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Darktrace's Detection of Ransomware & Syssphinx

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02
Aug 2023
02
Aug 2023
Read how Darktrace identified an attack technique by the threat group, Syssphinx. Learn how Darktrace's quick identification process can spot a threat.

Einführung

As the threat of costly cyber-attacks continues represent a real concern to security teams across the threat landscape, more and more organizations are strengthening their defenses with additional security tools to identify attacks and protect their networks. As a result, malicious actors are being forced to adapt their tactics, modify existing variants of malicious software, or utilize entirely new variants.  

Symantec recently released an article about Syssphinx, the financially motivated cyber threat group previously known for their point-of-sale attacks. Syssphinx attempts to deploy ransomware on customer networks via a modified version of their ‘Sardonic’ backdoor. Such activity highlights the ability of threat actors to alter the composition and presentation of payloads, tools, and tactics.

Darktrace recently detected some of the same indicators suggesting a likely Syssphinx compromise within the network of a customer trialing the Darktrace DETECT™ and RESPOND™ products. Despite the potential for variations in the construction of backdoors and payloads used by the group, Darktrace’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to stitch together a detailed account of compromise activity and identify the malicious activity prior to disruptive events on the customer’s network.

What is Syssphinx?

Syssphinx is a notorious cyber threat entity known for its financially motivated compromises.  Also referred to as FIN8, Syssphinx has been observed as early as 2016 and is largely known to target private sector entities in the retail, hospitality, insurance, IT, and financial sectors.[1]

Although Syssphinx primarily began focusing on point-of-sale style attacks, the activity associated with the group has more recently incorporated ransomware variants into their intrusions in a potential bid to further extract funds from target organizations.[2]

Syssphinx Sardonic Backdoor

Given this gradual opportunistic incorporation of ransomware, it should not be surprising that Syssphinx has slowly expanded its repertoire of tools.  When primarily performing point-of-sale compromises, the group was known for its use of point-of-sale specific malwares including BadHatch, PoSlurp/PunchTrack, and PowerSniff/PunchBuggy/ShellTea.[3]

However, in a seeming response to updates in detection systems while using previous indicators of compromise (IoCs), Syssphinx began to modify its BadHatch malware.  This resulted in the use of a C++ derived backdoor known as “Sardonic”, which has the ability to aggregate host credentials, spawn additional command sessions, and deliver payloads to compromised devices via dynamic-link library (DLL).[4],[5]

Analysis of the latest version of Sardonic reveals further changes to the malware to elude detection. These shifts include the implementation of the backdoor in the C programming language, and additional over-the-network communication obfuscation techniques. [6]

During the post-exploitation phase, the group tends to rely on “living-off-the-land” tactics, whereby an attacker utilizes tools already present within the organization’s digital environment to avoid detection. Syssphinx seems to utilize system-native tools such as PowerShell and the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) interface.[7] It is also not uncommon to see Windows-based vulnerability exploits employed on compromised devices. This has been observed by researchers who have examined previous iterations of Syssphinx backdoors.[8] Syssphinx also appears to exhibit elements of strategic patience and discipline in its operations, with significant time gaps in operations noted by researchers. During this time, it appears likely that updates and tweaks were applied to Syssphinx payloads.

Compromise Details

In late April 2023, Darktrace identified an active compromise on the network of a prospective customer who was trialing Darktrace DETECT+RESPOND. The customer, a retailer in EMEA with hundreds of tracked devices, reached out to the Darktrace Analyst team via the Ask the Expert (ATE) service for support and further investigation, following the encryption of their server and backup data storage in an apparent ransomware attack. Although the encryption events fell outside Darktrace’s purview due to a limited set up of trial appliances, Darktrace was able to directly track early stages of the compromise before exfiltration and encryption events began. If a full deployment had been set up and RESPOND functionality had been configured in autonomous response mode, Darktrace may have helped mitigate such encryption events and would have aided in the early identification of this ransomware attack.

Initial Intrusion and Establishment of Command and Control (C2) Infrastructure

As noted by security researchers, Syssphinx largely relies on social engineering and phishing emails to deliver its backdoor payloads. As there were no Darktrace/Email™ products deployed for this customer, it would be difficult to directly observe the exact time and manner of initial payload delivery related to this compromise. This is compounded by the fact that the customer had only recently began using Darktrace’s products during their trial period. Given the penchant for patience and delay by Syssphinx, it is possible that the intrusion began well before Darktrace had visibility of the organization’s network.

