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Information-Stealing Malware Malvertises on Google

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30
Jan 2023
30
Jan 2023
Recent campaigns are targeting Google searches with information-stealing malware. Learn more about indicators of compromise and risk mitigation tips.

In recent weeks, security researchers and cyber security vendors have noted an increase in malvertising campaigns on Google, aimed at infiltrating info-stealer malware into the systems of unsuspecting victims, as reported in sources [1] [2]. It has been observed that when individuals search for popular tools such as Notepad++, Zoom, AnyDesk, Foxit, Photoshop, and others on Google, they may encounter ads that redirect them to malicious sites. This report aims to provide a high-level analysis of one such campaign, specifically focusing on the delivery of the Vidar Info-stealer malware.

Campaign Details

On the 25th of January 2023, Darktrace researchers observed that the advertisement depicted in Figure 1 was being displayed on Google when searching for the term "Notepad++" from within the United States.

Figure 1: Google Ad shown when searching for Notepad++

As can be seen in Figure 2, the advertisement in question had no visible information regarding its publisher.

Figure 2: Advertisement information

Clicking on the advertisement would direct potential victims to the website notepadplusplus.site, which had been registered on the 4th of January and is hosted on IP address 37.140.192.11. Upon selecting the desired version of the software, a download button is presented to the visitor.

Figure 3: Malicious site with fake Notepad++
Figure 4: Malicious site with fake Notepad++

When clicking on Download, regardless of the version selected, the traffic is then redirected to https://download-notepad-plus-plus.duckdns.org/, and a .zip file with name “npp.Installer.x64.zip” is downloaded.

Figure 5: Traffic redirection

Upon extraction, the file "npp.Installer.x64.exe" has a file size of 684.1 megabytes. The significant size is attributed to the inclusion of an excessive number of null bytes, which serve to prevent the file from being scanned by some Antivirus and uploaded to malware analysis platforms such as VirusTotal, which has a file size limit of 650 megabytes.

Figure 6: npp.Installer.x64.zip

Initially, padding was incorporated at the end of the executable, enabling individuals to remove it while maintaining a fully functional file. However, in the sample analysed in this report, padding was inserted into the binary's central region. This method renders the removal of padding more challenging, as simply deleting the zeroes would compromise the integrity of the file and impede its functionality during dynamic analysis.

Figure 7: Beginning of null bytes padding

Figure 8: End of null bytes padding

After execution, the malware promptly establishes a connection to a Telegram channel to acquire its command and control (C2) address, specifically http://95.217.16.127. If Telegram is not available, the malware will then attempt to connect to a profile on video game platform Steam, in which case the C2 address was http://157.90.148.112/ at the time of initial analysis and http://116.203.6.107 later. It then proceeds to check-in and obtain its configuration file and subsequently downloads get.zip, an archive containing several legitimate DLL libraries, which are utilized to extract information and saved passwords from various applications and browsers. Through traffic analysis, the method by which the malware obtains its Command and Control (C2) location, and analysis of the configuration obtained, it can be assessed with high confidence that the malware in question is the info-stealer known as Vidar. Vidar has been extensively covered by various cybersecurity organizations. Further information regarding this info-stealer and its origins can be found here[3].

Figure 9: Telegram traffic
Figure 10: Telegram channel containing the location of Vidar’s C2 address
Figure 11: Steam profile containing the location of Vidar’s C2 address
Figure 12: Vidar C2 traffic
Figure 13: Vidar configuration obtained from the C2
Figure 14: Libraries downloaded by Vidar

Campaign ID 827

The domain download-notepad-plus-plus.duckdns.org, from which the malware is distributed, resolves to the IP address 185.163.204.10. Using passive DNS, it has been determined that multiple domains also resolve to this IP address. This information suggests that the threat group responsible for this campaign is also utilizing advertising to target individuals searching for specific applications besides Notepad++, including:

  • OBS Studio
  • Davinci Resolve
  • Sqlite
  • Rufus
  • Krita

Furthermore, it has been observed that all the malware samples obtained in this investigation connect to the same Telegram channel, utilize the same two Command and Control IP addresses, and share the same campaign ID of "827".

