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Not Your Average Rodent: Darktrace’s Mitigation of the Sectop Remote Access Trojan (RAT)

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20
Nov 2023
20
Nov 2023
This blog discusses how Darktrace was able to successfully detect and respond to several incidents of SectopRAT compromise across its customer base.

はじめに

As malicious actors across the threat landscape continue to look for new ways to gain unauthorized access to target networks, it is unsurprising to see Remote Access Trojans (RATs) leveraged more and more. These RATs are downloaded discretely without the target’s knowledge, typically through seemingly legitimate software downloads, and are designed to gain highly privileged network credentials, ultimately allowing attackers to have remote control over compromised devices. [1]

SectopRAT is one pertinent example of a RAT known to adopt a number of stealth functions in order to gather and exfiltrate sensitive data from its targets including passwords, cookies, autofill and history data stores in browsers, as well as cryptocurrency wallet details and system hardware information. [2]

In early 2023, Darktrace identified a resurgence of the SectopRAT across customer environments, primarily targeting educational industries located in the United States (US), Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia-Pacific (APAC) regions. Darktrace DETECT™ was able to successfully identify suspicious activity related to SectopRAT at the network level, as well as any indicators of post-compromise on customer environments that did not have Darktrace RESPOND™ in place to take autonomous preventative action.

What is SectopRAT?

First discovered in early 2019, the SectopRAT is a .NET RAT that contains information stealing capabilities. It is also known under the alias ‘ArechClient2’, and is commonly distributed through drive-by downloads of illegitimate software and utilizes malvertising, including via Google Ads, to increase the chances of it being downloaded.

The malware’s code was updated at the beginning of 2021, which led to refined and newly implemented features, including command and control (C2) communication encryption with Advanced Encryption Stanard 256 (AES256) and additional commands. SectopRAT also has a function called "BrowserLogging", ultimately sending any actions it conducts on web browsers to its C2 infrastructure. When the RAT is executed, it then connects to a Pastebin associated hostname to retrieve C2 information; the requested file reaches out to get the public IP address of the infected device. To receive commands, it connects to its C2 server primarily on port 15647, although other ports have been highlighted by open source intelligence (OSINT), which include 15678, 15649, 228 and 80. Ultimately, sensitive data data gathered from target networks is then exfiltrated to the attacker’s C2 infrastructure, typically in a JSON file [3].

Darktrace のカバレッジ

During autonomous investigations into affected customer networks, Darktrace DETECT was able to identify SSL connections to the endpoint pastebin[.]com over port 443, followed by failed connections to one of the IPs and ports (i.e., 15647, 15648, 15649) associated with SectopRAT. This resulted in the devices breaching the ‘Compliance/Pastebin and Anomalous Connection/Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint’ models, respectively.

In some instances, Darktrace observed a higher number of attempted connections that resulted in the additional breach of the model ‘Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections’.

Over a period of three months, Darktrace investigated multiple instances of SectopRAT infections across multiple clients, highlighting indicators of compromise (IoCs) through related endpoints.Looking specififically at one customer’s activity which centred on January 25, 2023, one device was observed initially making suspicious connections to a Pastebin endpoint, 104.20.67[.]143, likely in an attempt to receive C2 information.

Darktrace DETECT recognized this activity as suspicious, causing the 'Compliance / Pastebin' DETECT models to breach. In response to this detection, Darktrace RESPOND took swift action against the Pastebin connections by blocking them and preventing the device from carrying out further connections with Pastebin endpoints. Darktrace RESPOND actions related to blocking Pastebin connections were commonly observed on this device throughout the course of the attack and likely represented threat actors attempting to exfiltrate sensitive data outside the network.

Darktrace UI image
Figure 1: Model breach event log highlighting the Darktrace DETECT model breach ‘Compliance / Pastebin’.

Around the same time, Darktrace observed the device making a large number of failed connections to an unusual exernal location in the Netherlands, 5.75.147[.]135, via port 15647. Darktrace recognized that this endpoint had never previously been observed on the customer’s network and that the frequency of the failed connections could be indicative of beaconing activity. Subsequent investigation into the endpoint using OSINT indicated it had links to malware, though Darktrace’s successful detection did not need to rely on this intelligence.