However, beginning on April 30, 2023, at 07:17:31 UTC, Darktrace observed the domain controller dc01.corp.XXXX  making repeated SSL connections to the endpoint 173-44-141-47[.]nip[.]io. In addition to the multiple open-source intelligence (OSINT) flags for this endpoint, the construction of the domain parallels that of the initial domain used to deliver a backdoor, as noted by Symantec in their analysis (37-10-71-215[.]nip[.]io). This activity likely represented the initial beaconing being performed by the compromised device. Additionally, an elevated level of incoming external data over port 443 was observed during this time, which may be associated with the delivery of the Sardonic backdoor payload. Given the unusual use of port 443 to perform SSH connections later seen in the kill chain of this attack, this activity could also parallel the employment of embedded backdoor payloads seen in the latest iteration of the Sardonic backdoor noted by Symantec.

Figure 1: Graph of the incoming external data surrounding the time of the initial establishment of command and control communication for the domain controller. As seen in the graph, the spike in incoming external data during this time may parallel the delivery of Syssphinx Sardonic backdoor.

Regardless, the domain controller proceeded to make repeated connections over port 443 to the noted domain.

Figure 2: Breach event log for the domain controller making repeated connections over port 443 to the rare external destination endpoint in constitute the establishment of C2 communication.

Internal Reconnaissance/Privilege Escalation

Following the establishment of C2 communication, Darktrace detected numerous elements of internal reconnaissance. On Apr 30, 2023, at 22:06:26 UTC, the desktop device desktop_02.corp.XXXX proceeded to perform more than 100 DRSGetNCChanges requests to the aforementioned domain controller. These commands, which are typically implemented over the RPC protocol on the DRSUAPI interface, are frequently utilized in Active Directory sync attacks to copy Active Directory information from domain controllers. Such activity, when not performed by new domain controllers to sync Active Directory contents, can indicate malicious domain or user enumeration, credential compromise or Active Directory enumeration.

Although the affected device made these requests to the previously noted domain controller, which was already compromised, such activity may have further enabled the compromise by allowing the threat actor to transfer these details to a more easily manageable device.

The device performing these DRSGetNCChanges requests would later be seen performing lateral movement activity and making connections to malicious endpoints.

Figure 3: Breach log highlighting the DRS operations performed by the corporate device to the destination domain controller. Such activity is rarely authorized for devices not tagged as administrative or as domain controllers.

Execution and Lateral Movement

At 23:09:53 UTC on April 30, 2023, the original domain server proceeded to make multiple uncommon WMI calls to a destination server on the same subnet (server01.corp.XXXX). Specifically, the device was observed making multiple RPC calls to IWbem endpoints on the server, which included login and ExecMethod (method execution) commands on the destination device. This destination device later proceeded to conduct additional beaconing activity to C2 endpoints and exfiltrate data.

Figure 4: Breach log for the domain controller performing WMI commands to the destination server during the lateral movement phase of the breach.

Similarly, beginning on May 1, 2023, at 00:11:09 UTC, the device desktop_02.corp.XXXX made multiple WMI requests to two additional devices, one server and one desktop, within the same subnet as the original domain controller. During this time, desktop_02.corp.XXXX  also utilized SMBv1, an outdated and typically non-compliant version communication protocol, to write the file rclone.exe to the same two destination devices. Rclone.exe, and its accompanying bat file, is a command-line tool developed by IT provider Rclone, to perform file management tasks. During this time, Darktrace also observed the device reading and deleting an unexpected numeric file on the ADMIN$ of the destination server, which may represent additional defense evasion techniques and tool staging.

Figure 5: Event log highlighting the writing of rclone.exe using the outdated SMBv1 communication protocol.
Figure 6: SMB logs indicating the reading and deletion of numeric string files on ADMIN$ shares of the destination devices during the time of the rclone.exe SMB writes. Such activity may be associated with tool staging and could indicate potential defense evasion techniques.

Given that the net loader sample analyzed by Symantec injects the backdoor into a WmiPrvSE.exe process, the use of WMI operations is not unexpected. Employment of WMI also correlates with the previously mentioned “living-off-the-land” tactics, as WMI services are commonly used for regular network and system administration purposes. Moreover, the staging of rclone.exe, a legitimate file management tool, for data exfiltration underscores attempts to blend into existing and expected network traffic and remain undetected on the customer’s network.

