Inside the SOC
Exploring the dangers of remote access tools
In 2022, remote access tools continue to provide versatile support to organizations. By controlling devices remotely from across the globe, IT teams save on response costs, travel times, and can receive remote support from external parties like contractors [1 & 2]. This is particularly relevant in cases involving specialty machines such as OT/ICS systems where physical access is sometimes limited. These tools, however, come with their own risks. The following blog will discuss these risks and how they can be addressed (particularly in OT environments) by looking at two exploit examples from the popular sphere and within the Darktrace customer base.
One of the most popular remote tools is TeamViewer, a comprehensive videoconferencing and remote management tool which can be used on both desktop and handheld devices. Like other sophisticated tools, when it works as intended, it can seem like magic. However, remote access tools can be exploited and may grant privileged network access to potential threat actors. Although TeamViewer needs to be installed on both perpetrator and victim devices, if an attacker has access to a misconfigured TeamViewer device, it becomes trivial to establish a foothold and deploy malware.
In early 2021, remote access tooling was seen on a new scale against the City of Oldsmar’s water treatment plant  (Figure 1). Oldsmar manages chemical concentration levels in the water for a 15,000-person city. The water treatment plant had been using TeamViewer to allow employees to share screens and work through IT issues. However, in February an employee noticed he had lost control of his mouse cursor. Initially he was unconcerned; the employee assumed that the cursor was being controlled by his boss, who regularly connected to the computer to monitor the facility’s systems. A few hours later though, the employee again saw his cursor moving out of his control and this time noticed that it was attempting to change levels of sodium hydroxide in the water supply (which is extremely dangerous for human consumption). Thankfully, the employee was able to quickly spot the changes and return them to their normal level. When looking back at the event, the key question posed by officials was where exactly the vulnerability was located in their security stack. . The answer was unclear.
When attackers get initial network access, the primary challenge for any enterprise is identifying a) that a device compromise has happened and b) how it happened. These were the same challenges seen in the Oldsmar attack. When the first physical signs of compromise occurred (cursor movement), the impacted user was still unsure whether the activity was malicious. A detailed investigation from Dragos revealed the how: evidence of a watering hole, reconnaissance activity a month prior, a targeted variant of the Tofsee botnet, and the potential presence of two separate threat actors [6 & 7]. The answer to both questions pointed to a complex attack. However, with Darktrace these questions become less important.
Darktrace DETECT does not rely on signatures but instead has AI-based models for live detection of these tools and anomalies within the wider network. Regardless of the security ‘hole’, live detection gives security teams the potential to respond in near-live time.
According to Darktrace’s Chief Product Officer, Max Heinemeyer, the Oldsmar attack was possible because it “Abused off-the-shelf tools that were already used by the client, specifically TeamViewer. This tactic, which targeted the domain controller as the initial vector, made the malware deployment easy and effective.” .
Darktrace has multiple DETECT models to provide visibility over anomalous TeamViewer or remote access tool usage:
· Compliance / Incoming Remote Access Tool
· Compliance / Remote Management Tool On Client
· Compliance / Remote Management Tool On Server
· Device / Activity Identifier / Teamviewer
General incoming privileged connections:
· Compliance / Incoming Remote Desktop
· Compliance / Incoming SSH
Industrial DETECT can also highlight any new or unusual changes in ICS/OT systems:
· ICS / Incoming ICS Command
· ICS / Incoming RDP And ICS Commands
· ICS / Uncommon ICS Error
Darktrace gives security teams the opportunity for a proactive response, and it is up to those teams to utilize that opportunity. In recent months our SOC Team have also seen remote access controls being abused for high-profile threats. In one example, Darktrace detected a ransomware attack supported by the installation of AnyDesk.
In May a company’s mail server was detected making multiple external requests for an unusual file ‘106.exe’ using a PowerShell agent (6b79549200af33bf0322164f8a4d56a0fa08a5a62ab6a5c93a6eeef2065430ce). Although some requests were directed to sinkholes, many were otherwise successful. Subsequently a DDL file with hash f126ce9014ee87de92e734c509e1b5ab71ffb2d5a8b27171da111f96f3ba0e75 (marked by VirusTotal as malicious) was downloaded. This was followed by the installation of AnyDesk: a remote access tool likely deployed for backdoor purposes during further compromises. It is clear the threat actor then moved on to reconnaissance, with new Mimikatz use and a large volume of ICMP and SMBv.1 scanning sessions using a default credential. DCE-RPC calls were also made to the Netlogon service, suggesting a possible attempt to exploit 2020’s Zerologon vulnerability (CVE-2020-1472) . When the customer then discovered a ransom note pertaining to LV (repurposed REvil), Darktrace analysts helped them to re-configure Darktrace RESPOND and turn it to active rather than human confirmation mode (Figure 2).