Darktrace model breach event log
Figure 2: Model breach event log highlighting the multiple failed connectiosn to the suspicious IP address, 5.75.147[.]135 on January 25, 2023, causing the Darktrace DETECT model ‘Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint’ to breach.

After these initial set of breaches on January 25, the same device was observed engaging in further external connectivity roughly a month later on February 27, including additional failed connections to the IP 167.235.134[.]14 over port 15647. Once more, multiple OSINT sources revealed that this endpoint was indeed a malicious C2 endpoint.

Darktrace model breach event log 2
Figure 3: Model breach event log highlighting the multiple failed connectiosn to the suspicious IP address, 167.235.134[.]14 on February 27, 2023, causing the Darktrace DETECT model ‘Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint’ to breach.

While the initial Darktrace coverage up to this point has highlighted the attempted C2 communication and how DETECT was able to alert on the suspicious activity, Pastebin activity was commonly observed throughout the course of this attack. As a result, when enabled in autonomous response mode, Darktrace RESPOND was able to take swift mitigative action by blocking all connections to Pastebin associated hostnames and IP addresses. These interventions by RESPOND ultimately prevented malicious actors from stealing sensitive data from Darktrace customers.

Darktrace RESPOND action list
Figure 4: A total of nine Darktrace RESPOND actions were applied against suspicious Pastebin activity during the course of the attack.

In another similar case investigated by the Darktrace, multiple devices were observed engaging in external connectivity to another malicious endpoint,  88.218.170[.]169 (AS207651 Hosting technology LTD) on port 15647.  On April 17, 2023, at 22:35:24 UTC, the breach device started making connections; of the 34 attempts, one connection was successful – this connection lasted 8 minutes and 49 seconds. Darktrace DETECT’s Self-Learning AI understood that these connections represented a deviation from the device’s usual pattern of behavior and alerted on the activity with the ‘Multiple Connections to new External TCP Port’ model.

Darktrace model breach event log
Figure 5: Model breach event log highlighting the affected device successfully connecting to the suspicious endpoint, 88.218.170[.]169.
Darktrace advanced search query
Figure 6: Advanced Search query highlighting the one successful connection to the endpoint 88.218.170[.]169 out of the 34 attempted connections.

A few days later, on April 20, 2023, at 12:33:59 (UTC) the source device connected to a Pastebin endpoint, 172.67.34[.]170 on port 443 using the SSL protocol, that had never previously be seen on the network. According to Advanced Search data, the first SSL connection lasted over two hours. In total, the device made 9 connections to pastebin[.]com and downloaded 85 KB of data from it.

Darktrace UI highlighting connections
Figure 7: Screenshot of the Darktrace UI highlighting the affected device making multiple connections to Pastebin and downloading 85 KB of data.

Within the same minute, Darktrace detected the device beginning to make a large number of failed connections to another suspicious endpoints, 34.107.84[.]7 (AS396982 GOOGLE-CLOUD-PLATFORM) via port 15647. In total the affected device was observed initiating 1,021 connections to this malicious endpoint, all occurring over the same port and resulting the failed attempts.

Darktrace advanced search query 2
Figure 8: Advanced Search query highlighting the affected device making over one thousand connections to the suspicious endpoint 34.107.84[.]7, all of which failed.

結論

Ultimately, thanks to its Self-Learning AI and anomaly-based approach to threat detection, Darktrace was able to preemptively identify any suspicious activity relating to SectopRAT at the network level, as well as post-compromise activity, and bring it to the immediate attention of customer security teams.

In addition to the successful and timely detection of SectopRAT activity, when enabled in autonomous response mode Darktrace RESPOND was able to shut down suspicious connections to endpoints used by threat actors as malicious infrastructure, thus preventing successful C2 communication and potential data exfiltration.

In the face of a Remote Access Trojan, like SectopRAT, designed to steal sensitive corporate and personal information, the Darktrace suite of products is uniquely placed to offer organizations full visibility over any emerging activity on their networks and respond to it without latency, safeguarding their digital estate whilst causing minimal disruption to business operations.

