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Wie eine E-Mail ein Logistikunternehmen zu Fall brachte

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11
August 2021
11
August 2021
Complicated by increasing SaaS usage and global supply systems, the supply chain is the most pressing concern facing cyber security. This blog examines how Darktrace detected a phishing email from a trusted third party, which led to a vicious cycle of compromise.

Organizations are only as secure as their weakest link. In many cases, that weak link arises in the various cloud applications an organization relies on. Several high-profile groups including APT28 are known to exploit commonly-used passwords to bruteforce their way into businesses around the world. These ‘spray’ campaigns often target Microsoft Office 365 accounts and will only become more frequent as the use of SaaS increases.

This blog analyses how a single phishing email slipped under the radar of the gateway and other traditional tools in place, and eventually led to mass compromise at a logistics company in Europe.

Logistical nightmare

Logistics operators play a critical role across every industry sector. Managing the distribution of goods and services from the seller to the customer, they enable – or bottleneck – an efficient supply chain. Inevitably, logistics companies have become an attractive target for cyber-criminals, due to the high number of organizations they interact with, the pressure they’re under to deliver on time, and the sensitive data they often handle.

It is a simple equation for attackers: do they put in the hard work to infiltrate 20 well-defended organizations, or compromise just one, and from there gain access to all 20 or more? The majority of cyber-threats Darktrace has observed this year have gone for the latter – exploiting less protected third parties to gain a foothold across a range of businesses.

The vaccine supply in particular has fallen under attack, numerous times. Last autumn, threat actors infiltrated a German biomedical organization and launched a phishing campaign to harvest credentials and compromise several organizations involved in the COVID-19 cold chain.

Alongside ransomware, phishing attacks are one of the most pressing concerns facing the industry.

Breaking the chain

At a medium-sized logistics company, a user received one phishing email from a hijacked third party. The email came from a trusted source with a well established history of sending emails, so it easily passed the gateway.

Once the phishing email had reached the inbox, the user clicked on the malicious link and was led to a fake login page, where they were tricked into divulging their credentials.

Four days later, the attacker logged into the account from an unusual location, and proceeded to read files with sensitive information.

The next day, Darktrace detected a new email rule from another unusual location. Almost immediately, a large volume of outbound emails was sent from the account, all containing the suspicious link.

Figure 1: Timeline of the attack — the total dwell time was five days.

Supply and disrupt

Once you are inside an organization’s digital ecosystem, it is easy to move around and compromise more accounts. Most security tools and employees do not question an internal email sent by a trusted user, especially if the user is a senior figure with authority.

So, after this set of outbound emails, unusual activity from anomalous locations was duly seen on other company accounts. These users had been tricked into giving away their details from the emails supposedly sent by their colleague.

More sensitive customer files were read, followed by a second spike in outbound emails from these hijacked accounts.

This time, the emails were sent not internally, but to external contacts. The contacts likely were conducting business with the logistics company at the time, and so were used to receiving emails from the accounts.

In total, over 450 phishing emails were sent to a wide range of third parties. Many of these third parties in turn had their credentials compromised – repeating the cycle once again.

Figure 2: Cyber AI Analyst investigates the suspicious activity of a compromised user, providing a detailed summary with the unusual login location and actions carried out.

Hanging by a thread: The threat of third-party attacks

The source of the initial phishing email that kickstarted this attack was itself from a legitimate third party known to the customer, where presumably the same thing had occured.

This form of Vendor Email Compromise, which can be rinsed and repeated to form a vicious loop, is notoriously difficult for email security solutions to detect, and can lead to heavy reputational and financial damage. To complicate matters, acting against a suspicious email from a known sender can also cause severe business disruption if it turns out to be legitimate.

Because of this, security must move beyond the binary approach of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, towards a more holistic understanding of the contextual setting surrounding any email interaction.

Darktrace accurately detected the multiple anomalies when comparing it to other emails from senders of the same domain. It sent high-priority alerts to the security team, but could not prevent the email from reaching the inbox because it was only in detection mode.

Figure 3: Darktrace’s automatic summary of the initial phishing email gives an overview of the suspicious aspects of the email.

The phishing links during the attack used a third-party tool called Piktochart, designed to create various type of files such as infographics, charts, and forms. While Piktochart has several legitimate applications, it can also be exploited. Gateways thus have a hard time distinguishing between legitimate and malicious Piktochart links. In this case, the gateway rewrote the initial link for analysis, but did not identify it as malicious.

In comparison, Darktrace for Email easily identified the email to be suspicious because it noticed it was out of character for that particular sender, and because the link itself was suspicious. In active mode, the AI would have locked the link and moved the email to the Junk folder, effectively preventing the very first step of the attack and avoiding any further compromise.

Figure 4: Piktochart was rarely seen on the deployment up until this point – the domain was 100% rare. Darktrace therefore easily detected the anomalous nature of this third-party tool usage.

The butterfly effect

Most cyber-attacks begin with just a single point of entry – that is all an attacker requires. One phishing email can be enough to bring a whole supply chain to its knees. With 94% of cyber-attacks beginning in the inbox, and suppliers and vendors in constant communication over multiple SaaS platforms – including Microsoft Teams and Google Cloud – email security tools must be capable of detecting when a trusted third party is acting abnormally.

Especially with the rise of remote working, SaaS usage has surged in businesses worldwide and many have been forced to turn to cloud and SaaS to enable a flexible workforce. While there are obvious benefits, these additions have expanded the attack surface and stretched the limits of traditional security and human security teams.

When it comes to logistics companies – who often act as the middle man in global operations – credential harvesting not only has serious consequences for the customer, but for anyone in the customer’s email contacts, and can lead to major breaches for numerous people and businesses.

Figure 5: Darktrace’s user interface reveals the two spikes in outbound emails that were sent out by compromised company accounts.

Thanks to Darktrace analyst Emma Foulger for her insights on the above threat find.

Learn more about the threats facing logistics providers

Darktrace Modell-Erkennungen:

  • SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
  • SaaS / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
  • Antigena Email models included
  • Unusual / Unusual Login Location and New Unknown Link
  • Link / Account Hijack Link
  • Link / Outlook Hijack
  • Internal Compromise / Recipient Surge from Unusual Login Location (outbound emails)
  • Internal Compromise / Recipient Surge with Suspicious Content (outbound emails)

EINBLICKE IN DAS SOC-Team
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.
AUTOR
ÜBER DEN AUTOR
Mariana Pereira
VP, Cyber-Innovation

Mariana is the VP of Cyber Innovation at Darktrace, and works closely with the development, analyst, and marketing teams to advise technical and non-technical audiences on how best to augment cyber resilience, and how to implement AI technology as a means of defense. She speaks regularly at international events, with a specialism in presenting on sophisticated, AI-powered email attacks. She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago, and speaks several languages including French, Italian, and Portuguese.

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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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About the author
Jamie Woodland
Head of Technology at Community Housing Limited

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E-Mail

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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