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A Thorn in Attackers’ Sides: How Darktrace Uncovered a CACTUS Ransomware Infection

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24
Apr 2024
24
Apr 2024
This blog examines CACTUS, a relatively new strain of ransomware that first appeared in the threat landscape in March 2023. In November 2023, Darktrace detected CACTUS ransomware on a US customer network and was able to provide full visibility over the attack and its kill chain.

What is CACTUS Ransomware?

In May 2023, Kroll Cyber Threat Intelligence Analysts identified CACTUS as a new ransomware strain that had been actively targeting large commercial organizations since March 2023 [1]. CACTUS ransomware gets its name from the filename of the ransom note, “cAcTuS.readme.txt”. Encrypted files are appended with the extension “.cts”, followed by a number which varies between attacks, e.g. “.cts1” and “.cts2”.

As the cyber threat landscape adapts to ever-present fast-paced technological change, ransomware affiliates are employing progressively sophisticated techniques to enter networks, evade detection and achieve their nefarious goals.

How does CACTUS Ransomware work?

In the case of CACTUS, threat actors have been seen gaining initial network access by exploiting Virtual Private Network (VPN) services. Once inside the network, they may conduct internal scanning using tools like SoftPerfect Network Scanner, and PowerShell commands to enumerate endpoints, identify user accounts, and ping remote endpoints. Persistence is maintained by the deployment of various remote access methods, including legitimate remote access tools like Splashtop, AnyDesk, and SuperOps RMM in order to evade detection, along with malicious tools like Cobalt Strike and Chisel. Such tools, as well as custom scripts like TotalExec, have been used to disable security software to distribute the ransomware binary. CACTUS ransomware is unique in that it adopts a double-extortion tactic, stealing data from target networks and then encrypting it on compromised systems [2].

At the end of November 2023, cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf reported instances of CACTUS attacks exploiting vulnerabilities on the Windows version of the business analytics platform Qlik, specifically CVE-2023-41266, CVE-2023-41265, and CVE-2023-48365, to gain initial access to target networks [3]. The vulnerability tracked as CVE-2023-41266 can be exploited to generate anonymous sessions and perform HTTP requests to unauthorized endpoints, whilst CVE-2023-41265 does not require authentication and can be leveraged to elevate privileges and execute HTTP requests on the backend server that hosts the application [2].

Darktrace’s Coverage of CACTUS Ransomware

In November 2023, Darktrace observed malicious actors leveraging the aforementioned method of exploiting Qlik to gain access to the network of a customer in the US, more than a week before the vulnerability was reported by external researchers.

Here, Qlik vulnerabilities were successfully exploited, and a malicious executable (.exe) was detonated on the network, which was followed by network scanning and failed Kerberos login attempts. The attack culminated in the encryption of numerous files with extensions such as “.cts1”, and SMB writes of the ransom note “cAcTuS.readme.txt” to multiple internal devices, all of which was promptly identified by Darktrace DETECT™.

While traditional rules and signature-based detection tools may struggle to identify the malicious use of a legitimate business platform like Qlik, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI was able to confidently identify anomalous use of the tool in a CACTUS ransomware attack by examining the rarity of the offending device’s surrounding activity and comparing it to the learned behavior of the device and its peers.

Unfortunately for the customer in this case, Darktrace RESPOND™ was not enabled in autonomous response mode during their encounter with CACTUS ransomware meaning that attackers were able to successfully escalate their attack to the point of ransomware detonation and file encryption. Had RESPOND been configured to autonomously act on any unusual activity, Darktrace could have prevented the attack from progressing, stopping the download of any harmful files, or the encryption of legitimate ones.

Cactus Ransomware Attack Overview

Holiday periods have increasingly become one of the favoured times for malicious actors to launch their attacks, as they can take advantage of the festive downtime of organizations and their security teams, and the typically more relaxed mindset of employees during this period [4].

Following this trend, in late November 2023, Darktrace began detecting anomalous connections on the network of a customer in the US, which presented multiple indicators of compromise (IoCs) and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) associated with CACTUS ransomware. The threat actors in this case set their attack in motion by exploiting the Qlik vulnerabilities on one of the customer’s critical servers.

Darktrace observed the server device making beaconing connections to the endpoint “zohoservice[.]net” (IP address: 45.61.147.176) over the course of three days. This endpoint is known to host a malicious payload, namely a .zip file containing the command line connection tool PuttyLink [5].

Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst was able to autonomously identify over 1,000 beaconing connections taking place on the customer’s network and group them together, in this case joining the dots in an ongoing ransomware attack. AI Analyst recognized that these repeated connections to highly suspicious locations were indicative of malicious command-and-control (C2) activity.

Cyber AI Analyst Incident Log showing the offending device making over 1,000 connections to the suspicious hostname “zohoservice[.]net” over port 8383, within a specific period.
Figure 1: Cyber AI Analyst Incident Log showing the offending device making over 1,000 connections to the suspicious hostname “zohoservice[.]net” over port 8383, within a specific period.

The infected device was then observed downloading the file “putty.zip” over a HTTP connection using a PowerShell user agent. Despite being labelled as a .zip file, Darktrace’s detection capabilities were able to identify this as a masqueraded PuttyLink executable file. This activity resulted in multiple Darktrace DETECT models being triggered. These models are designed to look for suspicious file downloads from endpoints not usually visited by devices on the network, and files whose types are masqueraded, as well as the anomalous use of PowerShell. This behavior resembled previously observed activity with regards to the exploitation of Qlik Sense as an intrusion technique prior to the deployment of CACTUS ransomware [5].

The downloaded file’s URI highlighting that the file type (.exe) does not match the file's extension (.zip). Information about the observed PowerShell user agent is also featured.
Figure 2: The downloaded file’s URI highlighting that the file type (.exe) does not match the file's extension (.zip). Information about the observed PowerShell user agent is also featured.

Following the download of the masqueraded file, Darktrace observed the initial infected device engaging in unusual network scanning activity over the SMB, RDP and LDAP protocols. During this activity, the credential, “service_qlik” was observed, further indicating that Qlik was exploited by threat actors attempting to evade detection. Connections to other internal devices were made as part of this scanning activity as the attackers attempted to move laterally across the network.

Numerous failed connections from the affected server to multiple other internal devices over port 445, indicating SMB scanning activity.
Figure 3: Numerous failed connections from the affected server to multiple other internal devices over port 445, indicating SMB scanning activity.

The compromised server was then seen initiating multiple sessions over the RDP protocol to another device on the customer’s network, namely an internal DNS server. External researchers had previously observed this technique in CACTUS ransomware attacks where an RDP tunnel was established via Plink [5].

A few days later, on November 24, Darktrace identified over 20,000 failed Kerberos authentication attempts for the username “service_qlik” being made to the internal DNS server, clearly representing a brute-force login attack. There is currently a lack of open-source intelligence (OSINT) material definitively listing Kerberos login failures as part of a CACTUS ransomware attack that exploits the Qlik vulnerabilities. This highlights Darktrace’s ability to identify ongoing threats amongst unusual network activity without relying on existing threat intelligence, emphasizing its advantage over traditional security detection tools.

Kerberos login failures being carried out by the initial infected device. The destination device detected was an internal DNS server.
Figure 4: Kerberos login failures being carried out by the initial infected device. The destination device detected was an internal DNS server.

In the month following these failed Kerberos login attempts, between November 26 and December 22, Darktrace observed multiple internal devices encrypting files within the customer’s environment with the extensions “.cts1” and “.cts7”. Devices were also seen writing ransom notes with the file name “cAcTuS.readme.txt” to two additional internal devices, as well as files likely associated with Qlik, such as “QlikSense.pdf”. This activity detected by Darktrace confirmed the presence of a CACTUS ransomware infection that was spreading across the customer’s network.

The model, 'Ransom or Offensive Words Written to SMB', triggered in response to SMB file writes of the ransom note, ‘cAcTuS.readme.txt’, that was observed on the customer’s network.
Figure 5: The model, 'Ransom or Offensive Words Written to SMB', triggered in response to SMB file writes of the ransom note, ‘cAcTuS.readme.txt’, that was observed on the customer’s network.
CACTUS ransomware extensions, “.cts1” and “.cts7”, being appended to files on the customer’s network.
Figure 6: CACTUS ransomware extensions, “.cts1” and “.cts7”, being appended to files on the customer’s network.

Following this initial encryption activity, two affected devices were observed attempting to remove evidence of this activity by deleting the encrypted files.

Attackers attempting to remove evidence of their activity by deleting files with appendage “.cts1”.
Figure 7: Attackers attempting to remove evidence of their activity by deleting files with appendage “.cts1”.

