Darktrace findet OT-Bedrohungen: Verteidigung der sich ausweitenden Angriffsfläche

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05
Aug 2020
05
Aug 2020
This blog looks across a database of hundreds of customers to reveal the extent of ICS protocol use within IT environments. With increasing IT/OT convergence, the need for a unified security platform with visibility and detection capabilities across both realms has never been more critical.

Key takeaways

  • 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.

Investigation details

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.

Figure 1: A chart showing the percentage of ICS protocol use in enterprise environments

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.

Figure 2: A timeline showing the events of an incident of industrial sabotage

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:

EKANS ransomware

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

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.

Lessons learned

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:

  • Anomale IT-ICS-Verbindung
  • 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 Cyber-Analysten sind erstklassige Experten für Threat Intelligence, Threat Hunting und Incident Response. Sie bieten Tausenden von Darktrace Kunden auf der ganzen Welt rund um die Uhr SOC-Support. Einblicke in das SOC-Team wird ausschließlich von diesen Experten verfasst und bietet Analysen von Cyber-Vorfällen und Bedrohungstrends, die auf praktischen Erfahrungen in diesem Bereich basieren.
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ÜBER DEN AUTOR
David Masson
Direktor für Unternehmenssicherheit

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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Customer Blog: Community Housing Limited Enhancing Incident Response

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04
Mar 2024

About Community Housing Limited

Community Housing Limited is a non-profit organization based in Australia that focuses on providing affordable, long-term housing and creating employment opportunities where possible. We give people the security of having a home so that they can focus on other essential pathways. As such, we are responsible for sensitive information on our clients.

As part of our commitment to strengthening our cyber security, we sought to simplify and unify our incident response plans and equip our engineers and desktop support teams with all the information we need at our fingertips.

Why Community Housing Limited chose Darktrace

Our team hoped to achieve a response procedure that allowed us to have oversight over any potential security risks, even cases that don’t overtly seem like a security risk. For example, an incident could start as a payroll issue and end up in the hands of HR, instead of surfacing as a security problem. In this case, our security team has no way of knowing the real number of events or how the threat had actually started and played out, making incident response and mitigation even more challenging.

We were already a customer of Darktrace’s autonomous threat detection, attack intervention, and attack surface management capabilities, and decided to add Darktrace for AI-assisted incident response and AI cyber-attack simulation.

AI-generated playbooks save time during incident response

I wanted to reduce the time and resources it took our security team to appropriately respond to a threat. Darktrace automates several steps of the recovery process to accelerate the rate of incident response by using AI that learns the granular details of the specific organization, building a dynamic understanding of the devices, connections, and user behaviors that make up the normal “pattern of life.”  

The AI then uses this understanding to create bespoke, AI-generated incident response playbooks that leverage an evolving understanding of our organization to determine recovery steps that are tailored not only to the specific incident but also to our unique environment.

For my security team, this means having access to all the information we need to respond to a threat. When running through an incident, rather than going to different places to synthesize relevant information, which takes up valuable resources and time, we can speed up its remediation with Darktrace.  

The playbooks created by Darktrace help lower the technical skills required to respond to incidents by elevating the workload of the staff, tripling our capacity for incident response.

Realistic attack simulations upskill teams while saving resources

We have differing levels of experience on the team which means some members know exactly what to do during incident response while others are slower and need more guidance. Thus, we have to either outsource skilled security professionals or add a security solution that could lower the technical skills bar.

You don’t want to be second guessing and searching for the right move – it’s urgent – there should be certainty. Our goal with running attack simulations is to test and train our team's response capabilities in a “realistic” scenario. But this takes considerable time to plan and execute or can be expensive if outsourced, which can be a challenge for organizations short on resources. 

Darktrace provides AI-assisted incident response and cyber-attack simulation using AI that understands the organization to run simulations that effectively map onto the real digital environment and the assets within it, providing training for actual incidents.

It is one thing to sit together in a meeting and discuss various outcomes of a cyber-attack, talking through the best response strategies. It is a huge benefit being able to run attack simulations that emulate real-world scenarios.

Our team can now see how an incident would play out over several days to resemble a real-world scenario or it can play through the simulation quickly to ascertain outcomes immediately. It then uses these insights to strengthen its technology, processes, and training.

AI-Powered Incident Response

Darktrace helps my security team save resources and upskill staff using AI to generate bespoke playbooks and run realistic simulations. Its real-time understanding of our business ensures incident preparedness and incident response are tailored to not only the specific threat in question, but also to the contextual infrastructure of the organization.  

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Jamie Woodland
Head of Technology at Community Housing Limited

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Beyond DMARC: Navigating the Gaps in Email Security

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29
Feb 2024

Email threat landscape  

Email has consistently ranked among the most targeted attack vectors, given its ubiquity and criticality to business operations. From September to December 2023, 10.4 million phishing emails were detected across Darktrace’s customer fleet demonstrating the frequency of attempted email-based attacks.

Businesses are searching for ways to harden their email security posture alongside email providers who are aiming to reduce malicious emails traversing their infrastructure, affecting their clients. Domain-based Message Authentication (DMARC) is a useful industry-wide protocol organizations can leverage to move towards these goals.  

What is DMARC?

DMARC is an email authentication protocol designed to enhance the security of email communication.

Major email service providers Google and Yahoo recently made the protocol mandatory for bulk senders in an effort to make inboxes safer worldwide. The new requirements demonstrate an increasing need for a standardized solution as misconfigured or nonexistent authentication systems continue to allow threat actors to evade detection and leverage the legitimate reputation of third parties.  

