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When speedy attacks aren’t enough: Prolonging Quantum Ransomware

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26
Oct 2022
26
Oct 2022
Whilst Quantum Ransomware has been characterized by speedy and efficient attacks, Darktrace recently detected a surprising incident where the group used a long dwell time to achieve their goals. This blog explores the effect of this group's change in strategy and DETECT/Network’s coverage over the event.

Within science and engineering, the word ‘quantum’ may spark associations with speed and capability, referencing a superior computer that can perform tasks a classical computer cannot. In cyber security, some may recognize ‘quantum’ in relation to cryptography or, more recently, as the name of a new ransomware group, which achieved network-wide encryption a mere four hours after an initial infection.   

Although this group now has a reputation for carrying out fast and efficient attacks, speed is not their only tactic. In August 2022, Darktrace detected a Quantum Ransomware incident where attackers remained in the victim’s network for almost a month after the initial signs of infection, before detonating ransomware. This was a stark difference to previously reported attacks, demonstrating that as motives change, so do threat actors’ strategies. 

The Quantum Group

Quantum was first identified in August 2021 as the latest of several rebrands of MountLocker ransomware [1]. As part of this rebrand, the extension ‘.quantum’ is appended to filenames that are encrypted and the associated ransom notes are named ‘README_TO_DECRYPT.html’ [2].  

From April 2022, media coverage of this group has increased following a DFIR report detailing an attack that progressed from initial access to domain-wide ransomware within four hours [3]. To put this into perspective, the global median dwell time for ransomware in 2020 and 2021 is 5 days [4]. In the case of Quantum, threat actors gained direct keyboard access to devices merely 2 hours after initial infection. The ransomware was staged on the domain controller around an hour and a half later, and executed 12 minutes after that.   

Quantum’s behaviour bears similarities to other groups, possibly due to their history and recruitment. Several members of the disbanded Conti ransomware group are reported to have joined the Quantum and BumbleBee operations. Security researchers have also identified similarities in the payloads and C2 infrastructure used by these groups [5 & 6].  Notably, these are the IcedID initial payload and Cobalt Strike C2 beacon used in this attack. Darktrace has also observed and prevented IcedID and Cobalt Strike activity from BumbleBee across several customer environments.

The Attack

From 11th July 2022, a device suspected to be patient zero made repeated DNS queries for external hosts that appear to be associated with IcedID C2 traffic [7 & 8]. In several reported cases [9 & 10], this banking trojan is delivered through a phishing email containing a malicious attachment that loads an IcedID DLL. As Darktrace was not deployed in the prospect’s email environment, there was no visibility of the initial access vector, however an example of a phishing campaign containing this payload is presented below. It is also possible that the device was already infected prior to joining the network. 

Figure 1- An example phishing email used to distribute IcedID. If configured, Darktrace/Email would be able to detect that the email was sent from an anomalous sender, was part of a fake reply chain, and had a suspicious attachment containing compressed content of unusual mime type [11].    

 

Figure 2- The DNS queries to endpoints associated with IcedID C2 servers, taken from the infected device’s event log.  Additional DNS queries made to other IcedID C2 servers are in the list of IOCs in the appendices.  The repeated DNS queries are indicative of beaconing.


It was not until 22nd July that activity was seen which indicated the attack had progressed to the next stage of the kill chain. This contrasts the previously seen attacks where the progression to Cobalt Strike C2 beaconing and reconnaissance and lateral movement occurred within 2 hours of the initial infection [12 & 13]. In this case, patient zero initiated numerous unusual connections to other internal devices using a compromised account, connections that were indicative of reconnaissance using built-in Windows utilities:

·      DNS queries for hostnames in the network

·      SMB writes to IPC$ shares of those hostnames queried, binding to the srvsvc named pipe to enumerate things such as SMB shares and services on a device, client access permissions on network shares and users logged in to a remote session

·      DCE-RPC connections to the endpoint mapper service, which enables identification of the ports assigned to a particular RPC service

These connections were initiated using an existing credential on the device and just like the dwelling time, differed from previously reported Quantum group attacks where discovery actions were spawned and performed automatically by the IcedID process [14]. Figure 3 depicts how Darktrace detected that this activity deviated from the device’s normal behaviour.  

