Hallazgos de amenazas de Darktrace OT: La defensa de la creciente superficie de ataque
Este blog examina una base de datos de cientos de clientes para revelar el alcance del uso del protocolo ICS en los entornos de TI. Con la creciente convergencia de TI/OT, la necesidad de una plataforma de seguridad unificada con capacidades de visibilidad y detección en ambos ámbitos nunca ha sido más crítica.
Multiple well-known ICS attacks have been successful by gaining an initial foothold into the IT network, such as EKANS, Black Energy, and Havex
Stage One of the ICS Cyber Kill Chain is network reconnaissance, and so IT/OT network segregation is critical
Darktrace finds that many organizations’ networks have at least some level of IT/OT convergence
Visibility across ICS infrastructure, actions, and commands provides a better picture into potentially malicious internal activity
IT & OT Convergence Threats
Shipping, manufacturing, and other forms of heavy industry are seeing an ever-increasing convergence of IT and OT systems with the growth in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). At the same time, it remains critical to segment IT from OT networks, as the lack of segmentation could provide a malicious actor – either a hacker or rogue insider – easy access to pivot into the OT network.
High-profile attack campaigns such as Havex or Black Energy show traditional network security monitoring tools can be insufficient in preventing these intrusions. After the initial compromise, these ICS attacks progressed from IT to OT systems, showing that the convergence of IT and OT in cyber-physical ecosystems calls for technology that can understand how these two systems interact.
More recently, analysis of the EKANS ransomware revealed that attackers are attempting to use malware to actively disrupt OT as well as IT networks. The attack contained ICS processes on its ‘kill list,’ which allowed it to halt global manufacturing for large organizations like Honda.
More often than not, a lack of visibility is a major challenge in protecting critical ICS assets. Security specialists benefit when they have visibility over unusual or unexpected connections, or more crucially, when ICS commands are being sent by malicious actors attempting to perform industrial sabotage.
Darktrace analysts investigated the use of industrial protocols in the enterprise environments of various customers. The industries ranged from banking to government, retail to food manufacturing and beyond, and included companies with Industrial Control Systems that leverage Darktrace to defend their corporate networks.
In some cases, the security teams may not have been aware of IT/OT convergence within their enterprise environments. In other cases, the IT team may be aware of the ICS segments, but do not see them as a security priority because it does not fall directly within their remit.
The results revealed that hundreds of companies are using OT protocols in their enterprise environments, which suggests that IT/OT systems are not properly segmented. Specifically, Darktrace detected over 6,500 suspected instances of ICS protocol use across 1,000 environments. Note that this data was collected anonymously, only keeping track of the industry for analysis purposes.
The ICS protocol which was detected the most was BacNet, seen in approximately 75% of instances. BacNet is used in Building Management Systems, so it is not surprising that it is widely used across multiple industries and within corporate networks. It is likely the security teams are aware that their BMS is part of the enterprise network, but may not appreciate how its use of the BacNet OT protocol increases the attack surface for the business and can be a blind spot for security teams.
Core ICS protocols
Darktrace also detected ‘core’ ICS protocols, Modbus and CIP (Common Industrial Protocol). These are normally associated with traditional ICS industries such as manufacturing, oil and gas, robotics, and utilities, and provides further evidence of IT/OT convergence.
This increased IT/OT convergence creates new blind spots on the network and sets up new pathways to disruption. This offers opportunities for attackers, and the public are now increasingly aware of attacks that have pivoted from IT into OT.
Improper segmentation between IT and OT systems can lead to highly unusual connections to ICS protocols. This can be seen in our recent analysis of industrial sabotage, with the timeline of the attack’s main events presented below.
This is just one example of an attack that began in IT systems before affecting OT. More high-profile attacks that follow this pattern are presented below:
The recent EKANS attack involved a strain of ransomware with close links to the MEGACORTEX variant, which gained infamy following an attack on Honda’s global operations in June 2020. Like many ransomware variants, EKANS encrypts files in IT systems and demands ransom in order to unlock the infected machines. However, the malware also has the ability to kill ICS processes on infected hosts. Notably, it is the first public example of ransomware that can target ICS operations.