Data Exfiltration and Impact

Initial stages of data exfiltration actually began prior to some of the lateral movement events described above. On April 30, 2023, 23:09:47 the device server01.corp.XXXX, transferred nearly 11 GB of data to 173.44[.]141[.]47, as well as to the rare external IP address 170.130[.]55[.]77, which appears to have served as the main exfiltration destination during this compromise. Furthermore, the host made repeated connections to the same external IP associated with the initial suspicious beaconing activity (173.44[.]141[.]47) over SSL.

While the data exfiltration event unfolded, the device, server01.corp.XXXX, made multiple HTTP requests to 37.10[.]71[.]215, which featured URIs requesting the rclone.exe and rclone.bat files. This IP address was directly involved in the sample analyzed by Symantec. Furthermore, one of the devices that received the SMB file writes of rclone.exe and the WMI commands from desktop_02.corp.XXXX also performed SSL beaconing to endpoints associated with the compromise.

Between 01:20:45 - 03:31:41 UTC on May 1, 2023, a Darktrace detected a series of devices on the network performing a repeated pattern of activity, namely external connectivity followed by suspicious file downloads and external data transfer operations. Specifically, each affected device made multiple HTTP requests to 37.10[.]71[.]215 for rclone files. The devices proceeded to download the executable and/or binary files, and then transfer large amounts of data to the aforementioned endpoints, 170.130[.]55[.]77 and or 173-44-141-47[.]nip[.]io. Although the devices involved in data exfiltration utilized port 443 as a destination port, the connections actually used the SSH protocol. Darktrace recognized this behavior as unusual as port 443 is typically associated with the SSL protocol, while port 22 is reserved for SSH. Therefore, this activity may represent the threat actor’s attempts to remain undetected by security tools.

This unexpected use of SSH over port 443 also correlates with the descriptions of the new Sardonic backdoor according to threat researchers. Further beaconing and exfiltration activity was performed by an additional host one day later whereby the device made suspicious repeated connections to the aforementioned external hosts.

Figure 7: Connection details highlighting the use of port 443 for SSH connections during the exfiltration events.

In total, nine separate devices were involved in this pattern of activity. Five of these devices were labeled as ‘administrative’ devices according to their hostnames. Over the course of the entire exfiltration event, the attackers exfiltrated almost 61 GB of data from the organization’s environment.

Figure 8: Graph showing the levels of external data transfer from a breach device for one day on either side of the breach time. There is a large spike in such activity during the time of the breach that underscores the exfiltration events.

In addition to the individual anomaly detections by DETECT, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst™ launched an autonomous investigation into the unusual behavior carried out by affected devices, connecting and collating multiple security events into one AI Analyst Incident. AI Analyst ensures that Darktrace can recognize and link the individual steps of a wider attack, rather than just identifying isolated incidents. While traditional security tools may mistake individual breaches as standalone activity, Darktrace’s AI allows it to provide unparalleled visibility over emerging attacks and their kill chains. Furthermore, Cyber AI Analyst’s instant autonomous investigations help to save customer security teams invaluable time in triaging incidents in comparison with human teams who would have to commit precious time and resources to conduct similar pattern analysis.

In this specific case, AI Analyst identified 44 separate security events from 18 different devices and was able to tie them together into one incident. The events that made up this AI Analyst Incident included:

  • Possible SSL Command and Control
  • Possible HTTP Command and Control
  • Unusual Repeated Connections
  • Suspicious Directory Replication ServiceActivity
  • Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity
  • SMB Write of Suspicious File
  • Suspicious File Download
  • Unusual External Data Transfer
  • Unusual External Data Transfer to MultipleRelated Endpoints
Figure 9: Cyber AI Incident log highlighting multiple unusual anomalies and connecting them into one incident.

Had Darktrace RESPOND been enabled in autonomous response mode on the network of this prospective customer, it would have been able to take rapid mitigative action to block the malicious external connections used for C2 communication and subsequent data exfiltration, ideally halting the attack at this stage. As previously discussed, the limited network configuration of this trial customer meant that the encryption events unfortunately took place outside of Darktrace’s scope. When fully configured on a customer environment, Darktrace DETECT can identify such encryption attempts as soon as they occur. Darktrace RESPOND, in turn, would be able to immediately intervene by applying preventative actions like blocking internal connections that may represent file encryption, or limiting potentially compromised devices to a previously established pattern of life, ensuring they cannot carry out any suspicious activity.

