Inside the SOC
Bytesize security: HTML phishing attachments
One of the most common types of phishing email seen by the Darktrace SOC, involves the use of HTML attachments (Figure 1). These emails make use of an attachment to hide redirects to overtly malicious or suspicious domains. Some even impersonate legitimate web pages and send any entered or captured information back to the attacker's infrastructure once opened or filled out by the recipient. Indicators of these attempts can be identified from a few key patterns found across multiple emails.
Another common red flag is when the file contains links to common Product or Service images from domains wholly unrelated to those services, as seen below (Figure 3).
The examples above imply an obvious (and poor) attempt by the HTML file to impersonate a Microsoft webpage, likely a fake login page set up for credential harvesting, as the ‘Microsoft’ logo is being pulled from a domain entirely unrelated to Microsoft or any common image-hosting service.
Rather than impersonating a website directly in the file and loading resources from external sources, these HTML files will instead directly point toward a webpage that already contains these elements. This comes with its own set of pros and cons: by hosting their phishing page in a public setting, they are far more likely to be taken down, however it may be easier to appear legitimate than if they were to build it all out in the HTML file itself.
The final routine element in these types of HTML phishing emails is the mechanism by which the attacker intends to receive any successfully scammed credentials or information. If the fake webpage is entirely contained in the HTML file, this often presents as a suspicious PHP link present in the file itself (Figure 4).
PHP calls suggest that some part of the webpage is intended to submit an HTTP POST or equivalent ‘submission’ call, often present in the ‘Login’ button in these scenarios. After the victim clicks this button, the webpage sends all the form-submission items to the endpoint hosting the PHP page, which is commonly an indicator of the webserver hosting the attacker infrastructure running the phishing attack.
If the HTML file redirects to an externally hosted phishing page, identical PHP links are often found in the source code of those pages (Figure 5). This serves the same function as sending any entered credentials back to the attacker.
The process of HTML attacks is so standardized that they are commonly released in the form of easily deployable phishing kits. These can be deployed on unsuspecting compromised webservers with little to no modification, resulting in virtually identical attacks being seen year-round. WordPress seems to be a prime target for hosting such attacks, with the site owners often becoming unsuspecting victims in propagating these phishing campaigns. An unfortunate side effect of these kits being readily available is that the attackers often don't bother to set any sort of access restrictions on their phishing servers once established, which can result in their entire setup being publicly viewable with a simple link modification. One example is seen below (Figure 6).
In this incident, the website hosting the PHP link seen earlier had a publicly accessible parent directory structure, where both the PHP file above and an additional suspicious .txt file could be seen. This .txt file appears to be where any information submitted by victims ultimately ended up written to (Figure 7).
Figure 7 above presents the unusual risk of not only having the victims’ credentials at the disposal of the original attacker, but also potentially exposed to any malicious actor that can get creative with a web-crawler to identify key elements of the files used by these particular phishing kits.
Fortunately, due to the standardized nature of these ready-made phishing kits, these types of attacks often conform to a series of common behaviors that Darktrace/Email excels in identifying. Despite being a popular technique, it is extremely rare for attempts using this HTML attachment method to successfully get through a correct Darktrace/Email deployment. Overall, this means one less risk for the end user to worry about.