DMARC is a powerful tool that allows email administrators to confidently identify and stop certain spoofed emails; however, more organizations must implement the standard for it to reach its full potential. The success and effectiveness of DMARC is dependent on broad adoption of the standard – by organizations of all sizes.  

How does DMARC work?

DMARC builds on two key authentication technologies, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and helps to significantly improve their ability to prevent domain spoofing. SPF verifies that a sender’s IP address is authorized to send emails on behalf of a particular domain and DKIM ensures integrity of email content by providing a verifiable digital signature.  

DMARC adds to this by allowing domain owners to publish policies that set expectations for how SPF and DKIM verification checks relate to email addresses presented to users and whose authenticity the receiving mail server is looking to establish.  

These policies work in tandem to help authenticate email senders by verifying the emails are from the domain they say they are, working to prevent domain spoofing attacks. Key benefits of DMARC include:

  1. Phishing protection DMARC protects against direct domain spoofing in which a threat actor impersonates a legitimate domain, a common phishing technique threat actors use to trick employees to obtain sensitive information such as privileged credentials, bank information, etc.  
  2. Improving brand reputation: As DMARC helps to prevent impersonation of domains, it stands to maintain and increase an organization’s brand reputation. Additionally, as organizational reputation improves, so will the deliverability of emails.
  3. Increased visibility: DMARC provides enhanced visibility into email communication channels, including reports of all emails sent on behalf of your domain. This allows security teams to identify shadow-IT and any unauthorized parties using their domain.

Understanding DMARC’s Limitations

DMARC is often positioned as a way for organizations to ‘solve’ their email security problems, however, 65% of the phishing emails observed by Darktrace successfully passed DMARC verification, indicating that a significant number of threat actors are capable of manipulating email security and authentication systems in their exploits. While DMARC is a valuable tool in the fight against email-based attacks, the evolving threat landscape demands a closer look at its limitations.  

As threat actors continue to innovate, improving their stealth and evasion tactics, the number of attacks with valid DMARC authentication will only continue to increase in volume and sophistication. These can include:

  1. Phishing attacks that leverage non-spoofed domains: DMARC allows an organization to protect the domains that they own, preventing threat actors from being able to send phishing emails from their domains. However, threat actors will often create and use ‘look-a-like’ domains that closely resemble an organization’s domain to dupe users. 3% of the phishing emails identified by Darktrace utilized newly created domains, demonstrating shifting tactics.  
  2. Email Account Takeovers: If a threat actor gains access to a user’s email account through other social engineering means such as credential stuffing, they can then send phishing emails from the legitimate domain to pursue further attacks. Even though these emails are malicious, DMARC would not identify them as such because they are coming from an authorized domain or sender.  

Organizations must also ensure their inbound analysis of emails is not skewed by successful DMARC authentication. Security teams cannot inherently trust emails that pass DMARC, because the source cannot always be legitimized, like in the event of an account takeover. If a threat actor gains access to an authenticated email account, emails sent by the threat actor from that account will pass DMARC – however the contents of that email may be malicious. Sender behavior must be continuously evaluated and vetted in real time as past communication history and validated DMARC cannot be solely relied upon amid an ever-changing threat landscape.  

Security teams should lean on other security measures, such as anomaly detection tools that can identify suspicious emails without relying on historical attack rules and static data. While DMARC is not a silver bullet for email security, it is nevertheless foundational in helping organizations protect their brand identity and must be viewed as an essential layer in an organization's overall cyber security strategy.  

Implementing DMARC

Despite the criticality of DMARC for preserving brand reputation and trust, adoption of the standard has been inconsistent. DMARC can be complex to implement with many organizations lacking the time required to understand and successfully implement the standard. Because of this, DMARC set-up is often outsourced, giving security and infrastructure teams little to no visibility into or control of the process.  

Implementation of DMARC is only the start of this process, as DMARC reports must be consistently monitored to ensure organizations have visibility into who is sending mail from their domain, the volume of mail being sent and whether the mail is passing authentication protocols. This process can be time consuming for security teams who are already faced with mounting responsibilities, tight budgets, and personnel shortages. These complexities unfortunately delay organizations from using DMARC – especially as many today still view it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential.  

With the potential complexities of the DMARC implementation process, there are many ways security and infrastructure teams can still successfully roll out the standard. Initial implementation should start with monitoring, policy adjustment and then enforcement. As business changes over time, DMARC should be reviewed regularly to ensure ongoing protection and maintain domain reputation.

The Future of Email Security

As email-based attacks continue to rise, the industry must recognize the importance of driving adoption of foundational email authentication protocols. To do this, a new and innovative approach to DMARC is needed. DMARC products must evolve to better support organizations throughout the ongoing DMARC monitoring process, rather than just initial implementation. These products must also be able to share intelligence across an organization’s security stack, extending beyond email security tools. Integration across these products and tools will help organizations optimize their posture, ensuring deep understanding of their domain and increased visibility across the entire enterprise.

DMARC is critical in protecting brand identity and mitigating exact-domain based attacks. However, organizations must understand DMARC’s unique benefits and limitations to ensure their inboxes are fully protected. In today’s evolving threat landscape, organizations require a robust, multi-layered approach to stop email threats – in inbound mail and beyond. Email threats have evolved – its time security does too.

Join Darktrace on 9 April for a virtual event to explore the latest innovations needed to get ahead of the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Register today to hear more about our latest innovations coming to Darktrace’s offerings. For additional insights check out Darktrace’s 2023 End of Year Threat Report.

Credit to Carlos Gray and Stephen Pickman for their contribution to this blog

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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