Blog

Liderazgo del pensamiento

AI, Automation, and Cybercrime-as-a-Service: The New Normal Facing Defenders

Default blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog imageDefault blog image
07
Mar 2024
07
Mar 2024
This blog outlines new research and data points on the evolving threat landscape -- including the impact of generative AI applied by attackers – and why a shift to proactive cyber readiness is essential.

AI in Cyber Security

Over the last 18 months, discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) – specifically generative AI – ranged from excitement and optimism about its transformative potential to fear and uncertainty about the new risks it introduces.  

New research1 commissioned by Darktrace shows that 89 percent of IT security teams polled globally believe AI-augmented cyber threats will have a significant impact on their organization within the next two years, yet 60 percent believe they are currently unprepared to defend against these attacks. Their concerns include increased volume and sophistication of malware that targets known vulnerabilities and increased exposure of sensitive or proprietary information from using generative AI tools.  

At Darktrace, we monitor trends across our global customer base to understand how the challenges facing security teams are evolving alongside industry advancements in AI. We’ve observed that AI, automation, and cybercrime-as-a-service have increased the speed, sophistication and efficacy of cyber security attacks.  

How AI Impacts Phishing Attempts

Darktrace has observed immediate impacts on phishing, which remains one of the most common forms of attack. In April 2023, Darktrace shared research that found a 135 percent increase in ‘novel social engineering attacks’ in the first two months of 2023, corresponding with the widespread adoption of ChatGPT2. These phishing attacks showed a strong linguistic deviation – semantically and syntactically – compared to other phishing emails, which suggested to us that generative AI is providing an avenue for threat actors to craft sophisticated and targeted attacks at speed and scale. A year later, we’ve seen this trend continue. Darktrace customers received approximately 2,867,000 phishing emails in December 2023 alone, a 14 percent increase on what was observed months prior in September3. Between September and December 2023, phishing attacks that used novel social engineering techniques grew by 35 percent on average across the Darktrace customer base4.  

These observations reinforce trends that others in the industry have shared. For example, Microsoft and OpenAI recently published research on tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) augmented by large language models (LLMs) that they have observed nation-state threat actors using. That includes using LLMs to draft and generate social engineering attacks, inform reconnaissance, assist with vulnerability research and more.  

The Rise of Cybercrime-as-as-a-Service

The increasing cyber challenge facing defenders cannot be attributed to AI alone. The rise of cybercrime as-a-service is also changing the dynamic. Darktrace’s 2023 End of Year Threat Report found that cybercrime-as-a-service continue to dominate the threat landscape, with malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) and ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) tools making up most malicious tools in use by attackers. The as-a-Service ecosystem can provide attackers with everything from pre-made malware to templates for phishing emails, payment processing systems and even helplines to enable bad actors to mount attacks with limited technical knowledge.  

These trends make it clear that attackers now have a more widely accessible toolbox that reduces their barriers.

AI Enabling Accidental Insider Threats

However, the new risks facing businesses aren’t from external threat actors alone. Use of generative AI tools within the enterprise introduces a new category of accidental insider threats. Employees using generative AI tools now have easier access to more organizational data than ever before. Even the most well-intentioned employee could unintentionally leak or access restricted, sensitive data via these tools. In the second half of 2023, we observed that approximately half of Darktrace customers had employees accessing generative AI services. As this continues to increase, organizations need policies in place to guide the use cases for generative AI tools as well as strong data governance and the ability to enforce these policies to minimize risk.  

It is inevitable that AI will increase the risks and threats facing an organization, but this is not an unsolvable challenge from a defensive perspective. While advancements in generative AI may be worsening issues like novel social engineering and creating new types of accidental insider threats, AI itself offers a strong defense.  

The Shift to Proactive Cyber Readiness

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2024, the number of organizations that “maintain minimum viable cyber resilience is down 30 percent compared to 2023”, and “while large organizations have demonstrated gains in cyber resilience, small and medium-sized companies showed significant decline.” The importance of cyber resilience cannot be understated in the face of today’s increasingly as-a-service, automated, and AI-augmented threat landscape.  

Historically, organizations wait for incidents to happen and rely on known attack data for threat detection and response, making it nearly impossible to identify never-before-seen threats. The traditional security stack has also relied heavily on point solutions focused on protecting different pieces of the digital environment, with individual tools for endpoint, email, network, on-premises data centers, SaaS applications, cloud, OT and beyond. These point solutions fail to correlate disparate incidents to form a complete picture of an orchestrated attack. Even with the addition of tools that can stitch together events from across the enterprise, they are in a reactive state that focuses heavily on threat detection and response.  