Credit to Justin Torres, Cyber Analyst, Brianna Leddy, Director of Analysis

付録

Darktrace Model Detection:

  • Compliance / Pastebin
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

IoC一覧

IoC - Type - Description + Confidence

5.75.147[.]135 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

5.75.149[.]1 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

34.27.150[.]38 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

34.89.247[.]212 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

34.107.84[.]7 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

34.141.16[.]89 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

34.159.180[.]55 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

35.198.132[.]51 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

35.226.102[.]12 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

35.234.79[.]173 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

35.234.159[.]213 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

35.242.150[.]95 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

88.218.170[.]169 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

162.55.188[.]246 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

167.235.134[.]14 - IP - SectopRAT C2 Endpoint

MITRE ATT&CK マッピング

Model: Compliance / Pastebin

ID: T1537

Tactic: EXFILTRATION

Technique Name: Transfer Data to Cloud Account

Model: Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint

ID: T1090.002

Sub technique of: T1090

Tactic: COMMAND AND CONTROL

Technique Name: External Proxy

ID: T1095

Tactic: COMMAND AND CONTROL

Technique Name: Non-Application Layer Protocol

ID: T1571

Tactic: COMMAND AND CONTROL

Technique Name: Non-Standard Port

Model: Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections

ID: T1571

Tactic: COMMAND AND CONTROL

Technique Name: Non-Standard Port

ID: T1583.006

Sub technique of: T1583

Tactic: RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT

Technique Name: Web Services

Model: Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

ID: T1095        

Tactic: COMMAND AND CONTROL    

Technique Name: Non-Application Layer Protocol

ID: T1571

Tactic: COMMAND AND CONTROL    

Technique Name: Non-Standard Port

参考文献

1.     https://www.techtarget.com/searchsecurity/definition/RAT-remote-access-Trojan

2.     https://malpedia.caad.fkie.fraunhofer.de/details/win.sectop_rat

3.     https://threatfox.abuse.ch/browse/malware/win.sectop_rat

INSIDE THE SOC
Darktrace cyber analysts are world-class experts in threat intelligence, threat hunting and incident response, and provide 24/7 SOC support to thousands of Darktrace customers around the globe. Inside the SOC is exclusively authored by these experts, providing analysis of cyber incidents and threat trends, based on real-world experience in the field.
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Justin Torres
Cyber Analyst
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Inside the SOC

Stemming the Citrix Bleed Vulnerability with Darktrace’s ActiveAI Platform

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28
May 2024

What is Citrix Bleed?

Since August 2023, cyber threat actors have been actively exploiting one of the most significant critical vulnerabilities disclosed in recent years: Citrix Bleed. Citrix Bleed, also known as CVE-2023-4966, remained undiscovered and even unpatched for several months, resulting in a wide range of security incidents across business and government sectors [1].

How does Citrix Bleed vulnerability work?

The vulnerability, which impacts the Citrix Netscaler Gateway and Netscaler ADC products, allows for outside parties to hijack legitimate user sessions, thereby bypassing password and multifactor authentication (MFA) requirements.

When used as a means of initial network access, the vulnerability has resulted in the exfiltration of sensitive data, as in the case of Xfinity, and even the deployment of ransomware variants including Lockbit [2]. Although Citrix has released a patch to address the vulnerability, slow patching procedures and the widespread use of these products has resulted in the continuing exploitation of Citrix Bleed into 2024 [3].

How Does Darktrace Handle Citrix Bleed?

Darktrace has demonstrated its proficiency in handling the exploitation of Citrix Bleed since it was disclosed back in 2023; its anomaly-based approach allows it to efficiently identify and inhibit post-exploitation activity as soon as it surfaces.  Rather than relying upon traditional rules and signatures, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI enables it to understand the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that would indicate an emerging compromise, thus allowing it to detect anomalous activity related to the exploitation of Citrix Bleed.

In late 2023, Darktrace identified an instance of Citrix Bleed exploitation on a customer network. As this customer had subscribed to the Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, the suspicious network activity surrounding the compromise was escalated to Darktrace’s Security Operation Center (SOC) for triage and investigation by Darktrace Analysts, who then alerted the customer’s security team to the incident.

