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RESPOND

To be Xor Not to Be: How RESPOND could have stopped a surprise DDoS incident

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23
Nov 2022
23
Nov 2022
Out-of-hours attacks continue to be a large stress for security teams, however with RESPOND, companies can stop threats without the need for 24/7 human monitoring. This blog explores a nighttime incident where RESPOND triggered a decisive model breach but was prevented from acting without human input.

When is the best time to be hit with a cyber-attack?

The answer that springs to most is ‘Never’,  however in today’s threat landscape, this is often wishful thinking. The next best answer is ‘When we’re ready for it’. Yet, this does not take into account the intention of those committing attacks. The reality is that the best time for a cyber-attack is when no one else is around to stop it.

When do cyber attacks happen?

Previous analysis from Mandiant reveals that over half of ransomware compromises occur at out of work hours, a trend Darktrace has also witnessed in the past two years [1]. This is deliberate, as the fewer people that are online, the harder it is to get ahold of security teams and the higher the likelihood there is of an attacker achieving their goals. Given this landscape, it is clear that autonomous response is more important than ever. In the absence of human resources, autonomous security can fill in the gap long enough for IT teams to begin remediation. 

This blog will detail an incident where autonomous response provided by Darktrace RESPOND would have entirely prevented an infection attempt, despite it occurring in the early hours of the morning. Because the customer had RESPOND in human confirmation mode (AI response must first be approved by a human), the attempt by XorDDoS was ultimately successful. Given that the attack occurred in the early hours of the morning, there was likely no one around to confirm Darktrace RESPOND actions and prevent the attack.

XorDDoS Primer

XorDDoS is a botnet, a type of malware that infects devices for the purpose of controlling them as a collective to carry out specific actions. In the case of XorDDoS, it infects devices in order to carry out denial of service attacks using said devices. This year, Microsoft has reported a substantial increase in activity from this malware strain, with an increased focus on Linux based operating systems [2]. XorDDoS most commonly finds its way onto systems via SSH brute-forcing, and once deployed, encrypts its traffic with an XOR cipher. XorDDoS has also been known to download additional payloads such as backdoors and cryptominers. Needless to say, this is not something you have on a corporate network. 

Initial Intrusion of XorDDoS

The incident begins with a device first coming online on 10th August. The device appeared to be internet facing and Darktrace saw hundreds of incoming SSH connections to the device from a variety of endpoints. Over the course of the next five days, the device received thousands of failed SSH connections from several IP addresses that, according to OSINT, may be associated with web scanners [3]. Successful SSH connections were seen from internal IP addresses as well as IP addresses associated with IT solutions relevant to Asia-Pacific (the customer’s geographic location). On midnight of 15th August, the first successful SSH connection occurred from an IP address that has been associated with web scanning. This connection lasted around an hour and a half, and the external IP uploaded around 3.3 MB of data to the client device. Given all of this, and what the industry knows about XorDDoS, it is likely that the client device had SSH exposed to the Internet which was then brute-forced for initial access. 

There were a few hours of dwell until the device downloaded a ZIP file from an Iraqi mirror site, mirror[.]earthlink[.]iq at around 6AM in the customer time zone. The endpoint had only been seen once before and was 100% rare for the network. Since there has been no information on OSINT around this particular endpoint or the ZIP files downloaded from the mirror site, the detection was based on the unusualness of the download.

Following this, Darktrace saw the device make a curl request to the external IP address 107.148.210[.]218. This was highlighted as the user agent associated with curl had not been seen on the device before, and the connection was made directly to an IP address without a hostname (suggesting that the connection was scripted). The URIs of these requests were ‘1.txt’ and ‘2.txt’. 

The ‘.txt’ extensions on the URIs were deceiving and it turned out that both were executable files masquerading as text files. OSINT on both of the hashes revealed that the files were likely associated with XorDDoS. Additionally, judging from packet captures of the connection, the true file extension appeared to be ‘.ELF’. As XorDDoS primarily affects Linux devices, this would make sense as the true extension of the payload. 

Figure 1: Packet capture of the curl request made by the breach device.