Whilst in this instance the tool was not used for initial access, it was still an important contingency tool to ensure the threat actor’s persistency as the customer tried to respond to the ongoing breach. Yet it was the visibility provided by Darktrace model detection and changes to RESPOND configuration which ensured the customer kept up with this actor and reduced the impact of the attack.
Looking back at Oldsmar, it is clear that being aware of remote access tools is only half the battle. More importantly, most organizations are asking if their use in attacks can be prevented in the first place. As an off-the-shelf tool, restricting TeamViewer use seems like an easy solution but such tools are often essential for maintenance and support operations. Even if limited to privileged users, these accounts are also subject to potential compromise. Instead, companies can take a large-scale view and consider the environment in which the Oldsmar attack occurred.
In this context, the separation of OT and IT systems is a potential solution - if attackers cannot access at-risk systems, then they also cannot attack those systems. However, with recent discourse around the IT-OT convergence and increased use of IOT devices, this separation is increasingly challenging to implement . Complex networking designs, stringent patching requirements and ever-changing business/operational needs are all big considerations when establishing industrial security. In fact, Tenable’s CEO Amit Yoran encouraged less separation following Oldsmar: “There’s business reasons and efficiency reasons that you might want to connect those to be able to predict when parts are going to fail or when outages are going to occur [sic].” .
When neither addressing remote access use or industrial set-up provides a quick solution, then security teams need to look to third-party support to stop similar attacks. In addition to Darktrace DETECT, our Darktrace PREVENT range with PREVENT/Attack Surface Management (ASM) can also alert security teams to internet-facing devices at risk of remote access exploitation. ASM actively queries the Shodan API for open ports on company websites and exposed servers. This highlights those assets which might be vulnerable to this type of remote access.
In conclusion, TeamViewer and other remote access tools offer a lot of convenience for security teams but also for attackers. Attackers can remotely access important systems including those in the industrial network and install malware using remote access tools as leverage. Security teams need to know both their normal authorized activities and how to enforce them. With Darktrace DETECT, the tools are given transparency, with Darktrace RESPOND they can be blocked, and now Darktrace PREVENT/ASM helps to mitigate the risk of attack before it happens. As the professional world continues to embrace hybrid working, it becomes increasingly crucial to embrace these types of products and ensure protection against the dangers of unwanted remote access.
Thanks to Connor Mooney for his contributions to this blog.
[5 & 11] https://www.bankinfosecurity.com/ot-it-integration-raises-risk-for-water-providers-experts-say-a-18841
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Inside the SOC
How Abuse of ‘PerfectData Software’ May Create a Perfect Storm: An Emerging Trend in Account Takeovers
Amidst the ever-changing threat landscape, new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) seem to emerge daily, creating extreme challenges for security teams. The broad range of attack methods utilized by attackers seems to present an insurmountable problem: how do you defend against a playbook that does not yet exist?
Faced with the growing number of novel and uncommon attack methods, it is essential for organizations to adopt a security solution able to detect threats based on their anomalies, rather than relying on threat intelligence alone.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed an emerging trend in the use of an application known as ‘PerfectData Software’ for probable malicious purposes in several Microsoft 365 account takeovers.
Using its anomaly-based detection, Darktrace DETECT™ was able to identify the activity chain surrounding the use of this application, potentially uncovering a novel piece of threat actor tradecraft in the process.
Microsoft 365 Intrusions
In recent years, Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) suite, Microsoft 365, along with its built-in identity and access management (IAM) service, Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), have been heavily targeted by threat actors due to their near-ubiquitous usage across industries. Four out of every five Fortune 500 companies, for example, use Microsoft 365 services .
Malicious actors typically gain entry to organizations’ Microsoft 365 environments by abusing either stolen account credentials or stolen session cookies . Once inside, actors can access sensitive data within mailboxes or SharePoint repositories, and send out emails or Teams messages. This activity can often result in serious financial harm, especially in cases where the malicious actor’s end-goal is to elicit fraudulent transactions.
Darktrace regularly observes malicious actors behaving in predictable ways once they gain access to customer Microsoft 365 environment. One typical example is the creation of new inbox rules and sending deceitful emails intended to convince recipients to carry out subsequent actions, such as following a malicious link or providing sensitive information. It is also common for actors to register new applications in Azure AD so that they can be used to conduct follow-up activities, like mass-mailing or data theft. The registration of applications in Azure AD therefore seems to be a relatively predictable threat actor behavior . Darktrace DETECT understands that unusual application registrations in Azure AD may constitute a deviation in expected behavior, and therefore a possible indicator of account compromise.
These registrations of applications in Azure AD are evidenced by creations of, as well as assignments of permissions to, Service Principals in Azure AD. Darktrace has detected a growing trend in actors creating and assigning permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. Further investigation of this Azure AD activity revealed it to be part of an ongoing account takeover.