Darktrace’s Coverage

Initial Access and Beaconing of Citrix Bleed

Darktrace’s initial detection of indicators of compromise (IoCs) associated with the exploitation of Citrix Bleed actually came a few days prior to the SOC alert, with unusual external connectivity observed from a critical server. The suspicious connection in question, a SSH connection to the rare external IP 168.100.9[.]137, lasted several hours and utilized the Windows PuTTY client. Darktrace also identified an additional suspicious IP, namely 45.134.26[.]2, attempting to contact the server. Both rare endpoints had been linked with the exploitation of the Citrix Bleed vulnerability by multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors [4] [5].

Darktrace model alert highlighting an affected device making an unusual SSH connection to 168.100.9[.]137 via port 22.
Figure 1: Darktrace model alert highlighting an affected device making an unusual SSH connection to 168.100.9[.]137 via port 22.

As Darktrace is designed to identify network-level anomalies, rather than monitor edge infrastructure, the initial exploitation via the typical HTTP buffer overflow associated with this vulnerability fell outside the scope of Darktrace’s visibility. However, the aforementioned suspicious connectivity likely constituted initial access and beaconing activity following the successful exploitation of Citrix Bleed.

Command and Control (C2) and Payload Download

Around the same time, Darktrace also detected other devices on the customer’s network conducting external connectivity to various endpoints associated with remote management and IT services, including Action1, ScreenConnect and Fixme IT. Additionally, Darktrace observed devices downloading suspicious executable files, including “tniwinagent.exe”, which is associated with the tool Total Network Inventory. While this tool is typically used for auditing and inventory management purposes, it could also be leveraged by attackers for the purpose of lateral movement.

防衛回避

In the days surrounding this compromise, Darktrace observed multiple devices engaging in potential defense evasion tactics using the ScreenConnect and Fixme IT services. Although ScreenConnect is a legitimate remote management tool, it has also been used by threat actors to carry out C2 communication [6]. ScreenConnect itself was the subject of a separate critical vulnerability which Darktrace investigated in early 2024. Meanwhile, CISA observed that domains associated with Fixme It (“fixme[.]it”) have been used by threat actors attempting to exploit the Citrix Bleed vulnerability [7].

Reconnaissance and Lateral Movement

A few days after the detection of the initial beaconing communication, Darktrace identified several devices on the customer’s network carrying out reconnaissance and lateral movement activity. This included SMB writes of “PSEXESVC.exe”, network scanning, DCE-RPC binds of numerous internal devices to IPC$ shares and the transfer of compromise-related tools. It was at this point that Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI deemed the activity to be likely indicative of an ongoing compromise and several Enhanced Monitoring models alerted, triggering the aforementioned PTNs and investigation by Darktrace’s SOC.

Darktrace observed a server on the network initiating a wide range of connections to more than 600 internal IPs across several critical ports, suggesting port scanning, as well as conducting unexpected DCE-RPC service control (svcctl) activity on multiple internal devices, amongst them domain controllers. Additionally, several binds to server service (srvsvc) and security account manager (samr) endpoints via IPC$ shares on destination devices were detected, indicating further reconnaissance activity. The querying of these endpoints was also observed through RPC commands to enumerate services running on the device, as well as Security Account Manager (SAM) accounts.  

Darktrace also identified devices performing SMB writes of the WinRAR data compression tool, in what likely represented preparation for the compression of data prior to data exfiltration. Further SMB file writes were observed around this time including PSEXESVC.exe, which was ultimately used by attackers to conduct remote code execution, and one device was observed making widespread failed NTLM authentication attempts on the network, indicating NTLM brute-forcing. Darktrace observed several devices using administrative credentials to carry out the above activity.

In addition to the transfer of tools and executables via SMB, Darktrace also identified numerous devices deleting files through SMB around this time. In one example, an MSI file associated with the patch management and remediation service, Action1, was deleted by an attacker. This legitimate security tool, if leveraged by attackers, could be used to uncover additional vulnerabilities on target networks.

