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Improve Security with Attack Path Modelling| Darktrace

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09
Aug 2023
09
Aug 2023
Learn how to prioritize vulnerabilities effectively with attack path modeling. Learn from Darktrace experts and stay ahead of cyber threats.

TLDR: There are too many technical vulnerabilities and there is too little organizational context for IT teams to patch effectively. Attack path modelling provides the organizational context, allowing security teams to prioritize vulnerabilities. The result is a system where CVEs can be parsed in, organizational context added, and attack paths considered, ultimately providing a prioritized list of vulnerabilities that need to be patched.

Figure 1: The Darktrace user interface presents risk-prioritized vulnerabilities


This blog post explains how Darktrace addresses the challenge of vulnerability prioritization. Most of the industry focusses on understanding the technical impact of vulnerabilities globally (‘How could this CVE generally be exploited? Is it difficult to exploit? Are there pre-requisites to exploitation? …’), without taking local context of a vulnerability into account. We’ll discuss here how we create that local context through attack path modelling and map it to technical vulnerability information. The result is a stunningly powerful way to prioritize vulnerabilities.

We will explore:

1)    The challenge and traditional approach to vulnerability prioritization
2)    Creating local context through machine learning and attack path modelling
3)    Examining the result – contextualized, vulnerability prioritization

The Challenge

Anyone dealing with Threat and Vulnerability Management (TVM) knows this situation:

You have a vulnerability scanning report with dozens or hundreds of pages. There is a long list of ‘critical’ vulnerabilities. How do you start prioritizing these vulnerabilities, assuming your goal is reducing the most risk?

Sometimes the challenge is even more specific – you might have 100 servers with the same critical vulnerability present (e.g. MoveIT). But which one should you patch first, as all of those have the same technical vulnerability priority (‘critical’)? Which one will achieve the biggest risk reduction (critical asset e.g.)? Which one will be almost meaningless to patch (asset with no business impact e.g.) and thus just a time-sink for the patch and IT team?

There have been recent improvements upon flat CVE-scoring for vulnerability prioritization by adding threat-intelligence about exploitability of vulnerabilities into the mix. This is great, examples of that additional information are Exploit Prediction Scoring System (EPSS) and Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalogue (KEV).

Figure 2: The idea behind EPSS – focus on actually exploited CVEs. (diagram taken from https://www.first.org/epss/model)

With CVE and CVSS scores we have the theoretical technical impact of vulnerabilities, and with EPSS and KEV we have information about the likelihood of exploitation of vulnerabilities. That’s a step forward, but still doesn’t give us any local context. Now we know even more about the global and generic technical risk of a vulnerability, but we still lack the local impact on the organization.

Let’s add that missing link via machine learning and attack path modelling.

Adding Attack Path Modelling for Local Context

To prioritize technical vulnerabilities, we need to know as much as we can about the asset on which the vulnerability is present in the context of the local organization. Is it a crown jewel? Is it a choke point? Does it sit on a critical attack path? Is it a dead end, never used and has no business relevance? Does it have organizational priority? Is the asset used by VIP users, as part of a core business or IT process? Does it share identities with elevated credentials? Is the human user on the device susceptible to social engineering?

Those are just a few typical questions when trying to establish local context of an asset. Knowing more about the threat landscape, exploitability, or technical information of a CVE won’t help answer any of the above questions. Gathering, evaluating, maintaining, and using this local context for vulnerability prioritization is the hard part. This local context often resides informally in the head of the TVM or IT team member, having been assembled by having been at the organization for a long time, ‘knowing’ systems, applications and identities in question and talking to asset and application owners if time permits. This does unfortunately not scale, is time-consuming and heavily dependent on individuals.

Understanding all attack paths for an organization provides this local context programmatically.

We discover those attack paths, and these are bespoke for each organization through Darktrace PREVENT, using the following method (simplified):

1)    Build an adaptive model of the local business. Collect, combine, and analyze (using machine learning and non-machine learning techniques) data from various data domains:

a.     Network, Cloud, IT, and OT data (network-based attack paths, communication patterns, peer-groups, choke-points, …). Natively collected by Darktrace technology.

b.     Email data (social engineering attack paths, phishing susceptibility, external exposure, security awareness level, …). Natively collected by Darktrace technology.

c.     Identity data (account privileges, account groups, access levels, shared permissions, …). Collected via various integrations, e.g. Active Directory.

d.     Attack surface data (internet-facing exposure, high-impact vulnerabilities, …). Natively collected by Darktrace technology.

e.     SaaS information (further identity context). Natively collected by Darktrace

f.      Vulnerability information (CVEs, CVSS, EPSS, KEV, …). Collected via integrations, e.g. Vulnerability Scanners or Endpoint products.

Figure 3: Darktrace PREVENT revealing each stage of an attack path

2)    Understand what ‘crown jewels’ are and how to get to them. Calculate entity importance (user, technical asset), exposure levels, potential damage levels (blast radius) weakness levels, and other scores to identify most important entities and their relationships to each other (‘crown jewels’).

Various forms of machine learning and non-machine learning techniques are used to achieve this. Further details on some of the exact methods can be found here. The result is a holistic, adaptive and dynamic model of the organization that shows most important entities and how to get to them across various data domains.

The combination of local context and technical context, around the severity and likelihood of exploitation, creates the Darktrace Vulnerability Score. This enables effective risk-based prioritisation of CVE patching.

Figure 4: List of devices with the highest damage potential in the organization - local context

3)    Map the attack path model of the organization to common cyber domain knowledge. We can then combine things like MITRE ATT&CK techniques with those identified connectivity patterns and attack paths – making it easy to understand which techniques, tools and procedures (TTPs) can be used to move through the organization, and how difficult it is to exploit each TTP.

Figure 5: An example attack path with associated MITRE techniques and difficulty scores for each TTP

We can now easily start prioritizing CVE patching based on actual, organizational risk and local context.

Bringing It All Together

Finally, we overlay the attack paths calculated by Darktrace with the CVEs collected from a vulnerability scanner or EDR. This can either happen as a native integration in Darktrace PREVENT, if we are already ingesting CVE data from another solution, or via CSV upload.

Figure 6: Darktrace's global CVE prioritization in action.

But you can also go further than just looking at the CVE that delivers the biggest risk reduction globally in your organization if it is patched. You can also look only at certain group of vulnerabilities, or a sub-set of devices to understand where to patch first in this reduced scope:

Figure 7: An example of the information Darktrace reveals around a CVE

This also provides the TVM team clear justification for the patch and infrastructure teams on why these vulnerabilities should be prioritized and what the positive impact will be on risk reduction.

Attack path modelling can be utilized for various other use cases, such as threat modelling and improving SOC efficiency. We’ll explore those in more depth at a later stage.

Want to explore more on using machine learning for vulnerability prioritization? Want to test it on your own data, for free? Arrange a demo today.

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
Max Heinemeyer
Leiter der Produktabteilung

Max is a cyber security expert with over a decade of experience in the field, specializing in a wide range of areas such as Penetration Testing, Red-Teaming, SIEM and SOC consulting and hunting Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups. At Darktrace, Max is closely involved with Darktrace’s strategic customers & prospects. He works with the R&D team at Darktrace, shaping research into new AI innovations and their various defensive and offensive applications. Max’s insights are regularly featured in international media outlets such as the BBC, Forbes and WIRED. Max holds an MSc from the University of Duisburg-Essen and a BSc from the Cooperative State University Stuttgart in International Business Information Systems.

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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
Product Manager

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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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