‘PerfectData Software’ Activity
Darktrace observed variations of the following pattern of activity relating to an application named ‘PerfectData Software’ within its customer base:
- Actor signs in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint associated with a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
- Actor registers an application called 'PerfectData Software' with Azure AD, and then grants permissions to the application
- Actor accesses mailbox data and creates inbox rule
In two separate incidents, malicious actors were observed conducting their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services (HideMyAss (HMA) VPN and Surfshark VPN, respectively) and from endpoints within the Autonomous System AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01.
In March 2023, Darktrace observed a malicious actor signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from a Kuwait-based IP address within the Autonomous System, AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o. This IP address is associated with the VPN service, HMA VPN. Over the next couple of days, an actor (likely the same malicious actor) signed in to the account several more times from two different Nigeria-based endpoints, as well as a VPS-related endpoint and a HMA VPN endpoint.
During their login sessions, the actor performed a variety of actions. First, they created and assigned permissions to a Service Principal named ‘PerfectData Software’. This Service Principal creation represents the registration of an application called ‘PerfectData Software’ in Azure AD. Although the reason for registering this application is unclear, within a few days the actor registered and granted permission to another application, ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’, and created a new inbox rule names ‘s’ on the mailbox of the hijacked account. This inbox rule moved emails meeting certain conditions to a folder named ‘RSS Subscription. The ‘Newsletter Software Supermailer’ application was likely registered by the actor to facilitate mass-mailing activity.
Immediately after these actions, Darktrace detected the actor sending out thousands of malicious emails from the account. The emails included an attachment named ‘Credit Transfer Copy.html’, which contained a suspicious link. Further investigation revealed that the customer’s network had received several fake invoice emails prior to this initial intrusion activity. Additionally, there was an unusually high volume of failed logins to the compromised account around the time of the initial access.
In a separate case also observed by Darktrace in March 2023, a malicious actor was observed signing in to a Microsoft 365 account from an endpoint within the Autonomous System, AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON. The endpoint appears to be related to the VPN service, Surfshark VPN. This login was followed by several failed and successful logins from a VPS-related within the Autonomous System, AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01. The actor was then seen registering and assigning permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’. As with the previous example, the motives for this registration are unclear. The actor proceeded to log in several more times from a Surfshark VPN endpoint, however, they were not observed carrying out any further suspicious activity.
It was not clear in either of these examples, nor in fact any of cases observed by Darktrace, why actors had registered and assigned permissions to an application called ‘PerfectData Software’, and there do not appear to be any open-source intelligence (OSINT) resources or online literature related to the malicious usage of an application by that name. That said, there are several websites which appear to provide email migration and data recovery/backup tools under the moniker ‘PerfectData Software’.
It is unclear whether the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ by malicious actors observed on the networks of Darktrace customers was one of these tools. However, given the nature of the tools, it is possible that the actors intended to use them to facilitate the exfiltration of email data from compromises mailboxes.
If the legitimate software ‘PerfectData’ is the application in question in these incidents, it is likely being purchased and misused by attackers for malicious purposes. It is also possible the application referenced in the incidents is a spoof of the legitimate ‘PerfectData’ software designed to masquerade a malicious application as legitimate.
Cases of ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains detected by Darktrace typically began with an actor signing into an internal user’s Microsoft 365 account from a VPN or VPS-related endpoint. These login events, along with the suspicious email and/or brute-force activity which preceded them, caused the following DETECT models to breach:
- SaaS / Access / Unusual External Source for SaaS Credential Use
- SaaS / Access / Suspicious Login Attempt
- SaaS / Compromise / Login From Rare Following Suspicious Login Attempt(s)
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Unusual Location for SaaS and Email Activity
Subsequent activities, including inbox rule creations, registration of applications in Azure AD, and mass-mailing activity, resulted in breaches of the following DETECT models.
- SaaS / Admin / OAuth Permission Grant
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Logic Following OAuth Grant
- SaaS / Admin / New Application Service Principal
- IaaS / Admin / Azure Application Administration Activities
- SaaS / Compliance / New Email Rule
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and New Email Rule
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Suspicious Internal Exchange Activity
- SaaS / Email Nexus / Possible Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Unusual Login and Outbound Email Spam
- SaaS / Compromise / Suspicious Login and Suspicious Outbound Email(s)
In cases where Darktrace RESPOND™ was enabled in autonomous response mode, ‘PerfectData Software’ activity chains resulted in breaches of the following RESPOND models:
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Suspicious SaaS Activity Block
• Antigena / SaaS / Antigena Significant Compliance Activity Block
In response to these model breaches, Darktrace RESPOND took immediate action, performing aggressive, inhibitive actions, such as forcing the actor to log out of the SaaS platform, and disabling the user entirely. When applied autonomously, these RESPOND actions would seriously impede an attacker’s progress and minimize network disruption.
