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Identifying the Imposter: Darktrace’s Detection of Simulated Malware vs the Real Thing

Mar 2024
Mar 2024
This blog explores how Darktrace is able to differentiate simulated malware from genuine threats, offering advanced anomaly detection and autonomous response in the ever-evolving cyber security landscape.

Distinguishing attack simulations from the real thing

In an era marked by the omnipresence of digital technologies and the relentless advancement of cyber threats, organizations face an ongoing battle to safeguard their digital environment. Although red and blue team exercises have long served as cornerstones in evaluating organizational defenses, their reliance on manual processes poses significant constraints [1]. Led by seasoned security professionals, these tests offer invaluable insights into security readiness but can be marred by their resource-intensive and infrequent testing cycles. The gaps between assessments leave organizations open to undetected vulnerabilities, compromising the true state of their security environment. In response to the ever-changing threat landscape, organizations are adopting a proactive stance towards cyber security to fortify their defenses.

At the forefront, these efforts tend to revolve around simulated attacks, a process designed to test an organization's security posture against both known and emerging threats in a safe and controlled environment [2]. These meticulously orchestrated simulations imitate the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) employed by actual adversaries and provide organizations with invaluable insights into their security resilience and vulnerabilities. By immersing themselves in simulated attack scenarios, security teams can proactively probe for vulnerabilities, adopt a more aggressive defense posture, and stay ahead of evolving cyber threats.

Distinguishing between simulated malware observations and authentic malware activities stands as a critical imperative for organizations bolstering their cyber defenses. While simulated platforms offer controlled scenarios for testing known attack patterns, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI can detect known and unknown threats, identify zero-day threats, and previously unseen malware variants, including attack simulations. Whereas simulated platforms focus on specific known attack vectors, Darktrace DETECT™ and Darktrace RESPOND™ can identify and contain both known and unknown threats across the entire attack surface, providing unparalleled protection of the cyber estate.

Darktrace’s Coverage of Simulated Attacks

In January 2024, the Darktrace Security Operations Center (SOC) received a high volume of alerts relating to an unspecified malware strain that was affecting multiple customers across the fleet, raising concerns, and prompting the Darktrace Analyst team to swiftly investigate the multitude of incident. Initially, these activities were identified as malicious, exhibiting striking resemblance to the characteristics of Remcos, a sophisticated remote access trojan (RAT) that can be used to fully control and monitor any Windows computer from XP and onwards [3]. However, further investigation revealed that these activities were intricately linked to a simulated malware provider.

This discovery underscores a pivotal insight into Darktrace’s capabilities. To this point, leveraging advanced AI, Darktrace operates with a sophisticated framework that extends beyond conventional threat detection. By analyzing network behavior and anomalies, Darktrace not only discerns between simulated threats, such as those orchestrated by breach and attack simulation platforms and genuine malicious activities but can also autonomously respond to these threats with RESPOND. This showcases Darktrace’s advanced capabilities in effectively mitigating cyber threats.

Attack Simulation Process: Initial Access and Intrusion

Darktrace initially observed devices breaching several DETECT models relating to the hostname “new-tech-savvy[.]com”, an endpoint that was flagged as malicious by multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors [4].

In addition, multiple HTML Application (HTA) file downloads were observed from the malicious endpoint, “new-tech-savvy[.]com/5[.]hta”. HTA files are often seen as part of the UAC-0050 campaign, known for its cyber-attacks against Ukrainian targets, which tends to leverage the Remcos RAT with advanced evasion techniques [5] [6]. Such files are often critical components of a malware operation, serving as conduits for the deployment of malicious payloads onto a compromised system. Often, within the HTA file resides a VBScript which, upon execution, triggers a PowerShell script. This PowerShell script is designed to facilitate the download of a malicious payload, namely “word_update.exe”, from a remote server. Upon successful execution, “word_update.exe” is launched, invoking cmd.exe and initiating the sharing of malicious data. This process results in the execution of explorer.exe, with the malicious RemcosRAT concealed within the memory of explorer.exe. [7].

As the customers were subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, an Enhanced Monitoring model was breached upon detection of the malicious HTA file. Enhanced Monitoring models are high-fidelity DETECT models designed to identify activity likely to be indicative of compromise. These PTN alerts were swiftly investigated by Darktrace’s round the clock SOC team.

Following this successful detection, Darktrace RESPOND took immediate action by autonomously blocking connections to the malicious endpoint, effectively preventing additional download attempts. Similar activity may be seen in the case of a legitimate malware attack; however, in this instance, the hostname associated with the download confirmed the detected malicious activity was the result of an attack simulation.

Figure 1: The Breach Log displays the model breach, “Anomalous File/Incoming HTA File”, where a device was detected downloading the HTA file, “5.hta” from the endpoint, “new-tech-savvy[.]com”.
Figure 2: The Model Breach Event Log shows a device making connections to the endpoint, “new-tech-savvy[.]com”. As a result, theRESPOND model, “Antigena/Network/External Threat/Antigena File then New Outbound Block", breached and connections to this malicious endpoint were blocked.
Figure 3: The Breach Log further showcases another RESPOND model, “Antigena/Network/External Threat/Antigena Suspicious File Block", which was triggered when the device downloaded a  HTA file from the malicious endpoint, “new-tech-savvy[.]com".