Havex utilized multiple attack vectors, including spear phishing, trojans, and infected vendor websites, often known as a ‘watering hole attack’. It targeted IT systems, Internet-connected workstations, or a combination of the two. With Havex, attackers leveraged lateral movement techniques to pivot into Level 3 of ICS networks. The attack’s motive was data exfiltration to a C2 server, likely as part of a government-backed espionage campaign.
Black Energy 3
Black Energy 3 favored macro-embedded MS Office documents delivered via spear phishing emails as attack vectors. Older variants of Black Energy targeted vulnerabilities in ICS HMIs (Human Machine Interfaces) which were connected to the Internet. The attack’s motive was industrial sabotage and is what was used against the Ukrainian electric grid in 2015, leading to power outages for over 225,000 civilians and requiring a switch to manual operations as substations were taken offline.
Each of the attack campaigns detailed above was in some way enabled by IT/OT convergence. Attackers still favor targeting IT networks with their initial attack vectors, as IT networks have significantly more interaction with the Internet through emails, and various other interconnected technologies. Poor network segmentation allows attackers easy access to OT systems once an IT network has been compromised.
In all of these ICS cyber-attacks, devices deviated from their normal patterns of life at one or more points in the cyber kill chain. Indicators of compromise can include anything from new external connections, to network reconnaissance using active scanning, to lateral movement using privileged credentials, ICS reprogram commands, or ICS discovery requests. With proper enterprise-wide visibility, across both IT and OT systems, and security tools that are able to detect these deviations, a security team would be alerted to these compromises before an attacker could carry out their objectives.
Ultimately, visibility is crucial for cyber defenders to protect industrial property and processes. Darktrace/OT enables many Industrial Model Detections, a selection of which are listed below:
Conexión anómala de IT a ICS
Multiple Failed Connections to OT Device
Multiple New Action Commands
Uncommon ICS Reprogram
Suspicious Network Scanning Activity
Unusual Broadcast from ICS PLC
Unusual Admin RDP Session
It is clear that attackers continue to exploit increasing IT/OT convergence to carry out industrial sabotage. Still, as revealed by our analysis of our customer base, many organizations continue to unknowingly use ICS protocols in their corporate environments, both increasing their attack surface and creating dangerous blind spots. A new, holistic approach to cyber defense is needed – one that can reveal this convergence of IT and OT, provide visibility, and detect deviations indicative of emerging cyber-attacks against critical systems.
Thanks to Darktrace analyst Oakley Cox for his insights on the above investigation.
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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.
SOBRE EL AUTOR
Director de Seguridad Empresarial
David Masson is Darktrace’s Director of Enterprise Security, and has over two decades of experience working in fast moving security and intelligence environments in the UK, Canada and worldwide. With skills developed in the civilian, military and diplomatic worlds, he has been influential in the efficient and effective resolution of various unique national security issues. David is an operational solutions expert and has a solid reputation across the UK and Canada for delivery tailored to customer needs. At Darktrace, David advises strategic customers across North America and is also a regular contributor to major international and national media outlets in Canada where he is based. He holds a master’s degree from Edinburgh University.
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PurpleFox in a Henhouse: How Darktrace Hunted Down a Persistent and Dynamic Rootkit
Versatile Malware: PurpleFox
As organizations and security teams across the world move to bolster their digital defenses against cyber threats, threats actors, in turn, are forced to adopt more sophisticated tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) to circumvent them. Rather than being static and predictable, malware strains are becoming increasingly versatile and therefore elusive to traditional security tools.
One such example is PurpleFox. First observed in 2018, PurpleFox is a combined fileless rootkit and backdoor trojan known to target Windows machines. PurpleFox is known for consistently adapting its functionalities over time, utilizing different infection vectors including known vulnerabilities (CVEs), fake Telegram installers, and phishing. It is also leveraged by other campaigns to deliver ransomware tools, spyware, and cryptocurrency mining malware. It is also widely known for using Microsoft Software Installer (MSI) files masquerading as other file types.