Figure 3- This figure displays the spike in active internal connections initiated by patient zero. The coloured dots represent the Darktrace models that were breached, detecting this unusual reconnaissance and lateral movement activity.

Four days later, on the 26th of July, patient zero performed SMB writes of DLL and MSI executables to the C$ shares of internal devices including domain controllers, using a privileged credential not previously seen on the patient zero device. The deviation from normal behaviour that this represents is also displayed in Figure 3. Throughout this activity, patient zero made DNS queries for the external Cobalt Strike C2 server shown in Figure 4. Cobalt Strike has often been seen as a secondary payload delivered via IcedID, due to IcedID’s ability to evade detection and deploy large scale campaigns [15]. It is likely that reconnaissance and lateral movement was performed under instructions received by the Cobalt Strike C2 server.   

Figure 4- This figure is taken from Darktrace’s Advanced Search interface, showing a DNS query for a Cobalt Strike C2 server occurring during SMB writes of .dll files and DCE-RPC requests to the epmapper service, demonstrating reconnaissance and lateral movement.


The SMB writes to domain controllers and usage of a new account suggests that by this stage, the attacker had achieved domain dominance. The attacker also appeared to have had hands-on access to the network via a console; the repetition of the paths ‘programdata\v1.dll’ and ‘ProgramData\v1.dll’, in lower and title case respectively, suggests they were entered manually.  

These DLL files likely contained a copy of the malware that injects into legitimate processes such as winlogon, to perform commands that call out to C2 servers [16]. Shortly after the file transfers, the affected domain controllers were also seen beaconing to external endpoints (‘sezijiru[.]com’ and ‘gedabuyisi[.]com’) that OSINT tools have associated with these DLL files [17 & 18]. Moreover, these SSL connections were made using a default client fingerprint for Cobalt Strike [19], which is consistent with the initial delivery method. To illustrate the beaconing nature of these connections, Figure 5 displays the 4.3 million daily SSL connections to one of the C2 servers during the attack. The 100,000 most recent connections were initiated by 11 unique source IP addresses alone.

Figure 5- The Advanced Search interface, querying for external SSL connections from devices in the network to an external host that appears to be a Cobalt Strike C2 server. 4.3 million connections were made over 8 days, even after the ransomware was eventually detonated on 2022-08-03.


Shortly after the writes, the attack progressed to the penultimate stage. The next day, on the 27th of July, the attackers moved to achieve their first objective: data exfiltration. Data exfiltration is not always performed by the Quantum ransomware gang. Researchers have noted discrepancies between claims of data theft made in their ransom notes versus the lack of data seen leaving the network, although this may have been missed due to covert exfiltration via a Cobalt Strike beacon [20]. 

In contrast, this attack displayed several gigabytes of data leaving internal devices including servers that had previously beaconed to Cobalt Strike C2 servers. This data was transferred overtly via FTP, however the attacker still attempted to conceal the activity using ephemeral ports (FTP in EPSV mode). FTP is an effective method for attackers to exfiltrate large files as it is easy to use, organizations often neglect to monitor outbound usage, and it can be shipped through ports that will not be blocked by traditional firewalls [21].   

Figure 6 displays an example of the FTP data transfer to attacker-controlled infrastructure, in which the destination share appears structured to identify the organization that the data was stolen from, suggesting there may be other victim organizations’ data stored. This suggests that data exfiltration was an intended outcome of this attack. 

Figure 6- This figure is from Darktrace’s Advanced Search interface, displaying some of the data transferred from an internal device to the attacker’s FTP server.

 
Data was continuously exfiltrated until a week later when the final stage of the attack was achieved and Quantum ransomware was detonated. Darktrace detected the following unusual SMB activity initiated from the attacker-created account that is a hallmark for ransomware (see Figure 7 for example log):

·      Symmetric SMB Read to Write ratio, indicative of active encryption

·      Sustained MIME type conversion of files, with the extension ‘.quantum’ appended to filenames

·      SMB writes of a ransom note ‘README_TO_DECRYPT.html’ (see Figure 8 for an example note)

Figure 7- The Model Breach Event Log for a device that had files encrypted by Quantum ransomware, showing the reads and writes of files with ‘.quantum’ appended to encrypted files, and an HTML ransom note left where the files were encrypted.

 

Figure 8- An example of the ransom note left by the Quantum gang, this one is taken from open-sources [22].