Schlussfolgerung

Despite the limitations posed by the customer’s trial configuration, Darktrace demonstrated its ability to detect malicious activity associated with Syssphinx and track it across multiple stages of the kill chain.

Darktrace’s ability to identify the early stages of a compromise and various steps of the kill chain, highlights the necessity for machine learning-enabled, anomaly-based detection. In the face of threats such as Syssphinx, that exhibit the propensity to recast backdoor payloads and incorporate on “living-off-the-land” tactics, signatures and rules-based detection may not prove as effective. While Syssphinx and other threat groups will continue to adopt new tools, methods, and techniques, Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI is uniquely positioned to meet the challenge of such threats.

Anhang

DETECT Model Breaches Observed

•      Anomalous Server Activity / Anomalous External Activity from Critical Network Device

•      Anomalous Connection / Anomalous DRSGetNCChanges Operation

•      Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity

•      Compliance / SMB Drive Write

•      Anomalous Connection / Data Sent to Rare Domain

•      Anomalous Connection / Uncommon 1 GiB Outbound

•      Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data Transfer

•      Unusual Activity / Unusual External Data to New Endpoints

•      Compliance / SSH to Rare External Destination

•      Anomalous Connection / Unusual SMB Version 1 Connectivity

•      Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location

•      Anomalous File / Script from Rare External Location

•      Compromise / Suspicious File and C2

•      Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

AI Analyst Incidents Observed

•      Possible SSL Command and Control

•      Possible HTTP Command and Control

•      Unusual Repeated Connections

•      Suspicious Directory Replication Service Activity

•      Device / New or Uncommon WMI Activity

•      SMB Write of Suspicious File

•      Suspicious File Download

•      Unusual External Data Transfer

•      Unusual External Data Transfer to Multiple Related Endpoints

IoCs

IoC - Type - Description

37.10[.]71[.]215 – IP – C2 + payload endpoint

173-44-141-47[.]nip[.]io – Hostname – C2 – payload

173.44[.]141[.]47 – IP – C2 + potential payload

170.130[.]55[.]77 – IP – Data exfiltration endpoint

Rclone.exe – Exe File – Common data tool

Rclone.bat – Script file – Common data tool

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Command and Control

T1071 - Application Layer Protocol

T1071.001 – Web protocols

T1573 – Encrypted channels

T1573.001 – Symmetric encryption

T1573.002 – Asymmetric encryption

T1571 – Non-standard port

T1105 – Ingress tool transfer

Ausführung

T1047 – Windows Management Instrumentation

Credential Access

T1003 – OS Credential Dumping

T1003.006 – DCSync

Lateral Movement

T1570 – Lateral Tool Transfer

T1021 - Remote Services

T1021.002 - SMB/Windows Admin Shares

T1021.006 – Windows Remote Management

Exfiltration

T1048 - Exfiltration Over Alternative Protocol

T1048.001 - Exfiltration Over Symmetric Encrypted Non-C2 Protocol

T1048.002 - Exfiltration Over Symmetric Encrypted Non-C2 Protocol

T1041 - Exfiltration Over C2 Channel

References

[1] https://cyberscoop.com/syssphinx-cybercrime-ransomware/

[2] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[3] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/fin8-deploys-alphv-ransomware-using-sardonic-malware-variant/

[4] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[5] https://thehackernews.com/2023/07/fin8-group-using-modified-sardonic.html

[6] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[7] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/Syssphinx-FIN8-backdoor

[8] https://www.mandiant.com/resources/blog/windows-zero-day-payment-cards

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How to Protect your Organization Against Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks

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21
May 2024

The problem: Microsoft Teams phishing attacks are on the rise

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services1, with Microsoft Teams and Microsoft SharePoint in particular emerging as critical platforms to the business operations of the everyday workplace. Researchers across the threat landscape have begun to observe these legitimate services being leveraged more and more by malicious actors as an initial access method.

As Teams becomes a more prominent feature of the workplace many employees rely on it for daily internal and external communication, even surpassing email usage in some organizations. As Microsoft2 states, "Teams changes your relationship with email. When your whole group is working in Teams, it means you'll all get fewer emails. And you'll spend less time in your inbox, because you'll use Teams for more of your conversations."