C2 Connections

Immediately after the ‘.ELF’ download, Darktrace saw the device attempting C2 connections. This included connections to DGA-like domains on unusual ports such as 1525 and 8993. Luckily, the client’s firewall seems to have blocked these connections, but that didn’t stop XorDDoS. XorDDoS continued to attempt connections to C2 domains, which triggered several Proactive Threat Notifications (PTNs) that were alerted by SOC. Following the PTNs, the client manually quarantined the device a few hours after the initial breach. This lapse in actioning was likely due to an early morning timing with the customer’s employees not being online yet. After the device was quarantined, Darktrace still saw XorDDoS attempting C2 connections. In all, hundreds of thousands of C2 connections were detected before the device was removed from the network sometime on 7th September.

Figure 2: AI Analyst was able to identify the anomalous activity and group it together in an easy to parse format.

An Alternate Timeline 

Although the device was ultimately removed, this attack would have been entirely prevented had RESPOND/Network not been in human confirmation mode. Autonomous response would have kicked in once the device downloaded the ‘.ZIP file’ from the Iraqi mirror site and blocked all outgoing connections from the breach device for an hour:

Figure 3: Screenshot of the first Antigena (RESPOND) breach that would have prevented all subsequent activity.

The model breach in Figure 3 would have prevented the download of the XorDDoS executables, and then prevented the subsequent C2 connections. This hour would have been crucial, as it would have given enough time for members of the customer’s security team to get back online should the compromised device have attempted anything else. With everyone attentive, it is unlikely that this activity would have lasted as long as it did. Had the attack been allowed to progress further, the infected device would have at the very least been an unwilling participant in a future DDoS attack. Additionally, the device could have a backdoor placed within it, and additional malware such as cryptojackers might have been deployed. 

Conclusions 

Unfortunately, we do not exist in the alternate timeline that autonomous response would have prevented this whole series of events.Luckily, although it was not in place, the PTN alerts provided by Darktrace’s SOC team still sped up the process of remediation in an event that was never intended to be discovered given the time it occurred. Unusual times of attack are not just limited to ransomware, so organizations need to have measures in place for the times that are most inconvenient to them, but most convenient to attackers. With Darktrace/RESPOND however, this is just one click away.

Thanks to Brianna Leddy for their contribution.

Appendices

Darktrace Model Detections

Below is a list of model breaches in order of trigger. The Proactive Threat Notification models are in bold and only the first Antigena [RESPOND] breach that would have prevented the initial compromise has been included. A manual quarantine breach has also been added to show when the customer began remediation.

  • Compliance / Incoming SSH, August 12th 23:39 GMT +8
  • Anomalous File / Zip or Gzip from Rare External Location, August 15th, 6:07 GMT +8 
  • Antigena / Network / External Threat / Antigena File then New Outbound Block, August 15th 6:36 GMT +8 [part of the RESPOND functionality]
  • Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname, August 15th 6:59 GMT +8
  • Anomalous File / Numeric Exe Download, August 15th 6:59 GMT +8
  • Anomalous File / Masqueraded File Transfer, August 15th 6:59 GMT +8
  • Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location, August 15th 6:59 GMT +8
  • Device / Internet Facing Device with High Priority Alert, August 15th 6:59 GMT +8
  • Compromise / Rare Domain Pointing to Internal IP, August 15th 6:59 GMT +8
  • Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise, August 15th 6:59 GMT +8
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections, August 15th 7:01 GMT +8
  • Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score, August 15th 7:04 GMT +8
  • Compromise / Fast Beaconing to DGA, August 15th 7:04 GMT +8
  • Compromise / Suspicious File and C2, August 15th 7:04 GMT +8
  • Antigena / Network / Manual / Quarantine Device, August 15th 8:54 GMT +8 [part of the RESPOND functionality]

List of IOCs

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Reference List

[1] They Come in the Night: Ransomware Deployment Trends

[2] Rise in XorDdos: A deeper look at the stealthy DDoS malware targeting Linux devices

[3] Alien Vault: Domain Navicatadvvr & https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/navicatadvvr.com & https://maltiverse.com/hostname/navicatadvvr.com

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.
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Email

Looking Beyond Secure Email Gateways with the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/Email

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09
Apr 2024

Organizations Should Demand More from their Email Security

In response to a more intricate threat landscape, organizations should view email security as a critical component of their defense-in-depth strategy, rather than defending the inbox alone with a traditional Secure Email Gateway (SEG). Organizations need more than a traditional gateway – that doubles, instead of replaces, the capabilities provided by native security vendor – and require an equally granular degree of analysis across all messaging, including inbound, outbound, and lateral mail, plus Teams messages.  

