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A thief in red: Compliance and the RedLine information stealer

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13
Sep 2022
13
Sep 2022
This blog explores Darktrace's detection of a BeamWinHTTP and RedLine info stealer compromise caused by continued torrenting and a malicious download within a telecommunication customer’s environment.

With the continued rise of malware as a service (MaaS), it is now easier than ever to find and deploy information stealers [1]. Given this, it is crucial that companies begin to prioritize good cyber hygiene, and address compliance issues within their environments. Thanks to MaaS, attackers with little to no experience can amplify what might seem like a low-risk attack, into a significant compromise. This blog will investigate a compromise that could have been mitigated with better cyber hygiene and enhanced awareness around compliance issues.

Abbildung 1: Zeitlicher Ablauf des Angriffs

In May 2022 Darktrace DETECT/Network identified a device linked with multiple compliance alerts for ‘torrent’ activity within a Latin American telecommunications company. This culminated in the device downloading a suspicious executable file from an archived webpage. At first, analysis of the downloaded file indicated that it could be a legitimate, albeit outdated software relevant to the client’s industry vertical (SNMPc management tool for GeoDesy GD-300). However, as this was the first event before further suspicious activities, it was also possible that the software downloaded was packaged with malware and marked an initial compromise. Since early April, the device had regularly breached compliance alerts for both BitTorrent and uTorrent (a BitTorrent client). These connections occurred over a common torrenting port, 6881, and may have represented the infection vector.  

Figure 2: View of archived webpage which the suspicious executable was downloaded from

Shortly after the executable was downloaded, Darktrace DETECT alerted a new outbound SSH connection with the following notice in Advanced Search: ‘SSH::Heuristic_Login_Success’. This was highlighted because the breach device did not commonly make connections over this protocol and the destination was a never-before-seen Bulgarian IP address (79.142.70[.]239). The connection lasted 4 minutes, and the device downloaded 31.36 MB of data. 

Following this, the breach device was seen making unusual HTTP connections to rare Russian and Danish endpoints using suspicious user agents. The Russian endpoint was noted for hosting a text file (‘incricinfo[.]com') that listed a single domain which was recently registered. The connections to the Danish endpoint were made to an IP with a URI that OSINT connected to the use of the BeamWinHTTP loader [2]. This loader can be used to download and execute other malware strains, in particular information stealers [3]. 

Figure 3: Screenshot of Russian endpoint with link to incricinfo[.]com 
Figure 4: Cyber AI Analyst highlighting the unusual HTTP connectivity that occurred prior to the multiple suspicious file downloads

At the same time as the connections with the unusual user agents, the device was also seen downloading an executable file from the endpoint, ‘Yuuichirou-hanma[.]s3[.]pl-waw[.]scw[.]cloud’. Analysis of the file indicated that it may be used to deploy further malware and potentially unwanted programs (PUPs). BeamWinHTTP also causes installation of these PUPs which helps to load more nefarious programs and spread compromise. 

This behavior was then seen as the device downloaded 5 different executable files from the endpoint, ‘hakhaulogistics[.]com’. This domain is linked to a Vietnamese logistics company that Darktrace had marked as new within the environment; it is possible that this domain was compromised and being used to host malicious infrastructure. At the point of compromise, several of the downloads were labeled as malicious by popular OSINT [4]. Additionally, at least one of the files was explicitly linked to the RedLine Information Stealer.  

Shortly after, the device made connections to a known Tor relay node. Tor is commonly used as an avenue for C2 communication as it offers a way for attackers to anonymize and obfuscate their activity. It was at this point that the first Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) for this activity occurred. This ensured immediate follow-up investigation from Darktrace SOC and a timeline of events and impacted devices were issued to the customer’s security team directly. 

Figure 5: Cyber AI Analyst highlighting the unusual executable downloads as well as the subsequent Tor connections. The file poweroff[.]exe has been highlighted by several OSINT sources as being potentially malicious

By this point, Darktrace had identified a large volume of unusual outbound HTTP POSTs to a variety of endpoints that seemed to have no obvious function or service. Following these POST requests, the compromised device was seen initiating a long SSL connection to the domain, ‘www[.]qfhwji6fnpiad3gs[.]com’, which is likely to have be generated by an algorithm (DGA). Lastly, a little while after the SSL connections, the device was seen downloading another executable file from the Russian domain ‘test-hf[.]su’. Research on the file again suggested that it was associated with RedLine Stealer [5].  