However, Teams can be exploited to send targeted phishing messages to individuals either internally or externally, while appearing legitimate and safe. Users might receive an external message request from a Teams account claiming to be an IT support service or otherwise affiliated with the organization. Once a user has accepted, the threat actor can launch a social engineering campaign or deliver a malicious payload. As a primarily internal tool there is naturally less training and security awareness around Teams – due to the nature of the channel it is assumed to be a trusted source, meaning that social engineering is already one step ahead.

Screenshot of a Microsoft Teams message request from a Midnight Blizzard-controlled account (courtesy of Microsoft)
Figure 1: Screenshot of a Microsoft Teams message request from a Midnight Blizzard-controlled account (courtesy of Microsoft)

Microsoft Teams Phishing Examples

Microsoft has identified several major phishing attacks using Teams within the past year.

In July 2023, Microsoft announced that the threat actor known as Midnight Blizzard – identified by the United States as a Russian state-sponsored group – had launched a series of phishing campaigns via Teams with the aim of stealing user credentials. These attacks used previously compromised Microsoft 365 accounts and set up new domain names that impersonated legitimate IT support organizations. The threat actors then used social engineering tactics to trick targeted users into sharing their credentials via Teams, enabling them to access sensitive data.  

At a similar time, threat actor Storm-0324 was observed sending phishing lures via Teams containing links to malicious SharePoint-hosted files. The group targeted organizations that allow Teams users to interact and share files externally. Storm-0324’s goal is to gain initial access to hand over to other threat actors to pursue more dangerous follow-on attacks like ransomware.

For a more in depth look at how Darktrace stops Microsoft Teams phishing read our blog: Don’t Take the Bait: How Darktrace Keeps Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks at Bay

The market: Existing Microsoft Teams security solutions are insufficient

Microsoft’s native Teams security focuses on payloads, namely links and attachments, as the principal malicious component of any phishing. These payloads are relatively straightforward to detect with their experience in anti-virus, sandboxing, and IOCs. However, this approach is unable to intervene before the stage at which payloads are delivered, before the user even gets the chance to accept or deny an external message request. At the same time, it risks missing more subtle threats that don’t include attachments or links – like early stage phishing, which is pure social engineering – or completely new payloads.

Equally, the market offering for Teams security is limited. Security solutions available on the market are always payload-focused, rather than taking into account the content and context in which a link or attachment is sent. Answering questions like:

  • Does it make sense for these two accounts to speak to each other?
  • Are there any linguistic indicators of inducement?

Furthermore, they do not correlate with email to track threats across multiple communication environments which could signal a wider campaign. Effectively, other market solutions aren’t adding extra value – they are protecting against the same types of threats that Microsoft is already covering by default.

The other aspect of Teams security that native and market solutions fail to address is the account itself. As well as focusing on Teams threats, it’s important to analyze messages to understand the normal mode of communication for a user, and spot when a user’s Teams activity might signal account takeover.

The solution: How Darktrace protects Microsoft Teams against sophisticated threats

With its biggest update to Darktrace/Email ever, Darktrace now offers support for Microsoft Teams. With that, we are bringing the same AI philosophy that protects your email and accounts to your messaging environment.  

Our Self-Learning AI looks at content and context for every communication, whether that’s sent in an email or Teams message. It looks at actual user behavior, including language patterns, relationship history of sender and recipient, tone and payloads, to understand if a message poses a threat. This approach allows Darktrace to detect threats such as social engineering and payloadless attacks using visibility and forensic capabilities that Microsoft security doesn’t currently offer, as well as early symptoms of account compromise.  

Unlike market solutions, Darktrace doesn’t offer a siloed approach to Teams security. Data and signals from Teams are shared across email to inform detection, and also with the wider Darktrace ActiveAI security platform. By correlating information from email and Teams with network and apps security, Darktrace is able to better identify suspicious Teams activity and vice versa.  

Interested in the other ways Darktrace/Email augments threat detection? Read our latest blog on how improving the quality of end-user reporting can decrease the burden on the SOC. To find our more about Darktrace's enduring partnership with Microsoft, click here.

References

[1] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

[2] Microsoft blog, Microsoft Teams and email, living in harmony, 2024

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Carlos Gray
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Don’t Take the Bait: How Darktrace Keeps Microsoft Teams Phishing Attacks at Bay

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20
May 2024

Social Engineering in Phishing Attacks

Faced with increasingly cyber-aware endpoint users and vigilant security teams, more and more threat actors are forced to think psychologically about the individuals they are targeting with their phishing attacks. Social engineering methods like taking advantage of the human emotions of their would-be victims, pressuring them to open emails or follow links or face financial or legal repercussions, and impersonating known and trusted brands or services, have become common place in phishing campaigns in recent years.