The example in Figure 8 mentions that the attacker also possessed large volumes of victim data.  It is likely that the gigabytes of data exfiltrated over FTP were leveraged as blackmail to further extort the victim organization for payment.  

Darktrace Coverage

 

Figure 9- Timeline of Quantum ransomware incident


If Darktrace/Email was deployed in the prospect’s environment, the initial payload (if delivered through a phishing email) could have been detected and held from the recipient’s inbox. Although DETECT identified anomalous network behaviour at each stage of the attack, since the incident occurred during a trial phase where Darktrace could only detect but not respond, the attack was able to progress through the kill chain. If RESPOND/Network had been configured in the targeted environment, the unusual connections observed during the initial access, C2, reconnaissance and lateral movement stages of the attack could have been blocked. This would have prevented the attackers from delivering the later stage payloads and eventual ransomware into the target network.

It is often thought that a properly implemented backup strategy is sufficient defense against ransomware [23], however as discussed in a previous Darktrace blog, the increasing frequency of double extortion attacks in a world where ‘data is the new oil’ demonstrates that backups alone are not a mitigation for the risk of a ransomware attack [24]. Equally, the lack of preventive defenses in the target’s environment enabled the attacker’s riskier decision to dwell in the network for longer and allowed them to optimize their potential reward. 

Recent crackdowns from law enforcement on ransomware groups have shifted these groups’ approaches to aim for a balance between low risk and significant financial rewards [25]. However, given the Quantum gang only have a 5% market share in Q2 2022, compared to the 13.2% held by LockBit and 16.9% held by BlackCat [26], a riskier strategy may be favourable, as a longer dwell time and double extortion outcome offers a ‘belt and braces’ approach to maximizing the rewards from carrying out this attack. Alternatively, the gaps in-between the attack stages may imply that more than one player was involved in this attack, although this group has not been reported to operate a franchise model before [27]. Whether assisted by others or driving for a risk approach, it is clear that Quantum (like other actors) are continuing to adapt to ensure their financial success. They will continue to be successful until organizations dedicate themselves to ensuring that the proper data protection and network security measures are in place. 

Schlussfolgerung 

Ransomware has evolved over time and groups have merged and rebranded. However, this incident of Quantum ransomware demonstrates that regardless of the capability to execute a full attack within hours, prolonging an attack to optimize potential reward by leveraging double extortion tactics is sometimes still the preferred action. The pattern of network activity mirrors the techniques used in other Quantum attacks, however this incident lacked the continuous progression of the group’s attacks reported recently and may represent a change of motives during the process. Knowing that attacker motives can change reinforces the need for organizations to invest in preventative controls- an organization may already be too far down the line if it is executing its backup contingency plans. Darktrace DETECT/Network had visibility over both the early network-based indicators of compromise and the escalation to the later stages of this attack. Had Darktrace also been allowed to respond, this case of Quantum ransomware would also have had a very short dwell time, but a far better outcome for the victim.

Thanks to Steve Robinson for his contributions to this blog.

Appendices

References

[1] https://community.ibm.com/community/user/security/blogs/tristan-reed/2022/07/13/ibm-security-reaqta-vs-quantum-locker-ransomware

 

[2] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/quantum-ransomware-seen-deployed-in-rapid-network-attacks/

 

[3], [12], [14], [16], [20] https://thedfirreport.com/2022/04/25/quantum-ransomware/

 

[4] https://www.mandiant.com/sites/default/files/2022-04/M-Trends%202022%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

 

[5] https://cyware.com/news/over-650-healthcare-organizations-affected-by-the-quantum-ransomware-attack-d0e776bb/

 

[6] https://www.kroll.com/en/insights/publications/cyber/bumblebee-loader-linked-conti-used-in-quantum-locker-attacks

 

[7] https://github.com/pan-unit42/tweets/blob/master/2022-06-28-IOCs-for-TA578-IcedID-Cobalt-Strike-and-DarkVNC.txt 

 

[8] https://github.com/stamparm/maltrail/blob/master/trails/static/malware/icedid.txt

 

[9], [15] https://www.cynet.com/blog/shelob-moonlight-spinning-a-larger-web-from-icedid-to-conti-a-trojan-and-ransomware-collaboration/

 

[10] https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2021/04/09/investigating-a-unique-form-of-email-delivery-for-icedid-malware/

 

[11] https://twitter.com/0xToxin/status/1564289244084011014

 

[13], [27] https://cybernews.com/security/quantum-ransomware-gang-fast-and-furious/

 

[17] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/gedabuyisi.com/relations

 

[18] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/domain/sezijiru.com/relations.