The Evolution of PurpleFox
The Original Strain
First reported in March 2018, PurpleFox was identified to be a trojan that drops itself onto Windows machines using an MSI installation package that alters registry values to replace a legitimate Windows system file . The initial stage of infection relied on the third-party toolkit RIG Exploit Kit (EK). RIG EK is hosted on compromised or malicious websites and is dropped onto the unsuspecting system when they visit browse that site. The built-in Windows installer (MSIEXEC) is leveraged to run the installation package retrieved from the website. This, in turn, drops two files into the Windows directory – namely a malicious dynamic-link library (DLL) that acts as a loader, and the payload of the malware. After infection, PurpleFox is often used to retrieve and deploy other types of malware.
Since its initial discovery, PurpleFox has also been observed leveraging PowerShell to enable fileless infection and additional privilege escalation vulnerabilities to increase the likelihood of successful infection . The PowerShell script had also been reported to be masquerading as a .jpg image file. PowerSploit modules are utilized to gain elevated privileges if the current user lacks administrator privileges. Once obtained, the script proceeds to retrieve and execute a malicious MSI package, also masquerading as an image file. As of 2020, PurpleFox no longer relied on the RIG EK for its delivery phase, instead spreading via the exploitation of the SMB protocol . The malware would leverage the compromised systems as hosts for the PurpleFox payloads to facilitate its spread to other systems. This mode of infection can occur without any user action, akin to a worm.
The current iteration of PurpleFox reportedly uses brute-forcing of vulnerable services, such as SMB, to facilitate its spread over the network and escalate privileges. By scanning internet-facing Windows computers, PurpleFox exploits weak passwords for Windows user accounts through SMB, including administrative credentials to facilitate further privilege escalation.
Darktrace detection of PurpleFox
In July 2023, Darktrace observed an example of a PurpleFox infection on the network of a customer in the healthcare sector. This observation was a slightly different method of downloading the PurpleFox payload. An affected device was observed initiating a series of service control requests using DCE-RPC, instructing the device to make connections to a host of servers to download a malicious .PNG file, later confirmed to be the PurpleFox rootkit. The device was then observed carrying out worm-like activity to other external internet-facing servers, as well as scanning related subnets.
Darktrace DETECT™ was able to successfully identify and track this compromise across the cyber kill chain and ensure the customer was able to take swift remedial action to prevent the attack from escalating further.
While the customer in question did have Darktrace RESPOND™, it was configured in human confirmation mode, meaning any mitigative actions had to be manually applied by the customer’s security team. If RESPOND had been enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of the attack, it would have been able to take swift action against the compromise to contain it at the earliest instance.
Initial Scanning over SMB
On July 14, 2023, Darktrace detected the affected device scanning other internal devices on the customer’s network via port 445. The numerous connections were consistent with the aforementioned worm-like activity that has been reported from PurpleFox behavior as it appears to be targeting SMB services looking for open or vulnerable channels to exploit.
This initial scanning activity was detected by Darktrace DETECT, specifically through the model breach ‘Device / Suspicious SMB Scanning Activity’. Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ then launched an autonomous investigation into these internal connections and tied them into one larger-scale network reconnaissance incident, rather than a series of isolated connections.
As Darktrace RESPOND was configured in human confirmation mode, it was unable to autonomously block these internal connections. However, it did suggest blocking connections on port 445, which could have been manually applied by the customer’s security team.
The device successfully logged in via NTLM with the credential, ‘administrator’. Darktrace recognized that the endpoint was external to the customer’s environment, indicating that the affected device was now being used to propagate the malware to other networks. Considering the lack of observed brute-force activity up to this point, the credentials for ‘administrator’ had likely been compromised prior to Darktrace’s deployment on the network, or outside of Darktrace’s purview via a phishing attack.
Darktrace then detected a series of service control requests over DCE-RPC using the credential ‘admin’ to make SVCCTL Create Service W Requests. A script was then observed where the controlled device is instructed to launch mshta.exe, a Windows-native binary designed to execute Microsoft HTML Application (HTA) files. This enables the execution of arbitrary script code, VBScript in this case.