Conclusion

In the face of this CACTUS ransomware attack, Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection enabled it to quickly identify multiple stages of the cyber kill chain occurring in the customer’s environment. These stages ranged from ‘initial access’ by exploiting Qlik vulnerabilities, which Darktrace was able to detect before the method had been reported by external researchers, to ‘actions on objectives’ by encrypting files. Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI was also able to detect a previously unreported stage of the attack: multiple Kerberos brute force login attempts.

If Darktrace’s autonomous response capability, RESPOND, had been active and enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of this attack, it would have been able to take swift mitigative action to shut down such suspicious activity as soon as it was identified by DETECT, effectively containing the ransomware attack at the earliest possible stage.

Learning a network’s ‘normal’ to identify deviations from established patterns of behaviour enables Darktrace’s identify a potential compromise, even one that uses common and often legitimately used administrative tools. This allows Darktrace to stay one step ahead of the increasingly sophisticated TTPs used by ransomware actors.

Credit to Tiana Kelly, Cyber Analyst & Analyst Team Lead, Anna Gilbertson, Cyber Analyst

Appendices

References

[1] https://www.kroll.com/en/insights/publications/cyber/cactus-ransomware-prickly-new-variant-evades-detection

[2] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/cactus-ransomware-exploiting-qlik-sense-flaws-to-breach-networks/

[3] https://explore.avertium.com/resource/new-ransomware-strains-cactus-and-3am

[4] https://www.soitron.com/cyber-attackers-abuse-holidays/

[5] https://arcticwolf.com/resources/blog/qlik-sense-exploited-in-cactus-ransomware-campaign/

Darktrace DETECT Models

Compromise / Agent Beacon (Long Period)

Anomalous Connection / PowerShell to Rare External

Device / New PowerShell User Agent

Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity

Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

Anomalous Connection / Unusual Internal Remote Desktop

User / Kerberos Password Brute Force

Compromise / Ransomware / Ransom or Offensive Words Written to SMB

Unusual Activity / Anomalous SMB Delete Volume

Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port

Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare  

Compromise / SSL Beaconing to Rare Destination  

Anomalous Server Activity / Rare External from Server  

Compliance / Remote Management Tool On Server

Compromise / Agent Beacon (Long Period)  

Compromise / Suspicious File and C2  

Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert  

Device / Large Number of Model Breaches  

Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer

Anomalous File / Internet facing System File Download  

Anomalous Server Activity / Outgoing from Server

Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise  

Compromise / Agent Beacon (Medium Period)  

Compromise / Agent Beacon (Long Period)  

List of IoCs

IoC - Type - Description

zohoservice[.]net: 45.61.147[.]176 - Domain name: IP Address - Hosting payload over HTTP

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT; Windows NT 10.0; en-US) WindowsPowerShell/5.1.17763.2183 - User agent -PowerShell user agent

.cts1 - File extension - Malicious appendage

.cts7- File extension - Malicious appendage

cAcTuS.readme.txt - Filename -Ransom note

putty.zip – Filename - Initial payload: ZIP containing PuTTY Link

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Tactic - Technique  - SubTechnique

Web Protocols: COMMAND AND CONTROL - T1071 -T1071.001

Powershell: EXECUTION - T1059 - T1059.001

Exploitation of Remote Services: LATERAL MOVEMENT - T1210 – N/A

Vulnerability Scanning: RECONAISSANCE     - T1595 - T1595.002

Network Service Scanning: DISCOVERY - T1046 - N/A

Malware: RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT - T1588 - T1588.001

Drive-by Compromise: INITIAL ACCESS - T1189 - N/A

Remote Desktop Protocol: LATERAL MOVEMENT – 1021 -T1021.001

Brute Force: CREDENTIAL ACCESS        T – 1110 - N/A

Data Encrypted for Impact: IMPACT - T1486 - N/A

Data Destruction: IMPACT - T1485 - N/A

File Deletion: DEFENSE EVASION - T1070 - T1070.004

DENTRO DEL SOC
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AUTOR
SOBRE EL AUTOR
Tiana Kelly
Deputy Team Lead, London & Cyber Analyst
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Email

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.

For a more in depth look at how Darktrace stops Microsoft Teams phishing read our blog: Don’t Take the Bait: How Darktrace Keeps Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks at Bay

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.