 

[19] https://github.com/ByteSecLabs/ja3-ja3s-combo/blob/master/master-list.txt 

 

[21] https://www.darkreading.com/perimeter/ftp-hacking-on-the-rise

 

[22] https://www.pcrisk.com/removal-guides/23352-quantum-ransomware

 

[23] https://www.cohesity.com/resource-assets/tip-sheet/5-ways-ransomware-renders-backup-useless-tip-sheet-en.pdf

 

[24] https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishatalagala/2022/03/02/data-as-the-new-oil-is-not-enough-four-principles-for-avoiding-data-fires/ 

 

[25] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/access-to-hacked-corporate-networks-still-strong-but-sales-fall/

 

[26] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/ransom-payments-fall-as-fewer-victims-choose-to-pay-hackers/ 

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Quasar Remote Access Tool: When a Legitimate Admin Tool Falls into the Wrong Hands

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23
Feb 2024

The threat of interoperability

As the “as-a-Service” market continues to grow, indicators of compromise (IoCs) and malicious infrastructure are often interchanged and shared between multiple malware strains and attackers. This presents organizations and their security teams with a new threat: interoperability.

Interoperable threats not only enable malicious actors to achieve their objectives more easily by leveraging existing infrastructure and tools to launch new attacks, but the lack of clear attribution often complicates identification for security teams and incident responders, making it challenging to mitigate and contain the threat.

One such threat observed across the Darktrace customer base in late 2023 was Quasar, a legitimate remote administration tool that has becoming increasingly popular for opportunistic attackers in recent years. Working in tandem, the anomaly-based detection of Darktrace DETECT™ and the autonomous response capabilities of Darktrace RESPOND™ ensured that affected customers were promptly made aware of any suspicious activity on the attacks were contained at the earliest possible stage.

What is Quasar?

Quasar is an open-source remote administration tool designed for legitimate use; however, it has evolved to become a popular tool used by threat actors due to its wide array of capabilities.  

How does Quasar work?

For instance, Quasar can perform keylogging, take screenshots, establish a reverse proxy, and download and upload files on a target device [1].  A report released towards the end of 2023 put Quasar back on threat researchers’ radars as it disclosed the new observation of dynamic-link library (DLL) sideloading being used by malicious versions of this tool to evade detection [1].  DLL sideloading involves configuring legitimate Windows software to run a malicious file rather than the legitimate file it usually calls on as the software loads.  The evolving techniques employed by threat actors using Quasar highlights defenders’ need for anomaly-based detections that do not rely on pre-existing knowledge of attacker techniques, and can identify and alert for unusual behavior, even if it is performed by a legitimate application.

Although Quasar has been used by advanced persistent threat (APT) groups for global espionage operations [2], Darktrace observed the common usage of default configurations for Quasar, which appeared to use shared malicious infrastructure, and occurred alongside other non-compliant activity such as BitTorrent use and cryptocurrency mining.  

Quasar Attack Overview and Darktrace Coverage

Between September and October 2023, Darktrace detected multiple cases of malicious Quasar activity across several customers, suggesting probable campaign activity.  

Quasar infections can be difficult to detect using traditional network or host-based tools due to the use of stealthy techniques such as DLL side-loading and encrypted SSL connections for command-and control (C2) communication, that traditional security tools may not be able to identify.  The wide array of capabilities Quasar possesses also suggests that attacks using this tool may not necessarily be modelled against a linear kill chain. Despite this, the anomaly-based detection of Darktrace DETECT allowed it to identify IoCs related to Quasar at multiple stages of the kill chain.

Quasar Initial Infection

During the initial infection stage of a Quasar compromise observed on the network of one customer, Darktrace detected a device downloading several suspicious DLL and executable (.exe) files from multiple rare external sources using the Xmlst user agent, including the executable ‘Eppzjtedzmk[.]exe’.  Analyzing this file using open-source intelligence (OSINT) suggests this is a Quasar payload, potentially indicating this represented the initial infection through DLL sideloading [3].