A server on the customer’s network was also observed writing the file “m.exe” to multiple internal devices. OSINT investigation into the executable indicated that it could be a malicious tool used to prevent antivirus programs from launching or running on a network [8].

Impact and Data Exfiltration

Following the initial steps of the breach chain, Darktrace observed numerous devices on the customer’s network engaging in data exfiltration and impact events, resulting in additional PTN alerts and a SOC investigation into data egress. Specifically, two servers on the network proceeded to read and download large volumes of data via SMB from multiple internal devices over the course of a few hours. These hosts sent large outbound volumes of data to MEGA file storage sites using TLS/SSL over port 443. Darktrace also identified the use of additional file storage services during this exfiltration event, including 4sync, file[.]io, and easyupload[.]io. In total the threat actor exfiltrated over 8.5 GB of data from the customer’s network.

Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst investigation highlighting the details of a data exfiltration attempt.
Figure 2: Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst investigation highlighting the details of a data exfiltration attempt.

Finally, Darktrace detected a user account within the customer’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment conducting several suspicious Office365 and AzureAD actions from a rare IP for the network, including uncommon file reads, creations and the deletion of a large number of files.

Unfortunately for the customer in this case, Darktrace RESPOND™ was not enabled on the network and the post-exploitation activity was able to progress until the customer was made aware of the attack by Darktrace’s SOC team. Had RESPOND been active and configured in autonomous response mode at the time of the attack, it would have been able to promptly contain the post-exploitation activity by blocking external connections, shutting down any C2 activity and preventing the download of suspicious files, blocking incoming traffic, and enforcing a learned ‘pattern of life’ on offending devices.

結論

Given the widespread use of Netscaler Gateway and Netscaler ADC, Citrix Bleed remains an impactful and potentially disruptive vulnerability that will likely continue to affect organizations who fail to address affected assets. In this instance, Darktrace demonstrated its ability to track and inhibit malicious activity stemming from Citrix Bleed exploitation, enabling the customer to identify affected devices and enact their own remediation.

Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allows it to identify such post-exploitation activity resulting from the exploitation of a vulnerability, regardless of whether it is a known CVE or a zero-day threat. Unlike traditional security tools that rely on existing threat intelligence and rules and signatures, Darktrace’s ability to identify the subtle deviations in a compromised device’s behavior gives it a unique advantage when it comes to identifying emerging threats.

Credit to Vivek Rajan, Cyber Analyst, Adam Potter, Cyber Analyst

付録

Darktrace モデルカバレッジ

Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity

Device / ICMP Address Scan

Device / Possible SMB/NTLM Reconnaissance

Device / Network Scan

Device / SMB Lateral Movement

Device / Possible SMB/NTLM Brute Force

Device / Suspicious Network Scan Activity

User / New Admin Credentials on Server

Anomalous File / Internal::Unusual Internal EXE File Transfer

Compliance / SMB Drive Write

Device / New or Unusual Remote Command Execution

Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control

Anomalous Connection / Rare WinRM Incoming

Anomalous Connection / Unusual Admin SMB Session

Device / Unauthorised Device

User / New Admin Credentials on Server

Anomalous Server Activity / Outgoing from Server

Device / Long Agent Connection to New Endpoint

Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

Device / New or Uncommon SMB Named Pipe

Device / Multiple Lateral Movement Model Breaches

Device / Large Number of Model Breaches

Compliance / Remote Management Tool On Server

Device / Anomalous RDP Followed By Multiple Model Breaches

Device / SMB Session Brute Force (Admin)

Device / New User Agent

Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections

Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data Transfer

Unusual Activity / Enhanced Unusual External Data Transfer

Device / Increased External Connectivity

Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data to New Endpoints

Anomalous Connection / Data Sent to Rare Domain

Anomalous Connection / Uncommon 1 GiB Outbound

Anomalous Connection / Active Remote Desktop Tunnel

Anomalous Server Activity / Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device

Compliance / Possible Unencrypted Password File On Server

Anomalous Connection / Suspicious Read Write Ratio and Rare External

Device / Reverse DNS Sweep]