In other cases, Darktrace observed SSL and HTTP connections also attributed to the same simulated malware provider, highlighting Darktrace’s capability to distinguish between legitimate and simulated malware attack activity.

Figure 4: The Model Breach “Anomalous Connection/Low and Slow Exfiltration" displays the hostname of a simulated malware provider, confirming the detected malicious activity as the result of an attack simulation.
Figure 5: The Model Breach Event Log shows the SSL connections made to an endpoint associated with the simulated malware provider.
Figure 6: Darktrace’s Advanced Search displays SSL connection logs to the endpoint of the simulated malware provider around the time the simulation activity was observed.

Upon detection of the malicious activity occurring within affected customer networks, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ investigated and correlated the events at machine speed. Figure 8 illustrates the synopsis and additional technical information that AI Analyst generated on one customer’s environment, detailing that over 220 HTTP queries to 18 different endpoints for a single device were seen. The investigation process can also be seen in the screenshot, showcasing Darktrace’s ability to provide ‘explainable AI’ detail. AI Analyst was able to autonomously search for all HTTP connections made by the breach device and identified a single suspicious software agent making one HTTP request to the endpoint, 45.95.147[.]236.

Furthermore, the malicious endpoints, 45.95.147[.]236, previously observed in SSH attacks using brute-force or stolen credentials, and “tangible-drink.surge[.]sh”, associated with the Androxgh0st malware [8] [9] [10], were detected to have been requested by another device.

This highlights Darktrace’s ability to link and correlate seemingly separate events occurring on different devices, which could indicate a malicious attack spreading across the network.  AI Analyst was also able to identify a username associated with the simulated malware prior to the activity through Kerberos Authentication Service (AS) requests. The device in question was also tagged as a ‘Security Device’ – such tags provide human analysts with valuable context about expected device activity, and in this case, the tag corroborates with the testing activity seen. This exemplifies how Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst takes on the labor-intensive task of analyzing thousands of connections to hundreds of endpoints at a rapid pace, then compiling results into a single pane that provides customer security teams with the information needed to evaluate activities observed on a device.

All in all, this demonstrates how Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI is capable of offering an unparalleled level of awareness and visibility over any anomalous and potentially malicious behavior on the network, saving security teams and administrators a great deal of time.

Figure 7: Cyber AI Analyst Incident Log containing a summary of the attack simulation activity,, including relevant technical details, and the AI investigation process.


Simulated cyber-attacks represent the ever-present challenge of testing and validating security defenses, while the threat of legitimate compromise exemplifies the constant risk of cyber threats in today’s digital landscape. Darktrace emerges as the solution to this conflict, offering real-time detection and response capabilities that identify and mitigate simulated and authentic threats alike.

While simulations are crafted to mimic legitimate threats within predefined parameters and controlled environments, the capabilities of Darktrace DETECT transcend these limitations. Even in scenarios where intent is not malicious, Darktrace’s ability to identify anomalies and raise alerts remains unparalleled. Moreover, Darktrace’s AI Analyst and autonomous response technology, RESPOND, underscore Darktrace’s indispensable role in safeguarding organizations against emerging threats.

Credit to Priya Thapa, Cyber Analyst, Tiana Kelly, Cyber Analyst & Analyst Team Lead


Model Breaches

Darktrace DETECT Model Breach Coverage

Anomalous File / Incoming HTA File

Anomalous Connection / Low and Slow Exfiltration

Darktrace RESPOND Model Breach Coverage

§  Antigena / Network/ External Threat/ Antigena File then New Outbound Block

Cyber AI Analyst Incidents

• Possible HTTP Command and Control

• Suspicious File Download

List of IoCs

IP Address

38.52.220[.]2 - Malicious Endpoint

46.249.58[.]40 - Malicious Endpoint

45.95.147[.]236 - Malicious Endpoint


tangible-drink.surge[.]sh - Malicious Endpoint

new-tech-savvy[.]com - Malicious Endpoint












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.
Priya Thapa
Cyber Analyst
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Looking Beyond Secure Email Gateways with the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/Email

Apr 2024

Organizations Should Demand More from their Email Security

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

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

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

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

What’s New with Darktrace/Email  

Data Loss Prevention  

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

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

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

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

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

End User and Security Workflows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microsoft Teams

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

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

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

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

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

Lateral Mail Analysis

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


[1] Internal Darktrace Research

[2] Internal Darktrace Research

[3] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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Carlos Gray
Product Manager


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

Apr 2024

Identifying Cyber Risk in Industrial Organizations

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

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

Darktrace’s New Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darktrace/OT and New Risk Management

Risk Identification

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

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

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

Risk Prioritization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate Board Level Risk with APT Threat Mapping

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

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


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

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

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

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



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About the author
Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
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