Interestingly, the Xmlst user agent used to download the Quasar payload has also been associated with Raccoon Stealer, an information-stealing malware that also acts as a dropper for other malware strains [4][5]. The co-occurrence of different malware components is increasingly common across the threat landscape as MaaS operating models increases in popularity, allowing attackers to employ cross-functional components from different strains.

Figure 1: Cyber AI Analyst Incident summarizing the multiple different downloads in one related incident, with technical details for the Quasar payload included. The incident event for Suspicious File Download is also linked to Possible HTTP Command and Control, suggesting escalation of activity following the initial infection.  

Quasar Establishing C2 Communication

During this phase, devices on multiple customer networks were identified making unusual external connections to the IP 193.142.146[.]212, which was not commonly seen in their networks. Darktrace analyzed the meta-properties of these SSL connections without needing to decrypt the content, to alert the usage of an unusual port not typically associated with the SSL protocol, 4782, and the usage of self-signed certificates.  Self-signed certificates do not provide any trust value and are commonly used in malware communications and ill-reputed web servers.  

Further analysis into these alerts using OSINT indicated that 193.142.146[.]212 is a Quasar C2 server and 4782 is the default port used by Quasar [6][7].  Expanding on the self-signed certificate within the Darktrace UI (see Figure 3) reveals a certificate subject and issuer of “CN=Quasar Server CA”, which is also the default self-signed certificate compiled by Quasar [6].

Figure 2: Cyber AI Analyst Incident summarizing the repeated external connections to a rare external IP that was later associated with Quasar.
Figure 3: Device Event Log of the affected device, showing Darktrace’s analysis of the SSL Certificate associated with SSL connections to 193.142.146[.]212.

A number of insights can be drawn from analysis of the Quasar C2 endpoints detected by Darktrace across multiple affected networks, suggesting a level of interoperability in the tooling used by different threat actors. In one instance, Darktrace detected a device beaconing to the endpoint ‘bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org’ using the aforementioned “CN=Quasar Server CA” certificate. DuckDNS is a dynamic DNS service that could be abused by attackers to redirect users from their intended endpoint to malicious infrastructure, and may be shared or reused in multiple different attacks.

Figure 4: A device’s Model Event Log, showing the Quasar Server CA SSL certificate used in connections to 41.233.139[.]145 on port 5, which resolves via passive replication to ‘bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org’.  

The sharing of malicious infrastructure among threat actors is also evident as several OSINT sources have also associated the Quasar IP 193.142.146[.]212, detected in this campaign, with different threat types.

While 193.142.146[.]212:4782 is known to be associated with Quasar, 193.142.146[.]212:8808 and 193.142.146[.]212:6606 have been associated with AsyncRAT [11], and the same IP on port 8848 has been associated with RedLineStealer [12].  Aside from the relative ease of using already developed tooling, threat actors may prefer to use open-source malware in order to avoid attribution, making the true identity of the threat actor unclear to incident responders [1][13].  

Quasar Executing Objectives

On multiple customer deployments affected by Quasar, Darktrace detected devices using BitTorrent and performing cryptocurrency mining. While these non-compliant, and potentially malicious, activities are not necessarily specific IoCs for Quasar, they do suggest that affected devices may have had greater attack surfaces than others.

For instance, one affected device was observed initiating connections to 162.19.139[.]184, a known Minergate cryptomining endpoint, and ‘zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org’, a dynamic DNS endpoint linked to the Quasar Botnet by multiple OSINT vendors [9].

Figure 5: A Darktrace DETECT Event Log showing simultaneous connections to a Quasar endpoint and a cryptomining endpoint 162.19.139[.]184.

Not only does cryptocurrency mining use a significant amount of processing power, potentially disrupting an organization’s business operations and racking up high energy bills, but the software used for this mining is often written to a poor standard, thus increasing the attack surfaces of devices using them. In this instance, Quasar may have been introduced as a secondary payload from a user or attacker-initiated download of cryptocurrency mining malware.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for malicious actors to attach malware to torrented files and there were a number of examples of Darktrace detect identifying non-compliant activity, like BitTorrent connections, overlapping with connections to external locations associated with Quasar. It is therefore important for organizations to establish and enforce technical and policy controls for acceptable use on corporate devices, particularly when remote working introduces new risks.  