References

[1] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

Blog

Dentro del SOC

Don’t Take the Bait: How Darktrace Keeps Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks at Bay

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20
May 2024

Social Engineering in Phishing Attacks

Faced with increasingly cyber-aware endpoint users and vigilant security teams, more and more threat actors are forced to think psychologically about the individuals they are targeting with their phishing attacks. Social engineering methods like taking advantage of the human emotions of their would-be victims, pressuring them to open emails or follow links or face financial or legal repercussions, and impersonating known and trusted brands or services, have become common place in phishing campaigns in recent years.

Phishing with Microsoft Teams

The malicious use of the popular communications platform Microsoft Teams has become widely observed and discussed across the threat landscape, with many organizations adopting it as their primary means of business communication, and many threat actors using it as an attack vector. As Teams allows users to communicate with people outside of their organization by default [1], it becomes an easy entry point for potential attackers to use as a social engineering vector.

In early 2024, Darktrace/Apps™ identified two separate instances of malicious actors using Microsoft Teams to launch a phishing attack against Darktrace customers in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Interestingly, in this case the attackers not only used a well-known legitimate service to carry out their phishing campaign, but they were also attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.

Despite these attempts to evade endpoint users and traditional security measures, Darktrace’s anomaly detection enabled it to identify the suspicious phishing messages and bring them to the customer’s attention. Additionally, Darktrace’s autonomous response capability, was able to follow-up these detections with targeted actions to contain the suspicious activity in the first instance.

Darktrace Coverage of Microsoft Teams Phishing

Chats Sent by External User and Following Actions by Darktrace

On February 29, 2024, Darktrace detected the presence of a new external user on the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment of an EMEA customer for the first time. The user, “REDACTED@InternationalHotelChain[.]onmicrosoft[.]com” was only observed on this date and no further activities were detected from this user after February 29.

Later the same day, the unusual external user created its first chat on Microsoft Teams named “New Employee Loyalty Program”. Over the course of around 5 minutes, the user sent 63 messages across 21 different chats to unique internal users on the customer’s SaaS platform. All these chats included the ‘foreign tenant user’ and one of the customer’s internal users, likely in an attempt to remain undetected. Foreign tenant user, in this case, refers to users without access to typical internal software and privileges, indicating the presence of an external user.

Darktrace’s detection of unusual messages being sent by a suspicious external user via Microsoft Teams.
Figure 1: Darktrace’s detection of unusual messages being sent by a suspicious external user via Microsoft Teams.
Advanced Search results showing the presence of a foreign tenant user on the customer’s SaaS environment.
Figure 2: Advanced Search results showing the presence of a foreign tenant user on the customer’s SaaS environment.

Darktrace identified that the external user had connected from an unusual IP address located in Poland, 195.242.125[.]186. Darktrace understood that this was unexpected behavior for this user who had only previously been observed connecting from the United Kingdom; it further recognized that no other users within the customer’s environment had connected from this external source, thereby deeming it suspicious. Further investigation by Darktrace’s analyst team revealed that the endpoint had been flagged as malicious by several open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors.

External Summary highlighting the rarity of the rare external source from which the Teams messages were sent.
Figure 3: External Summary highlighting the rarity of the rare external source from which the Teams messages were sent.

Following Darktrace’s initial detection of these suspicious Microsoft Teams messages, Darktrace's autonomous response was able to further support the customer by providing suggested mitigative actions that could be applied to stop the external user from sending any additional phishing messages.

Unfortunately, at the time of this attack Darktrace's autonomous response capability was configured in human confirmation mode, meaning any autonomous response actions had to be manually actioned by the customer. Had it been enabled in autonomous response mode, it would have been able promptly disrupt the attack, disabling the external user to prevent them from continuing their phishing attempts and securing precious time for the customer’s security team to begin their own remediation procedures.

Darktrace autonomous response actions that were suggested following the ’Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User’ detection model alert.
Figure 4: Darktrace autonomous response actions that were suggested following the ’Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User’ detection model alert.

External URL Sent within Teams Chats

Within the 21 Teams chats created by the threat actor, Darktrace identified 21 different external URLs being sent, all of which included the domain "cloud-sharcpoint[.]com”. Many of these URLs had been recently established and had been flagged as malicious by OSINT providers [3]. This was likely an attempt to impersonate “cloud-sharepoint[.]com”, the legitimate domain of Microsoft SharePoint, with the threat actor attempting to ‘typo-squat’ the URL to convince endpoint users to trust the legitimacy of the link. Typo-squatted domains are commonly misspelled URLs registered by opportunistic attackers in the hope of gaining the trust of unsuspecting targets. They are often used for nefarious purposes like dropping malicious files on devices or harvesting credentials.