Figure 6: AIA highlighting additional unusual HTTP connections that were linked with the numeric exe download

Dangers of Non-Compliance 

Whilst the RedLine compromise was a matter of customer concern, the gap in their security was not visibility but rather best practice. It is important to note that prior to these events, the device was commonly seen sending and receiving connections associated with torrenting. In the past it has been observed that RedLine Stealer masquerades as ‘cracked’ software (software that has had its copy protection removed) [6]. In this instance, the initial download of the false ‘SNMPc’ executable may have been proof of this behavior. 

This is a reminder that torrenting is also extremely popular as a peer-to-peer vector for transferring malicious files. Combined with the possibility of network throttling or unapproved VPN use, torrents are usually considered non-compliant within corporate settings. Whether the events here were kickstarted due to a user unwittingly downloading malicious software, or exposure to a malicious actor via BitTorrent use, both cases represent a user circumventing existing compliance controls or a lack of compliance control in general. It is important for organizations to make sure that their users are acting in ways that limit the company’s exposure to nefarious actors. Companies should routinely encourage proper cyber hygiene and implement access controls that block certain activities such as torrenting if threats like these are to be stopped in the future.  

Regardless of what users are doing, Darktrace is positioned to detect and take action on compliance breaches and activity resulting from lack of compliance. The variety of C2 domains used in this blog incident were too quick for most security tools to alert on or for human teams to triage. However, this was no problem for Cyber AI analyst, which was able to draw together aspects of the attack across the kill chain and save a significant amount of time for both the customer security team and Darktrace SOC analysts. If active, Darktrace RESPOND could have blocked activities like the initial BitTorrent connections and incoming download, but with the right preventative measures, it wouldn’t have to. Darktrace PREVENT works continuously to harden defenses and preempt attackers, closing any vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. This includes performing attack surface management, attack path modelling, and security awareness training. In this case, Darktrace PREVENT could have highlighted torrenting activity as part of a potentially harmful attack path and recommended the best actions to mitigate it.

‘No Prior Experience required’ 

In the past, only highly skilled attackers could create and use the tools needed to attack organizations. With Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) proving highly profitable, however, it is no surprise that malware is also becoming a lucrative business. As SaaS can help legitimate companies with no development experience to use and maintain apps, MaaS can help attackers with little to no hacking experience compromise organizations and achieve their goals. RedLine Stealer is readily available, and not prohibitively expensive, meaning attacks can be carried out more frequently, and on a wider range of victims. The incident explored in this blog is proof of this, and a strong indication that security comes not only from strong visibility but also compliance and best practice too. With a powerful defensive tool like PREVENT, security teams can save time while feeling confident that they are keeping ahead of these aspects of security.

Thanks to Adam Stevens for his contributions to this blog.

Appendices

Abweichungen von Darktrace Modellen

·      Anomalous Connection / Multiple HTTP POSTs to Rare Hostname 

·      Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname

·      Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

·      Anomalous File / Multiple EXE from Rare External 

·      Anomalous File / Numeric Exe Download

·      Anomalous Server Activity / New User Agent from Internet Facing System

·      Compliance / SSH to Rare External Destination

·      Compromise / Anomalous File then Tor 

·      Compromise / Possible Tor Usage 

·      Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

·      Device / Long Agent Connection to New Endpoint

References

[1] https://blog.sonicwall.com/en-us/2021/12/the-rise-and-growth-of-malware-as-a-service/

[2] https://asec.ahnlab.com/en/33679/  

[3] https://asec.ahnlab.com/en/20930/

[4] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/file/acfc06b4bcda03ecf4f9dc9b27c510b58ae3a6a9baf1ee821fc624467944467b & https://www.virustotal.com/gui/file/dad6311f96df65f40d9599c84907bae98306f902b1489b03768294b7678a5e79 

[5] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/file/ff7574f9f1d15594e409bee206f5db6c76db7c90dda2ae4f241b77cd0c7b6bf6

[6] https://asec.ahnlab.com/en/30445/

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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
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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.

Schlussfolgerung

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

Anhang

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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