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for critical infrastructures.  

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.

References

[1] Internal Darktrace Research

[2] Internal Darktrace Research

[3] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager
Our ai. Your data.

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