Figure 6: A device’s Event Log filtered by Model Breaches, showing a device connecting to BitTorrent shortly before making new or repeated connections to unusual endpoints, which were subsequently associated to Quasar.

In some cases observed by Darktrace, devices affected by Quasar were also being used to perform data exfiltration. Analysis of a period of unusual external connections to the aforementioned Quasar C2 botnet server, ‘zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org’, revealed a small data upload, which may have represented the exfiltration of some data to attacker infrastructure.

Darktrace’s Autonomous Response to Quasar Attacks

On customer networks that had Darktrace RESPOND™ enabled in autonomous response mode, the threat of Quasar was mitigated and contained as soon as it was identified by DETECT. If RESPOND is not configured to respond autonomously, these actions would instead be advisory, pending manual application by the customer’s security team.

For example, following the detection of devices downloading malicious DLL and executable files, Darktrace RESPOND advised the customer to block specific connections to the relevant IP addresses and ports. However, as the device was seen attempting to download further files from other locations, RESPOND also suggested enforced a ‘pattern of life’ on the device, meaning it was only permitted to make connections that were part its normal behavior. By imposing a pattern of life, Darktrace RESPOND ensures that a device cannot perform suspicious behavior, while not disrupting any legitimate business activity.

Had RESPOND been configured to act autonomously, these mitigative actions would have been applied without any input from the customer’s security team and the Quasar compromise would have been contained in the first instance.

Figure 7: The advisory actions Darktrace RESPOND initiated to block specific connections to a malicious IP and to enforce the device’s normal patterns of life in response to the different anomalies detected on the device.

In another case, one customer affected by Quasar did have enabled RESPOND to take autonomous action, whilst also integrating it with a firewall. Here, following the detection of a device connecting to a known Quasar IP address, RESPOND initially blocked it from making connections to the IP via the customer’s firewall. However, as the device continued to perform suspicious activity after this, RESPOND escalated its response by blocking all outgoing connections from the device, effectively preventing any C2 activity or downloads.

Figure 8: RESPOND actions triggered to action via integrated firewall and TCP Resets.

Schlussfolgerung

When faced with a threat like Quasar that utilizes the infrastructure and tools of both legitimate services and other malicious malware variants, it is essential for security teams to move beyond relying on existing knowledge of attack techniques when safeguarding their network. It is no longer enough for organizations to rely on past attacks to defend against the attacks of tomorrow.

Crucially, Darktrace’s unique approach to threat detection focusses on the anomaly, rather than relying on a static list of IoCs or "known bads” based on outdated threat intelligence. In the case of Quasar, alternative or future strains of the malware that utilize different IoCs and TTPs would still be identified by Darktrace as anomalous and immediately alerted.

By learning the ‘normal’ for devices on a customer’s network, Darktrace DETECT can recognize the subtle deviations in a device’s behavior that could indicate an ongoing compromise. Darktrace RESPOND is subsequently able to follow this up with swift and targeted actions to contain the attack and prevent it from escalating further.

Credit to Nicole Wong, Cyber Analyst, Vivek Rajan Cyber Analyst

Appendices

Darktrace DETECT Model Breaches

  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Anomalous Connection / Anomalous SSL without SNI to New External
  • Anomalous Connection / Application Protocol on Uncommon Port
  • Anomalous Connection / Rare External SSL Self-Signed
  • Compromise / New or Repeated to Unusual SSL Port
  • Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / High Volume of Connections with Beacon Score
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Unusual Activity / Unusual External Activity

List of IoCs

IP:Port

193.142.146[.]212:4782 -Quasar C2 IP and default port

77.34.128[.]25: 8080 - Quasar C2 IP

Domain

zayprostofyrim[.]zapto[.]org - Quasar C2 Botnet Endpoint

bittorrents[.]duckdns[.]org - Possible Quasar C2 endpoint

Certificate

CN=Quasar Server CA - Default certificate used by Quasar

Executable

Eppzjtedzmk[.]exe - Quasar executable

IP Address

95.214.24[.]244 - Quasar C2 IP

162.19.139[.]184 - Cryptocurrency Miner IP

41.233.139[.]145[VR1] [NW2] - Possible Quasar C2 IP

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping

Command and Control

T1090.002: External Proxy

T1071.001: Web Protocols

T1571: Non-Standard Port

T1001: Data Obfuscation

T1573: Encrypted Channel

T1071: Application Layer Protocol

Resource Development

T1584: Compromise Infrastructure

References

[1] https://thehackernews.com/2023/10/quasar-rat-leverages-dll-side-loading.html

[2] https://symantec-enterprise-blogs.security.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/cicada-apt10-japan-espionage