There are a few MSIEXEC flags to note:
/i : installs or configures a product
/Q : sets the user interface level. In this case, it is set to ‘No UI’, which is used for “quiet” execution, so no user interaction is required
Evidently, this was an attempt to evade detection by endpoint users as it is surreptitiously installed onto the system. This corresponds to the download of the rootkit that has previously been associated with PurpleFox. At this stage, the infected device continues to be leveraged as an attack device and scans SMB services over external endpoints. The device also appeared to attempt brute-forcing over NTLM using the same ‘administrator’ credential to these endpoints. This activity was identified by Darktrace DETECT which, if enabled in autonomous response mode would have instantly blocked similar outbound connections, thus preventing the spread of PurpleFox.
On August 9, Darktrace observed the device making initial attempts to download a malicious .PNG file. This was a notable change in tactics from previously reported PurpleFox campaigns which had been observed utilizing .MOE files for their payloads . The .MOE payloads are binary files that are more easily detected and blocked by traditional signatured-based security measures as they are not associated with known software. The ubiquity of .PNG files, especially on the web, make identifying and blacklisting the files significantly more difficult.
The first connection was made with the URI ‘/test.png’. It was noted that the HTTP method here was HEAD, a method similar to GET requests except the server must not return a message-body in the response.
The metainformation contained in the HTTP headers in response to a HEAD request should be identical to the information sent in response to a GET request. This method is often used to test hypertext links for validity and recent modification. This is likely a way of checking if the server hosting the payload is still active. Avoiding connections that could possibly be detected by antivirus solutions can help keep this activity under-the-radar.
The server responds with a status code of 200 before the download begins. The HEAD request could be part of the attacker’s verification that the server is still running, and that the payload is available for download. The ‘/test.png’ HEAD request was sent twice, likely for double confirmation to begin the file transfer.
Subsequent analysis using a Packet Capture (PCAP) tool revealed that this connection used the Windows Installer user agent that has previously been associated with PurpleFox. The device then began to download a payload that was masquerading as a Microsoft Word document. The device was thus able to download the payload twice, from two separate endpoints.
By masquerading as a Microsoft Word file, the threat actor was likely attempting to evade the detection of the endpoint user and traditional security tools by passing off as an innocuous text document. Likewise, using a Windows Installer user agent would enable threat actors to bypass antivirus measures and disguise the malicious installation as legitimate download activity.
Darktrace DETECT identified that these were masqueraded file downloads by correctly identifying the mismatch between the file extension and the true file type. Subsequently, AI Analyst was able to correctly identify the file type and deduced that this download was indicative of the device having been compromised.
In this case, the device attempted to download the payload from several different endpoints, many of which had low antivirus detection rates or open-source intelligence (OSINT) flags, highlighting the need to move beyond traditional signature-base detections.
If Darktrace RESPOND was enabled in autonomous response mode at the time of the attack it would have acted by blocking connections to these suspicious endpoints, thus preventing the download of malicious files. However, as RESPOND was in human confirmation mode, RESPOND actions required manual application by the customer’s security team which unfortunately did not happen, as such the device was able to download the payloads.
The PurpleFox malware is a particularly dynamic strain known to continually evolve over time, utilizing a blend of old and new approaches to achieve its goals which is likely to muddy expectations on its behavior. By frequently employing new methods of attack, malicious actors are able to bypass traditional security tools that rely on signature-based detections and static lists of indictors of compromise (IoCs), necessitating a more sophisticated approach to threat detection.
Darktrace DETECT’s Self-Learning AI enables it to confront adaptable and elusive threats like PurpleFox. By learning and understanding customer networks, it is able to discern normal network behavior and patterns of life, distinguishing expected activity from potential deviations. This anomaly-based approach to threat detection allows Darktrace to detect cyber threats as soon as they emerge.
By combining DETECT with the autonomous response capabilities of RESPOND, Darktrace customers are able to effectively safeguard their digital environments and ensure that emerging threats can be identified and shut down at the earliest stage of the kill chain, regardless of the tactics employed by would-be attackers.