Unusual Activity / Possible RPC Recon Activity

Anomalous File / Internal::Executable Uploaded to DC

Compliance / SMB Version 1 Usage

Darktrace AI Analyst Incidents

Scanning of Multiple Devices

Suspicious Remote Service Control Activity

SMB Writes of Suspicious Files to Multiple Devices

Possible SSL Command and Control to Multiple Devices

Extensive Suspicious DCE-RPC Activity

Suspicious DCE-RPC Activity

Internal Downloads and External Uploads

Unusual External Data Transfer

Unusual External Data Transfer to Multiple Related Endpoints

MITRE ATT&CK マッピング

Technique – Tactic – ID – Sub technique of

Network Scanning – Reconnaissance - T1595 - T1595.002

Valid Accounts – Defense Evasion, Persistence, Privilege Escalation, Initial Access – T1078 – N/A

Remote Access Software – Command and Control – T1219 – N/A

Lateral Tool Transfer – Lateral Movement – T1570 – N/A

Data Transfers – Exfiltration – T1567 – T1567.002

Compressed Data – Exfiltration – T1030 – N/A

NTLM Brute Force – Brute Force – T1110 - T1110.001

AntiVirus Deflection – T1553 - NA

Ingress Tool Transfer   - COMMAND AND CONTROL - T1105 - NA

Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

204.155.149[.]37 – IP – Possible Malicious Endpoint

199.80.53[.]177 – IP – Possible Malicious Endpoint

168.100.9[.]137 – IP – Malicious Endpoint

45.134.26[.]2 – IP – Malicious Endpoint

13.35.147[.]18 – IP – Likely Malicious Endpoint

13.248.193[.]251 – IP – Possible Malicious Endpoint

76.223.1[.]166 – IP – Possible Malicious Endpoint

179.60.147[.]10 – IP – Likely Malicious Endpoint

185.220.101[.]25 – IP – Likely Malicious Endpoint

141.255.167[.]250 – IP – Malicious Endpoint

106.71.177[.]68 – IP – Possible Malicious Endpoint

cat2.hbwrapper[.]com – Hostname – Likely Malicious Endpoint

aj1090[.]online – Hostname – Likely Malicious Endpoint

dc535[.]4sync[.]com – Hostname – Likely Malicious Endpoint

204.155.149[.]140 – IP - Likely Malicious Endpoint

204.155.149[.]132 – IP - Likely Malicious Endpoint

204.155.145[.]52 – IP - Likely Malicious Endpoint

204.155.145[.]49 – IP - Likely Malicious Endpoint

参考文献

  1. https://www.axios.com/2024/01/02/citrix-bleed-security-hacks-impact
  2. https://www.csoonline.com/article/1267774/hackers-steal-data-from-millions-of-xfinity-customers-via-citrix-bleed-vulnerability.html
  3. https://www.cybersecuritydive.com/news/citrixbleed-security-critical-vulnerability/702505/
  4. https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/168.100.9.137
  5. https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/45.134.26.2
  6. https://www.trendmicro.com/en_us/research/24/b/threat-actor-groups-including-black-basta-are-exploiting-recent-.html
  7. https://www.cisa.gov/news-events/cybersecurity-advisories/aa23-325a
  8. https://www.file.net/process/m.exe.html
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著者について
Vivek Rajan
Cyber Analyst

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How to Protect your Organization Against Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks

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21
May 2024

The problem: Microsoft Teams phishing attacks are on the rise

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services1, with Microsoft Teams and Microsoft SharePoint in particular emerging as critical platforms to the business operations of the everyday workplace. Researchers across the threat landscape have begun to observe these legitimate services being leveraged more and more by malicious actors as an initial access method.

As Teams becomes a more prominent feature of the workplace many employees rely on it for daily internal and external communication, even surpassing email usage in some organizations. As Microsoft2 states, "Teams changes your relationship with email. When your whole group is working in Teams, it means you'll all get fewer emails. And you'll spend less time in your inbox, because you'll use Teams for more of your conversations."