Darktrace/Email is the industry’s most advanced cloud email security, powered by Self-Learning AI. It combines AI techniques to exceed the accuracy and efficiency of leading security solutions, and is the only security built to elevate, not duplicate, native email security.  

With its largest update ever, Darktrace/Email introduces the following innovations, finally allowing security teams to look beyond secure email gateways with autonomous AI:

  • AI-augmented data loss prevention to stop the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats
  • an easy way to deploy DMARC quickly with AI
  • major enhancements to streamline SOC workflows and increase the detection of sophisticated phishing links
  • expansion of Darktrace’s leading AI prevention to lateral mail, account compromise and Microsoft Teams

What’s New with Darktrace/Email  

Data Loss Prevention  

Block the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats with advanced data loss prevention that builds on tags in native email to stop unknown, accidental, and malicious data loss

Darktrace understands normal at individual user, group and organization level with a proven AI that detects abnormal user behavior and dynamic content changes. Using this understanding, Darktrace/Email actions outbound emails to stop unknown, accidental and malicious data loss.  

Traditional DLP solutions only take into account classified data, which relies on the manual input of labelling each data piece, or creating rules to catch pattern matches that try to stop data of certain types leaving the organization. But in today’s world of constantly changing data, regular expression and fingerprinting detection are no longer enough.

  • Human error – Because it understands normal for every user, Darktrace/Email can recognize cases of misdirected emails. Even if the data is correctly labelled or insensitive, Darktrace recognizes when the context in which it is being sent could be a case of data loss and warns the user.  
  • Unclassified data – Whereas traditional DLP solutions can only take action on classified data, Darktrace analyzes the range of data that is either pending labels or can’t be labeled with typical capabilities due to its understanding of the content and context of every email.  
  • Insider threat – If a malicious actor has compromised an account, data exfiltration may still be attempted on encrypted, intellectual property, or other forms of unlabelled data to avoid detection. Darktrace analyses user behaviour to catch cases of unusual data exfiltration from individual accounts.

And classification efforts already in place aren’t wasted – Darktrace/Email extends Microsoft Purview policies and sensitivity labels to avoid duplicate workflows for the security team, combining the best of both approaches to ensure organizations maintain control and visibility over their data.

End User and Security Workflows

Achieve more than 60% improvement in the quality of end-user phishing reports and detection of sophisticated malicious weblinks1

Darktrace/Email improves end-user reporting from the ground up to save security team resource. Employees will always be on the front line of email security – while other solutions assume that end-user reporting is automatically of poor quality, Darktrace prioritizes improving users’ security awareness to increase the quality of end-user reporting from day one.  

Users are empowered to assess and report suspicious activity with contextual banners and Cyber AI Analyst generated narratives for potentially suspicious emails, resulting in 60% fewer benign emails reported.  

Out of the higher-quality emails that end up being reported, the next step is to reduce the amount of emails that reach the SOC. Darktrace/Email’s Mailbox Security Assistant automates their triage with secondary analysis combining additional behavioral signals – using x20 more metrics than previously – with advanced link analysis to detect 70% more sophisticated malicious phishing links.2 This directly alleviates the burden of manual triage for security analysts.

For the emails that are received by the SOC, Darktrace/Email uses automation to reduce time spent investigating per incident. With live inbox view, security teams gain access to a centralized platform that combines intuitive search capabilities, Cyber AI Analyst reports, and mobile application access. Analysts can take remediation actions from within Darktrace/Email, eliminating console hopping and accelerating incident response.

Darktrace takes a user-focused and business-centric approach to email security, in contrast to the attack-centric rules and signatures approach of secure email gateways

Microsoft Teams

Detect threats within your Teams environment such as account compromise, phishing, malware and data loss

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services, particularly Teams and SharePoint.3

Darktrace now leverages the same behavioral AI techniques for Microsoft customers across 365 and Teams, allowing organizations to detect threats and signals of account compromise within their Teams environment including social engineering, malware and data loss.  

The primary use case for Microsoft Teams protection is as a potential entry vector. While messaging has traditionally been internal only, as organizations open up it is becoming an entry vector which needs to be treated with the same level of caution as email. That’s why we’re bringing our proven AI approach to Microsoft Teams, that understands the user behind the message.  