[3]https://www.virustotal.com/gui/file/bd275a1f97d1691e394d81dd402c11aaa88cc8e723df7a6aaf57791fa6a6cdfa/community

[4] https://twitter.com/g0njxa/status/1691826188581298389

[5] https://www.linkedin.com/posts/grjk83_raccoon-stealer-announce-return-after-hiatus-activity-7097906612580802560-1aj9

[6] https://community.netwitness.com/t5/netwitness-community-blog/using-rsa-netwitness-to-detect-quasarrat/ba-p/518952

[7] https://www.cisa.gov/news-events/analysis-reports/ar18-352a

[8]https://any.run/report/6cf1314c130a41c977aafce4585a144762d3fb65f8fe493e836796b989b002cb/7ac94b56-7551-4434-8e4f-c928c57327ff

[9] https://threatfox.abuse.ch/ioc/891454/

[10] https://www.virustotal.com/gui/ip-address/41.233.139.145/relations

[11] https://raw.githubusercontent.com/stamparm/maltrail/master/trails/static/malware/asyncrat.txt

[12] https://sslbl.abuse.ch/ssl-certificates/signature/RedLineStealer/

[13] https://www.botconf.eu/botconf-presentation-or-article/hunting-the-quasar-family-how-to-hunt-a-malware-family/

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Nicole Wong
Cyber Security Analyst

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Attack Trends: VIP Impersonation Across the Business Hierarchy

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22
Feb 2024

What is VIP impersonation?

VIP impersonation involves a threat actor impersonating a trusted, prominent figure at an organization in an attempt to solicit sensitive information from an employee.

VIP impersonation is a high-priority issue for security teams, but it can be difficult to assess the exact risks, and whether those are more critical than other types of compromise. Looking across a range of Darktrace/Email™ customer deployments, this blog explores the patterns of individuals targeted for impersonation and evaluates if these target priorities correspond with security teams' focus on protecting attack pathways to critical assets.

How do security teams stop VIP Impersonation?

Protecting VIP entities within an organization has long been a traditional focus for security teams. The assumption is that VIPs, due to their prominence, possess the greatest access to critical assets, making them prime targets for cyber threats.  

Email remains the predominant vector for attacks, with over 90% of breaches originating from malicious emails. However, the dynamics of email-based attacks are shifting, as the widespread use of generative AI is lowering the barrier to entry by allowing adversaries to create hyper-realistic emails with minimal errors.

Given these developments, it's worth asking the question – which entities (VIP/non-VIP) are most targeted by threat actors via email? And, more importantly – which entities (VIP/non-VIP) are more valuable if they are successfully compromised?

There are two types of VIPs:  

1. When referring to emails and phishing, VIPs are the users in an organization who are well known publicly.  

2. When referring to attack paths, VIPs are users in an organization that are known publicly and have access to highly privileged assets.  

Not every prominent user has access to critical assets, and not every user that has access to critical assets is prominent.  

Darktrace analysis of VIP impersonation

We analyzed patterns of attack pathways and phishing attempts across 20 customer deployments from a large, randomized pool encompassing a diverse range of organizations.  

Understanding Attack Pathways

Our observations revealed that 57% of low-difficulty attack paths originated from VIP entities, while 43% of observed low-difficulty attack paths towards critical assets or entities began through non-VIP users. This means that targeting VIPs is not the only way attackers can reach critical assets, and that non-VIP users must be considered as well.  

While the sample size prevents us from establishing statistical significance across all customers, the randomized selection lends credence to the generalizability of these findings to other environments.

Phishing Attempts  

On average, 1.35% of total emails sent to these customers exhibited significantly malicious properties associated with phishing or some form of impersonation. Strikingly, nearly half of these malicious emails (49.6%) were directed towards VIPs, while the rest were sent to non-VIPs. This near-equal split is worth noting, as attack paths show that non-VIPs also serve as potential entry points for targeting critical assets.  