Conclusion 

The recent proliferation of malvertising campaigns, which are employed by cyber-criminals to distribute malware, has become a significant cause for concern. Unlike more traditional infection vectors, such as email, malvertising is harder to protect against. Furthermore, the use of padding techniques to inflate the size of malware payloads can make detection and analysis more challenging.

To mitigate the risk of falling victim to such attacks, it is recommended to exercise caution when interacting with online advertisements. Specifically, it is advisable to avoid clicking on any advertisements while searching for free software on search engines and to instead download programs directly from official sources. This approach can reduce the likelihood of inadvertently downloading malware from untrusted sources. 

Another effective measure to counteract the threat of malicious ads is the utilization of ad-blocker software. The implementation of an ad-blocker can provide an additional layer of protection against malvertising campaigns and enhance overall cybersecurity.

Appendices

Indicators of Compromise

Filename        npp.Installer.x64.zip

SHA256 Hash  7DFD1D4FE925F802513FEA5556DE53706D9D8172BFA207D0F8AAB3CEF46424E8

Filename         npp.Installer.x64.exe

SHA256 Hash  368008b450397c837f0b9c260093935c5cef56646e16a375ba7c47fea5562bfd

Filename         rufus-3.21.zip

SHA256 Hash  75db4f8187abf49376a6ff3de0163b2d708d72948ea4b3d5645b86a0e41af084

Filename         rufus-3.21.exe

SHA256 Hash  169603a5b5d23dc2f02dc0f88a73dcdd08a5c62d12203fb53a3f43998c04bb41

Filename         DaVinci_Resolve_18.1.2_Windows.zip

SHA256 Hash  73f00e3b3ab01f4d5de42790f9ab12474114abe10cd5104f623aef9029c15b1e

Filename         DaVinci_Resolve_18.1.2_Windows.exe

SHA256 Hash  169603a5b5d23dc2f02dc0f88a73dcdd08a5c62d12203fb53a3f43998c04bb41

Filename         krita-x64-5.1.5-setup.zip

SHA256 Hash  85eb4b0e3922312d88ca046d89909fba078943aea3b469d82655a253e0d3ac67

Filename         krita-x64-5.1.5-setup.exe

SHA256 Hash  169603a5b5d23dc2f02dc0f88a73dcdd08a5c62d12203fb53a3f43998c04bb41

URL      http://95.217.16.127/827

URL      http://95.217.16.127/get.zip

URL      http://95.217.16.127/

URL      http://157.90.148.112/827

URL     http://157.90.148.112/

URL      http://157.90.148.112/get.zip

URL      http://116.203.6.107/

Domain           notepadplusplus.site

Domain           download-notepad-plus-plus.duckdns.org

Domain           download-obsstudio.duckdns.org

Domain           dowbload-notepadd.duckdns.org

Domain           dowbload-notepad1.duckdns.org

Domain           download-davinci-resolve.duckdns.org

Domain           download-davinci.duckdns.org

Domain           download-sqlite.duckdns.org

Domain           download-davinci17.duckdns.org

Domain           download-rufus.duckdns.org

Domain           download-kritapaint.duckdns.org

IP Address      37.140.192.11

IP Address      185.163.204.10

IP Address      95.217.16.127

IP Address       157.90.148.112

IP Address      116.203.6.107

URL      https://t.me/litlebey

URL      https://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561199472399815

References

[1] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/hackers-push-malware-via-google-search-ads-for-vlc-7-zip-ccleaner/

[2] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/ransomware-access-brokers-use-google-ads-to-breach-your-network/

[3] https://www.team-cymru.com/post/darth-vidar-the-dark-side-of-evolving-threat-infrastructure

DENTRO DEL SOC
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AUTOR
SOBRE EL AUTOR
Roberto Martinez
Devalyst, Threat Researcher
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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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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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