Organizations need to evolve from a reactive posture to a stance of proactive cyber readiness. To do so, they need an approach that proactively identifies internal and external vulnerabilities, identifies gaps in security policy and process before an attack occurs, breaks down silos to investigate all threats (known and unknown) during an attack, and uplifts the human analyst beyond menial tasks to incident validation and recovery after an attack.  

AI can help break down silos within the SOC and provide a more proactive approach to scale up and augment defenders. It provides richer context when it is fed information from multiple systems, data sets, and tools within the stack and can build an in-depth, real-time behavioural understanding of a business that humans alone cannot.

Lessons From AI in the SOC

At Darktrace, we’ve been applying AI to the challenge of cyber security for more than ten years, and we know that proactive cyber readiness requires the right mix of people, process, and technology.  

When the right AI is applied responsibly to the right cyber security challenge, the impact on both the human security team and the business is profound.

AI can bring machine speed and scale to some of the most time-intensive, error-prone, and psychologically draining components of cyber security, helping humans focus on the value-added work that only they can provide. Incident response and continuous monitoring are two areas where AI has already been proven to effectively augment defenders. For example, a civil engineering company used Darktrace’s AI to uplift its SOC team from the repetitive, manual tasks of analyzing and responding to email incidents. The analysts estimated they were each spending 10 hours per week on email incident analysis. With AI autonomously analyzing and responding to email incidents, the analysts could gain approximately 20 percent of their time back to focus on proactive cyber security measures

An effective human-AI partnership is key to proactive cyber readiness and can directly benefit the work-life of defenders. It can help to reduce burnout, support data-driven decision-making, and reduce the reliance on hard-to-find, specialized talent that has created a skills shortage in cyber security for many years. Most importantly, AI can free up team members to focus on more meaningful tasks, such as compliance initiatives, user education, and sophisticated threat hunting.  

Advancements in AI are happening at a rapid pace. As we’ve already observed, attackers will be watching these developments and looking for ways to use it to their advantage. Luckily, AI has already proved to be an asset for defenders, and embracing a proactive approach to cyber resilience can help organizations increase their readiness for this next phase. Prioritizing cyber security will be an enabler of innovation and progress as AI development continues.  

--

Join Darktrace on 9 April for a virtual event to explore the latest innovations needed to get ahead of the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Register today to hear more about our latest innovations coming to Darktrace’s offerings.

References

[1] The survey was undertaken by AimPoint Group & Dynata on behalf Darktrace between December 2023 & January 2024. The research polled 1773 security professionals in positions across the security team from junior roles to CISOs, across 14 countries – Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, UAE, UK, and USA.

[2] Based on the average change in email attacks between January and February 2023 detected across Darktrace/Email deployments with control of outliers.

[3] Average calculated across Darktrace customers from 31st August to 21st December.

[4] Average calculated across Darktrace customers from 31st August to 21st December. Novel social engineering attacks use linguistic techniques that are different to techniques used in the past, as measured by a combination of semantics, phrasing, text volume, punctuation, and sentence length.

DENTRO DEL SOC
Darktrace son expertos de talla mundial en inteligencia de amenazas, caza de amenazas y respuesta a incidentes, y proporcionan apoyo al SOC las 24 horas del día a miles de clientes de Darktrace en todo el mundo. Inside the SOC está redactado exclusivamente por estos expertos y ofrece un análisis de los ciberincidentes y las tendencias de las amenazas, basado en la experiencia real sobre el terreno.
AUTOR
SOBRE EL AUTOR
Max Heinemeyer
Chief Product Officer

Max is a cyber security expert with over a decade of experience in the field, specializing in a wide range of areas such as Penetration Testing, Red-Teaming, SIEM and SOC consulting and hunting Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups. At Darktrace, Max is closely involved with Darktrace’s strategic customers & prospects. He works with the R&D team at Darktrace, shaping research into new AI innovations and their various defensive and offensive applications. Max’s insights are regularly featured in international media outlets such as the BBC, Forbes and WIRED. Max holds an MSc from the University of Duisburg-Essen and a BSc from the Cooperative State University Stuttgart in International Business Information Systems.

Book a 1-1 meeting with one of our experts
share this article
CASOS DE USO
No se ha encontrado ningún artículo.
PRODUCTOS DESTACADOS
No se ha encontrado ningún artículo.
Cobertura básica
No se ha encontrado ningún artículo.

More in this series

No se ha encontrado ningún artículo.

Blog

Email

How to Protect your Organization Against Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks

Default blog imageDefault blog image
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

Continue reading
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

Default blog imageDefault blog image
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

Continue reading
About the author
Min Kim
Cyber Security Analyst
Our ai. Your data.

Elevate your cyber defenses with Darktrace AI

Inicie su prueba gratuita
Darktrace AI protecting a business from cyber threats.