Phishing with Microsoft Teams

The malicious use of the popular communications platform Microsoft Teams has become widely observed and discussed across the threat landscape, with many organizations adopting it as their primary means of business communication, and many threat actors using it as an attack vector. As Teams allows users to communicate with people outside of their organization by default [1], it becomes an easy entry point for potential attackers to use as a social engineering vector.

In early 2024, Darktrace/Apps™ identified two separate instances of malicious actors using Microsoft Teams to launch a phishing attack against Darktrace customers in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Interestingly, in this case the attackers not only used a well-known legitimate service to carry out their phishing campaign, but they were also attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.

Despite these attempts to evade endpoint users and traditional security measures, Darktrace’s anomaly detection enabled it to identify the suspicious phishing messages and bring them to the customer’s attention. Additionally, Darktrace’s autonomous response capability, was able to follow-up these detections with targeted actions to contain the suspicious activity in the first instance.

Darktrace Coverage of Microsoft Teams Phishing

Chats Sent by External User and Following Actions by Darktrace

On February 29, 2024, Darktrace detected the presence of a new external user on the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment of an EMEA customer for the first time. The user, “REDACTED@InternationalHotelChain[.]onmicrosoft[.]com” was only observed on this date and no further activities were detected from this user after February 29.

Later the same day, the unusual external user created its first chat on Microsoft Teams named “New Employee Loyalty Program”. Over the course of around 5 minutes, the user sent 63 messages across 21 different chats to unique internal users on the customer’s SaaS platform. All these chats included the ‘foreign tenant user’ and one of the customer’s internal users, likely in an attempt to remain undetected. Foreign tenant user, in this case, refers to users without access to typical internal software and privileges, indicating the presence of an external user.

Darktrace’s detection of unusual messages being sent by a suspicious external user via Microsoft Teams.
Figure 1: Darktrace’s detection of unusual messages being sent by a suspicious external user via Microsoft Teams.
Advanced Search results showing the presence of a foreign tenant user on the customer’s SaaS environment.
Figure 2: Advanced Search results showing the presence of a foreign tenant user on the customer’s SaaS environment.

Darktrace identified that the external user had connected from an unusual IP address located in Poland, 195.242.125[.]186. Darktrace understood that this was unexpected behavior for this user who had only previously been observed connecting from the United Kingdom; it further recognized that no other users within the customer’s environment had connected from this external source, thereby deeming it suspicious. Further investigation by Darktrace’s analyst team revealed that the endpoint had been flagged as malicious by several open-source intelligence (OSINT) vendors.

External Summary highlighting the rarity of the rare external source from which the Teams messages were sent.
Figure 3: External Summary highlighting the rarity of the rare external source from which the Teams messages were sent.

Following Darktrace’s initial detection of these suspicious Microsoft Teams messages, Darktrace's autonomous response was able to further support the customer by providing suggested mitigative actions that could be applied to stop the external user from sending any additional phishing messages.

Unfortunately, at the time of this attack Darktrace's autonomous response capability was configured in human confirmation mode, meaning any autonomous response actions had to be manually actioned by the customer. Had it been enabled in autonomous response mode, it would have been able promptly disrupt the attack, disabling the external user to prevent them from continuing their phishing attempts and securing precious time for the customer’s security team to begin their own remediation procedures.

Darktrace autonomous response actions that were suggested following the ’Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User’ detection model alert.
Figure 4: Darktrace autonomous response actions that were suggested following the ’Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User’ detection model alert.

External URL Sent within Teams Chats

Within the 21 Teams chats created by the threat actor, Darktrace identified 21 different external URLs being sent, all of which included the domain "cloud-sharcpoint[.]com”. Many of these URLs had been recently established and had been flagged as malicious by OSINT providers [3]. This was likely an attempt to impersonate “cloud-sharepoint[.]com”, the legitimate domain of Microsoft SharePoint, with the threat actor attempting to ‘typo-squat’ the URL to convince endpoint users to trust the legitimacy of the link. Typo-squatted domains are commonly misspelled URLs registered by opportunistic attackers in the hope of gaining the trust of unsuspecting targets. They are often used for nefarious purposes like dropping malicious files on devices or harvesting credentials.

Upon clicking this malicious link, users were directed to a similarly typo-squatted domain, “InternatlonalHotelChain[.]sharcpoInte-docs[.]com”. This domain was likely made to appear like the SharePoint URL used by the international hotel chain being impersonated.