Upon clicking this malicious link, users were directed to a similarly typo-squatted domain, “InternatlonalHotelChain[.]sharcpoInte-docs[.]com”. This domain was likely made to appear like the SharePoint URL used by the international hotel chain being impersonated.

Redirected link to a fake SharePoint page attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.
Figure 5: Redirected link to a fake SharePoint page attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.

This fake SharePoint page used the branding of the international hotel chain and contained a document named “New Employee Loyalty Program”; the same name given to the phishing messages sent by the attacker on Microsoft Teams. Upon accessing this file, users would be directed to a credential harvester, masquerading as a Microsoft login page, and prompted to enter their credentials. If successful, this would allow the attacker to gain unauthorized access to a user’s SaaS account, thereby compromising the account and enabling further escalation in the customer’s environment.

Figure 6: A fake Microsoft login page that popped-up when attempting to open the ’New Employee Loyalty Program’ document.

This is a clear example of an attacker attempting to leverage social engineering tactics to gain the trust of their targets and convince them to inadvertently compromise their account. Many corporate organizations partner with other companies and well-known brands to offer their employees loyalty programs as part of their employment benefits and perks. As such, it would not necessarily be unexpected for employees to receive such an offer from an international hotel chain. By impersonating an international hotel chain, threat actors would increase the probability of convincing their targets to trust and click their malicious messages and links, and unintentionally compromising their accounts.

In spite of the attacker’s attempts to impersonate reputable brands, platforms, Darktrace/Apps was able to successfully recognize the malicious intent behind this phishing campaign and suggest steps to contain the attack. Darktrace recognized that the user in question had deviated from its ‘learned’ pattern of behavior by connecting to the customer’s SaaS environment from an unusual external location, before proceeding to send an unusually large volume of messages via Teams, indicating that the SaaS account had been compromised.

A Wider Campaign?

Around a month later, in March 2024, Darktrace observed a similar incident of a malicious actor impersonating the same international hotel chain in a phishing attacking using Microsoft Teams, suggesting that this was part of a wider phishing campaign. Like the previous example, this customer was also based in the EMEA region.  

The attack tactics identified in this instance were very similar to the previously example, with a new external user identified within the network proceeding to create a series of Teams messages named “New Employee Loyalty Program” containing a typo-squatted external links.

There were a few differences with this second incident, however, with the attacker using the domain “@InternationalHotelChainExpeditions[.]onmicrosoft[.]com” to send their malicious Teams messages and using differently typo-squatted URLs to imitate Microsoft SharePoint.

As both customers targeted by this phishing campaign were subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, this suspicious SaaS activity was promptly escalated to the Darktrace Security Operations Center (SOC) for immediate triage and investigation. Following their investigation, the SOC team sent an alert to the customers informing them of the compromise and advising urgent follow-up.

Conclusion

While there are clear similarities between these Microsoft Teams-based phishing attacks, the attackers here have seemingly sought ways to refine their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), leveraging new connection locations and creating new malicious URLs in an effort to outmaneuver human security teams and conventional security tools.

As cyber threats grow increasingly sophisticated and evasive, it is crucial for organizations to employ intelligent security solutions that can see through social engineering techniques and pinpoint suspicious activity early.

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI understands customer environments and is able to recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavioral pattern, enabling it to effectively identify suspicious activity even when attackers adapt their strategies. In this instance, this allowed Darktrace to detect the phishing messages, and the malicious links contained within them, despite the seemingly trustworthy source and use of a reputable platform like Microsoft Teams.

Credit to Min Kim, Cyber Security Analyst, Raymond Norbert, Cyber Security Analyst and Ryan Traill, Threat Content Lead

Appendix

Darktrace Model Detections

SaaS Model

Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User

SaaS / Unusual Activity / Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User

Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoC – Type - Description

https://cloud-sharcpoint[.]com/[a-zA-Z0-9]{15} - Example hostname - Malicious phishing redirection link

InternatlonalHotelChain[.]sharcpolnte-docs[.]com – Hostname – Redirected Link

195.242.125[.]186 - External Source IP Address – Malicious Endpoint

MITRE Tactics

Tactic – Technique

Phishing – Initial Access (T1566)

References

[1] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/trusted-organizations-external-meetings-chat?tabs=organization-settings

[2] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/195.242.125.186/detection

[3] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/cloud-sharcpoint.com

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About the author
Min Kim
Cyber Security Analyst
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