However, Teams can be exploited to send targeted phishing messages to individuals either internally or externally, while appearing legitimate and safe. Users might receive an external message request from a Teams account claiming to be an IT support service or otherwise affiliated with the organization. Once a user has accepted, the threat actor can launch a social engineering campaign or deliver a malicious payload. As a primarily internal tool there is naturally less training and security awareness around Teams – due to the nature of the channel it is assumed to be a trusted source, meaning that social engineering is already one step ahead.

Screenshot of a Microsoft Teams message request from a Midnight Blizzard-controlled account (courtesy of Microsoft)
Figure 1: Screenshot of a Microsoft Teams message request from a Midnight Blizzard-controlled account (courtesy of Microsoft)

Microsoft Teams Phishing Examples

Microsoft has identified several major phishing attacks using Teams within the past year.

In July 2023, Microsoft announced that the threat actor known as Midnight Blizzard – identified by the United States as a Russian state-sponsored group – had launched a series of phishing campaigns via Teams with the aim of stealing user credentials. These attacks used previously compromised Microsoft 365 accounts and set up new domain names that impersonated legitimate IT support organizations. The threat actors then used social engineering tactics to trick targeted users into sharing their credentials via Teams, enabling them to access sensitive data.  

At a similar time, threat actor Storm-0324 was observed sending phishing lures via Teams containing links to malicious SharePoint-hosted files. The group targeted organizations that allow Teams users to interact and share files externally. Storm-0324’s goal is to gain initial access to hand over to other threat actors to pursue more dangerous follow-on attacks like ransomware.

Darktrace がMicrosoft Teamsのフィッシングを阻止する方法について、さらに詳しく知りたい方は、ブログをお読みください: 餌に喰いつくな:Darktrace Microsoft Teamsのフィッシング攻撃を阻止する方法

The market: Existing Microsoft Teams security solutions are insufficient

Microsoft’s native Teams security focuses on payloads, namely links and attachments, as the principal malicious component of any phishing. These payloads are relatively straightforward to detect with their experience in anti-virus, sandboxing, and IOCs. However, this approach is unable to intervene before the stage at which payloads are delivered, before the user even gets the chance to accept or deny an external message request. At the same time, it risks missing more subtle threats that don’t include attachments or links – like early stage phishing, which is pure social engineering – or completely new payloads.

Equally, the market offering for Teams security is limited. Security solutions available on the market are always payload-focused, rather than taking into account the content and context in which a link or attachment is sent. Answering questions like:

  • Does it make sense for these two accounts to speak to each other?
  • Are there any linguistic indicators of inducement?

Furthermore, they do not correlate with email to track threats across multiple communication environments which could signal a wider campaign. Effectively, other market solutions aren’t adding extra value – they are protecting against the same types of threats that Microsoft is already covering by default.

The other aspect of Teams security that native and market solutions fail to address is the account itself. As well as focusing on Teams threats, it’s important to analyze messages to understand the normal mode of communication for a user, and spot when a user’s Teams activity might signal account takeover.

The solution: How Darktrace protects Microsoft Teams against sophisticated threats

With its biggest update to Darktrace/Email ever, Darktrace now offers support for Microsoft Teams. With that, we are bringing the same AI philosophy that protects your email and accounts to your messaging environment.  

Our Self-Learning AI looks at content and context for every communication, whether that’s sent in an email or Teams message. It looks at actual user behavior, including language patterns, relationship history of sender and recipient, tone and payloads, to understand if a message poses a threat. This approach allows Darktrace to detect threats such as social engineering and payloadless attacks using visibility and forensic capabilities that Microsoft security doesn’t currently offer, as well as early symptoms of account compromise.  

Unlike market solutions, Darktrace doesn’t offer a siloed approach to Teams security. Data and signals from Teams are shared across email to inform detection, and also with the wider Darktrace ActiveAI security platform. By correlating information from email and Teams with network and apps security, Darktrace is able to better identify suspicious Teams activity and vice versa.  

Interested in the other ways Darktrace/Email augments threat detection? Read our latest blog on how improving the quality of end-user reporting can decrease the burden on the SOC. To find our more about Darktrace's enduring partnership with Microsoft, click here.

参考文献

[1] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

[2] Microsoft blog, Microsoft Teams and email, living in harmony, 2024

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Carlos Gray
Product Manager
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