Redirected link to a fake SharePoint page attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.
Figure 5: Redirected link to a fake SharePoint page attempting to impersonate an international hotel chain.

This fake SharePoint page used the branding of the international hotel chain and contained a document named “New Employee Loyalty Program”; the same name given to the phishing messages sent by the attacker on Microsoft Teams. Upon accessing this file, users would be directed to a credential harvester, masquerading as a Microsoft login page, and prompted to enter their credentials. If successful, this would allow the attacker to gain unauthorized access to a user’s SaaS account, thereby compromising the account and enabling further escalation in the customer’s environment.

Figure 6: A fake Microsoft login page that popped-up when attempting to open the ’New Employee Loyalty Program’ document.

This is a clear example of an attacker attempting to leverage social engineering tactics to gain the trust of their targets and convince them to inadvertently compromise their account. Many corporate organizations partner with other companies and well-known brands to offer their employees loyalty programs as part of their employment benefits and perks. As such, it would not necessarily be unexpected for employees to receive such an offer from an international hotel chain. By impersonating an international hotel chain, threat actors would increase the probability of convincing their targets to trust and click their malicious messages and links, and unintentionally compromising their accounts.

In spite of the attacker’s attempts to impersonate reputable brands, platforms, Darktrace/Apps was able to successfully recognize the malicious intent behind this phishing campaign and suggest steps to contain the attack. Darktrace recognized that the user in question had deviated from its ‘learned’ pattern of behavior by connecting to the customer’s SaaS environment from an unusual external location, before proceeding to send an unusually large volume of messages via Teams, indicating that the SaaS account had been compromised.

A Wider Campaign?

Around a month later, in March 2024, Darktrace observed a similar incident of a malicious actor impersonating the same international hotel chain in a phishing attacking using Microsoft Teams, suggesting that this was part of a wider phishing campaign. Like the previous example, this customer was also based in the EMEA region.  

The attack tactics identified in this instance were very similar to the previously example, with a new external user identified within the network proceeding to create a series of Teams messages named “New Employee Loyalty Program” containing a typo-squatted external links.

There were a few differences with this second incident, however, with the attacker using the domain “@InternationalHotelChainExpeditions[.]onmicrosoft[.]com” to send their malicious Teams messages and using differently typo-squatted URLs to imitate Microsoft SharePoint.

As both customers targeted by this phishing campaign were subscribed to Darktrace’s Proactive Threat Notification (PTN) service, this suspicious SaaS activity was promptly escalated to the Darktrace Security Operations Center (SOC) for immediate triage and investigation. Following their investigation, the SOC team sent an alert to the customers informing them of the compromise and advising urgent follow-up.

Schlussfolgerung

While there are clear similarities between these Microsoft Teams-based phishing attacks, the attackers here have seemingly sought ways to refine their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), leveraging new connection locations and creating new malicious URLs in an effort to outmaneuver human security teams and conventional security tools.

As cyber threats grow increasingly sophisticated and evasive, it is crucial for organizations to employ intelligent security solutions that can see through social engineering techniques and pinpoint suspicious activity early.

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI understands customer environments and is able to recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavioral pattern, enabling it to effectively identify suspicious activity even when attackers adapt their strategies. In this instance, this allowed Darktrace to detect the phishing messages, and the malicious links contained within them, despite the seemingly trustworthy source and use of a reputable platform like Microsoft Teams.

Credit to Min Kim, Cyber Security Analyst, Raymond Norbert, Cyber Security Analyst and Ryan Traill, Threat Content Lead

Anhang

Darktrace Model Detections

SaaS Model

Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User

SaaS / Unusual Activity / Large Volume of Messages Sent from New External User

Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

IoC – Type - Description

https://cloud-sharcpoint[.]com/[a-zA-Z0-9]{15} - Example hostname - Malicious phishing redirection link

InternatlonalHotelChain[.]sharcpolnte-docs[.]com – Hostname – Redirected Link

195.242.125[.]186 - External Source IP Address – Malicious Endpoint

MITRE Tactics

Tactic – Technique

Phishing – Initial Access (T1566)

References

[1] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/trusted-organizations-external-meetings-chat?tabs=organization-settings

[2] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/195.242.125.186/detection

[3] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/cloud-sharcpoint.com

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About the author
Min Kim
Cyber Security Analyst
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