Darktrace/Email UI
Figure 1: A phishing email actioned by Darktrace, sent to multiple VIP and non-VIP entities

For example, a recent phishing campaign targeted multiple customers across deployments, with five out of 13 emails specifically aimed at VIP users. Darktrace/Email actioned the malicious emails by double locking the links, holding the messages, and stripping the attachments.

Given that non-VIP users receive nearly half of the phishing or impersonation emails, it underscores the critical importance for security teams to recognize their blind spots in protecting critical assets. Overlooking the potential threat originating from non-VIP entities could lead to severe consequences. For instance, if a non-VIP user falls victim to a phishing attack or gets compromised, their credentials could be exploited to move laterally within the organization, potentially reaching critical assets.

This highlights the necessity for a sophisticated security tool that can identify targeted users, without the need for extensive customization and regardless of VIP status. By deploying a solution capable of promptly responding to email threats – including solicitation, phishing attempts, and impersonation – regardless of the status of the targeted user, security teams can significantly enhance their defense postures.

Darktrace vs Traditional Email Detection Methods

Traditional rules and signatures-based detection mechanisms fall short in identifying the evolving threats we’ve observed, due to their reliance on knowledge of past attacks to categorize emails.

Secure Email Gateway (SEG) or Integrated Cloud Email Security (ICES) tools categorize emails based on previous or known attacks, operating on a known-good or known-bad model. Even if tools use AI to automate this process, the approach is still fundamentally looking to the past and therefore vulnerable to unknown and zero-day threats.  

Darktrace uses AI to understand each unique organization and how its email environment interoperates with each user and device on the network. Consequently, it is able to identify the subtle deviations from normal behavior that qualify as suspicious. This approach goes beyond simplistic categorizations, considering factors such as the sender’s history and recipient’s exposure score.  

This nuanced analysis enables Darktrace to differentiate between genuine communications and malicious impersonation attempts. It automatically understands who is a VIP, without the need for manual input, and will action more strongly on incoming malicious emails  based on a user’s status.

Email does determine who is a VIP, without a need of manual input, and will action more strongly on incoming malicious emails.

Darktrace/Email also feeds into Darktrace’s preventative security tools, giving the interconnected AI engines further context for assessing the high-value targets and pathways to vital internal systems and assets that start via the inbox.

Leveraging AI for Enhanced Protection Across the Enterprise  

The efficacy of AI-driven security solutions lies in their ability to make informed decisions and recommendations based on real-time business data. By leveraging this data, AI driven solutions can identify exploitable attack pathways and an organizations most critical assets. Darktrace uniquely uses several forms of AI to equip security teams with the insights needed to make informed decisions about which pathways to secure, reducing human bias around the importance of protecting VIPs.

With the emergence of tools like AutoGPT, identifying potential targets for phishing attacks has become increasingly simplified. However, the real challenge lies in gaining a comprehensive understanding of all possible and low-difficulty attack paths leading to critical assets and identities within the organization.

At the same time, organizations need email tools that can leverage the understanding of users to prevent email threats from succeeding in the first instance. For every email and user, Darktrace/Email takes into consideration changes in behavior from the sender, recipient, content, and language, and many other factors.

Integrating Darktrace/Email with Darktrace’s attack path modeling capabilities enables comprehensive threat contextualization and facilitates a deeper understanding of attack pathways. This holistic approach ensures that all potential vulnerabilities, irrespective of the user's status, are addressed, strengthening the overall security posture.  

Schlussfolgerung

Contrary to conventional wisdom, our analysis suggests that the distinction between VIPs and non-VIPs in terms of susceptibility to impersonation and low-difficulty attack paths is not as pronounced as presumed. Therefore, security teams must adopt a proactive stance in safeguarding all pathways, rather than solely focusing on VIPs.  

Attack path modeling enhances Darktrace/Email's capabilities by providing crucial metrics on potential impact, damage, exposure, and weakness, enabling more targeted and effective threat mitigation strategies. For example, stronger email actions can be enforced for users who are known to have a high potential impact in case of compromise. 

In an era where cyber threats continue to evolve in complexity, an adaptive and non-siloed approach to securing inboxes, high-priority individuals, and critical assets is indispensable.  

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About the author
Kendra Gonzalez Duran
Director of Technology Innovation

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