Anomalous messaging behavior is also a highly relevant indicator of whether a user has been compromised. Unlike other solutions that analyze Microsoft Teams content which focus on payloads, Darktrace goes beyond basic link and sandbox analysis and looks at actual user behavior from both a content and context perspective. This linguistic understanding isn’t bound by the requirement to match a signature to a malicious payload, rather it looks at the context in which the message has been delivered. From this analysis, Darktrace can spot the early symptoms of account compromise such as early-stage social engineering before a payload is delivered.

Lateral Mail Analysis

Detect and respond to internal mailflow with multi-layered AI to prevent account takeover, lateral phishing and data leaks

The industry’s most robust account takeover protection now prevents lateral mail account compromise. Darktrace has always looked at internal mail to inform inbound and outbound decisions, but will now elevate suspicious lateral mail behaviour using the same AI techniques for inbound, outbound and Teams analysis.

Darktrace integrates signals from across the entire mailflow and communication patterns to determine symptoms of account compromise, now including lateral mailflow

Unlike other solutions which only analyze payloads, Darktrace analyzes a whole range of signals to catch lateral movement before a payload is delivered. Contributing yet another layer to the AI behavioral profile for each user, security teams can now use signals from lateral mail to spot the early symptoms of account takeover and take autonomous actions to prevent further compromise.

DMARC

Gain in-depth visibility and control of 3rd parties using your domain with an industry-first AI-assisted DMARC

Darktrace has created the easiest path to brand protection and compliance with the new Darktrace/DMARC. This new capability continuously stops spoofing and phishing from the enterprise domain, while automatically enhancing email security and reducing the attack surface.

Darktrace/DMARC helps to upskill businesses by providing step by step guidance and automated record suggestions provide a clear, efficient road to enforcement. It allows organizations to quickly achieve compliance with requirements from Google, Yahoo, and others, to ensure that their emails are reaching mailboxes.  

Meanwhile, Darktrace/DMARC helps to reduce the overall attack surface by providing visibility over shadow-IT and third-party vendors sending on behalf of an organization’s brand, while informing recipients when emails from their domains are sent from un-authenticated DMARC source.

Darktrace/DMARC integrates with the wider Darktrace product platform, sharing insights to help further secure your business across Email Attack Path and Attack Surface management.

Conclusion

To learn more about the new innovations to Darktrace/Email download the solution brief here.

All of the new updates to Darktrace/Email sit within the new Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform, creating a feedback loop between email security and the rest of the digital estate for better protection. Click to read more about the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform or to hear about the latest innovations to Darktrace/OT, the most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for critical infrastructures.  

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.

References

[1] Internal Darktrace Research

[2] Internal Darktrace Research

[3] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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Carlos Gray
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Managing Risk Beyond CVE Scores With the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/OT

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09
Apr 2024

Identifying Cyber Risk in Industrial Organizations

Compromised OT devices in ICS and SCADA environments pose significant physical risks, even endangering lives. However, identifying CVEs in the multitude of complex OT devices is labor-intensive and time-consuming, draining valuable resources.

Even after identifying a vulnerability, implementing a patch presents its own challenges limited maintenance windows and the need for uninterrupted operations strain IT and OT teams often leading organizations to prioritize availability over security leading vulnerabilities remaining unresolved for over 5 years on average. (1)

Darktrace’s New Innovation

Darktrace is an industry leader in cybersecurity with 10+ years of experience securing OT environments where we take a fundamentally different approach using Self-Learning AI to enhance threat detection and response.

Continuing to combat the expanding threat landscape, Darktrace is excited to announce new capabilities that enable a contextualized and proactive approach to managing cyber risk at industrial organizations.

Today we launch an innovation to our OT Cybersecurity solution, Darktrace/OT, that will add a layer of proactivity, enabling a comprehensive approach to risk management. This industry leading innovation for Darktrace/OT moves beyond CVE scores to redefine vulnerability management for critical infrastructure, tackling the full breadth of risks not limited by traditional controls.  

Darktrace/OT is the only OT security solution with comprehensive Risk Management which includes:

  • Contextualized risk analysis unique to your organization
  • The most realistic evaluation and prioritization of OT risk
  • Effectively mitigate risk across your OT infrastructure, with and without patching.
  • The only OT security solution that evaluates your defenses against Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Groups.

The most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for Critical Infrastructures

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI technology is a cutting-edge innovation that implements real time prevention, detection, response, and recovery for operational technologies and enables a fundamental shift from the traditional approach to cyber defense by learning a ‘pattern of life’ for every network, device, and user.  