Credit to Piramol Krishnan, Cyber Analyst, Qing Hong Kwa, Senior Cyber Analyst & Deputy Team Lead, Singapore
Darktrace Model Detections
Device / Increased External Connectivity
Device / Large Number of Connections to New Endpoints
Device / SMB Session Brute Force (Admin)
Compliance / External Windows Communications
Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control
Compromise / Unusual SVCCTL Activity
Compromise / Rare Domain Pointing to Internal IP
Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer
Antigena / Network / Significant Anomaly / Antigena Breaches Over Time Block
$70 Million in Cyber Security Funding for Electric Cooperatives & Utilities
What is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal?
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by congress in 2021 aimed to upgrade power and infrastructure to deliver clean, reliable energy across the US to achieve zero-emissions. To date, the largest investment in clean energy, the deal will fund new programs to support the development and deployment of clean energy technology.
Why is it relevant to electric municipalities?
Section 40124 of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $250 million over a 5-year period to create the Rural and Municipal Utility Cybersecurity (RMUC) Program to help electric cooperative, municipal, and small investor-owned utilities protect against, detect, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity threats.1 This act illuminates the value behind a full life-cycle approach to cyber security. Thus, finding a cyber security solution that can provide all aspects of security in one integrated platform would enhance the overall security posture and ease many of the challenges that arise with adopting multiple point solutions.
On November 16, 2023 the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) released the Advanced Cybersecurity Technology (ACT) for electric utilities offering a $70 million funding opportunity that aims to enhance the cybersecurity posture of electric cooperative, municipal, and small investor-owned utilities.
10 projects will be funded with application submissions due November 29, 2023, 5:00 pm ET with $200,000 each in cash prizes in the following areas:
Direct support for eligible utilities to make investments in cybersecurity technologies, tools, training, and improvements in utility processes and procedures;
Funding to strengthen the peer-to-peer and not-for-profit cybersecurity technical assistance ecosystem currently serving eligible electric utilities; and
Increasing access to cybersecurity technical assistance and training for eligible utilities with limited cybersecurity resources. 2
How can electric municipalities utilize the funding?
While the adoption of hybrid working patterns increase cloud and SaaS usage, the number of industrial IoT devices also continues to rise. The result is decrease in visibility for security teams and new entry points for attackers. Particularly for energy and utility organizations.
Electric cooperatives seeking to enhance their cyber security posture can aim to invest in cyber security tools that provide the following:
Compliance support: Consider finding an OT security solution that maps out how its solutions and features help your organization comply with relevant compliance mandates such as NIST, ISA, FERC, TSA, HIPAA, CIS Controls, and more.
Anomaly based detection: Siloed security solutions also fail to detect attacks that span the entire organization. Anomaly-based detection enhances an organization’s cyber security posture by proactively defending against potential attacks and maintaining a comprehensive view of their attack surface.
Integration capabilities: Implementation of several point solutions that complete individual tasks runs the risk of increasing workloads for operators and creates additional challenges with compliance, budgeting, and technical support. Look for cyber security tools that integrate with your existing technologies.
Passive and active asset tracking: Active Identification offers accurate enumeration, real time updates, vulnerability assessment, asset validation while Passive Identification eliminates the risk of operational disruption, minimizes risk, does not generate additional network traffic. It would be ideal to find a security solution that can do both.
Can secure both IT and OT in unison: Given that most OT cyber-attacks actually start in IT networks before pivoting into OT, a mature security posture for critical infrastructure would include a single solution for both IT and OT. Separate solutions for IT and OT present challenges when defending network boundaries and detecting incidents when an attacker pivots from IT to OT. These independent solutions also significantly increase operator workload and materially diminish risk mitigation efforts.
For smaller teams with just one or two dedicated employees, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst and Investigation features allow end users to spend less time in the platform as it compiles critical incidents into comprehensive actionable event reports. AI Analyst brings all the information into a centralized view with incident reporting in natural language summaries and can be generated for compliance reports specific to regulatory requirements.
For larger teams, Darktrace alerts can be forwarded to 3rd party platforms such as a SIEM, where security team decision making is augmented. Additionally, executive reports and autonomous response reduce the alert fatigue generally associated with legacy tools. Most importantly, Darktrace’s unique understanding of normal allows security teams to detect zero-days and signatureless attacks regardless of the size of the organization and how alerts are consumed.