Rather than relying on knowledge of past attacks, AI technology learns what is ‘normal’ for its environment, discovering previously unknown threats by detecting subtle shifts in behavior. Through identifying these unexpected anomalies, security teams can investigate novel attacks, discover blind spots, have live time visibility across all their physical and digital assets, and reduce time to detect, respond to, and triage security events.  

  • Achieve greater visibility of OT and IT devices across all levels of the Purdue Model.
  • The industry's only OT security to scale threat detection and response, with a 92% time saving from triage to recovery.  
  • The only OT focused security solution to provide bespoke Risk Management.

To learn more about how Darktrace/OT approaches unique use cases for industrial organizations visit the Darktrace/OT Webpage or join us LIVE at a city near you.

Read more below to discover how new innovations to Darktrace/OT are bringing a new, contextualized approach to Risk Management for Industrial organizations.

For more information on the entire Darktrace/OT Solution read our solution brief here.

Darktrace/OT and New Risk Management

Risk Identification

Leveraging the visibility of Darktrace/OT which identifies individual systems throughout the Purdue Model and the relationship between them, Darktrace/OT identifies high-risk CVEs and presents potential attack routes that go beyond techniques requiring a known exploit, such as misuse of legitimate services. Each attack path will have a mathematical evaluation of difficulty and impact from initial access to the high value objectives.  

Together this gives comprehensive coverage over your real and potential risks from both an attacker and known vulnerability perspectives. OT attack paths as seen here even leverage insights between the industrial and corporate communications to reveal ways threat actors may take advantage of IT-OT convergence. This revelation of imperceptible risks fills gaps in traditional risk analysis like remote access and insider threats.

Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 2: A specific Attack Path identified by Darktrace/OT

Risk Prioritization

Darktrace/OT prioritizes remediations and mitigations based on difficulty and damage to your unique organization, using the established Attack Paths.

We ascertain the priorities that apply to your organization beyond pure theoretical damage answering questions like:

  • How difficult is a particular vulnerability to exploit considering the steps an attacker would require to reach it?
  • And, how significant would the impact be if it was exploited within this particular network?

This expanded approach to risk prioritization has a much more comprehensive evaluation of your organization's unique risk than has ever been possible before. Traditional approaches of ranking only known vulnerabilities with isolated scores using CVSS and exploitability metrics, often leaves gaps in IT-OT risks and is blind to legitimate service exploitation.

Figure 3: Darktrace/OT leverages its contextual understand of the organization’s network to prioritize remediation that will have the positive impact on the risk score

Darktrace provides mitigation strategies associated with each identified risk and the relevant impact it has on your overall risk posture, across all MITRE ATT&CK techniques.

What sets Darktrace apart is our ability to contextualize these mitigations within the broader business. When patching vulnerabilities directly isn’t possible, Darktrace identifies alternative actions that harden attack paths leading to critical assets. Hardening the surrounding attack path increases the difficulty and therefore reduces the likelihood and impact of a breach.

That means unpatched vulnerabilities and vulnerable devices aren’t left unprotected. This also has an added bonus, those hardening techniques work for all devices in that network segment, so apply one change, secure many.

Figure 4: Darktrace prioritizes mitigation reducing accessibility of vulnerability and the overall risk score when patches aren’t available

Communicate Board Level Risk with APT Threat Mapping

Darktrace/OT bridges theory and practice as the only security solution that maps MITRE techniques, frequently used by APT Groups, onto AI-assessed critical Attack Paths. This unique solution provides unparalleled insights including sector and location intelligence, possible operating platforms, common techniques, exploited CVEs, and the number of potential devices affected in your environment, supporting holistic risk assessment and proactive defense measures.

Ultimately, this becomes a power dashboard to communicate board level risk, using both metric based evidence and industry standard threat mapping.

Conclusion

Darktrace/OT is part of the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform a native, holistic, AI-driven platform built on over ten years of AI research. It helps security teams shift to more a productive mode, finding the known and the unknown attacks and transforming the SOC with the various Darktrace products to drive efficiency gains. It does this across the whole incident lifecycle to lower risk, reduce time spent on active incidents, and drive return on investment.

Discover more about Darktrace's ever-strengthening platform with the upcoming changes coming to our Darktrace/Email product and other launch day blogs.

Join Darktrace LIVE half-day event to understand the reality versus the hype surrounding AI and how to achieve cyber resilience.

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.  

References

1. https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/313646831/Catch_Me_if_You_Can.pdf

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Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
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