In addition, Darktrace Cyber AI Analyst was able to autonomously investigate registrations of the ‘PerfectData Software’ application and summarized its findings into digestible reports.
Due to the widespread adoption of Microsoft 365 services in the workplace and continued emphasis on a remote workforce, account hijackings now pose a more serious threat to organizations around the world than ever before. The cases discussed here illustrate the tendency of malicious actors to conduct their activities from endpoints associated with VPN services, while also registering new applications, like PerfectData Software, with malicious intent.
While it was unclear exactly why the malicious actors were using ‘PerfectData Software’ as part of their account hijacking, it is clear that either the legitimate or spoofed version of the application is becoming an very likely emergent piece of threat actor tradecraft.
Darktrace DETECT’s anomaly-based approach to threat detection allowed it to recognize that the use of ‘PerfectData Software’ represented a deviation in the SaaS user’s expected behavior. While Darktrace RESPOND, when enabled in autonomous response mode, was able to quickly take preventative action against threat actors, blocking the potential use of the application for data exfiltration or other nefarious purposes.
MITRE ATT&CK Mapping
• T1598 – Phishing for Information
• T1110 – Brute Force
• T1078.004 – Valid Accounts: Cloud Accounts
Command and Control:
• T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer
• T1098.003 – Account Manipulation: Additional Cloud Roles
• T1114 – Email Collection
• T1564.008 – Hide Artifacts: Email Hiding Rules
• T1534 – Internal Spearphishing
Unusual Source IPs
• 5.62.60[.]202 (AS198605 AVAST Software s.r.o.)
• 160.152.10[.]215 (AS37637 Smile-Nigeria-AS)
• 197.244.250[.]155 (AS37705 TOPNET)
• 169.159.92[.]36 (AS37122 SMILE)
• 45.62.170[.]237 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
• 92.38.180[.]49 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A)
• 129.56.36[.]26 (AS327952 AS-NATCOM)
• 92.38.180[.]47 (AS202422 G-Core Labs S.A.)
• 107.179.20[.]214 (AS397086 LAYER-HOST-HOUSTON)
• 45.62.170[.]31 (AS396073 MAJESTIC-HOSTING-01)
Darktrace Integrates Self-Learning AI with Amazon Security Lake to Support Security Investigations
Darktrace has deepened its relationship with AWS by integrating its detection and response capabilities with Amazon Security Lake.
This development will allow mutual customers to seamlessly combine Darktrace AI’s bespoke understanding of their organization with the Threat Intelligence offered by other security tools, and investigate all of their alerts in one central location.
This integration will improve the value security teams get from both products, streamlining analyst workflows and improving their ability to detect and respond to the full spectrum of known and unknown cyber-threats.
How Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake augment security teams
Amazon Security Lake is a newly-released service that automatically centralizes an organization’s security data from cloud, on-premises, and custom sources into a customer owned purpose-built data lake. Both Darktrace and Amazon Security Lake support the Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF), an open standard to simplify, combine, and analyze security logs.
Customers can store security logs, events, alerts, and other relevant data generated by various AWS services and security tools. By consolidating security data in a central lake, organizations can gain a holistic view of their security posture, perform advanced analytics, detect anomalies and open investigations to improve their security practices.
With Darktrace DETECT and RESPOND AI engines covering all assets across IT, OT, network, endpoint, IoT, email and cloud, organizations can augment the value of their security data lakes by feeding Darktrace’s rich and context-aware datapoints to Amazon Security Lake.
Amazon Security Lake empowers security teams to improve the protection of your digital estate:
- Quick and painless data normalization
- Fast-tracks ability to investigate, triage and respond to security events
- Broader visibility aids more effective decision-making
- Surfaces and prioritizes anomalies for further investigation
- Single interface for seamless data management
How will Darktrace customers benefit?
Across the Cyber AI Loop, all Darktrace solutions have been architected with AWS best practices in mind. With this integration, Darktrace is bringing together its understanding of ‘self’ for every organization with the centralized data visibility of the Amazon Security Lake. Darktrace’s unique approach to cyber security, powered by groundbreaking AI research, delivers a superior dataset based on a deep and interconnected understanding of the enterprise.
Where other cyber security solutions are trained to identify threats based on historical attack data and techniques, Darktrace DETECT gains a bespoke understanding of every digital environment, continuously analyzing users, assets, devices and the complex relationships between them. Our AI analyzes thousands of metrics to reveal subtle deviations that may signal an evolving issue – even unknown techniques and novel malware. It distinguishes between malicious and benign behavior, identifying harmful activity that typically goes unnoticed. This rich dataset is fed into RESPOND, which takes precise action to neutralize threats against any and every asset, no matter where data resides.
Both DETECT and RESPOND are supported by Darktrace Self-Learning AI, which provides full, real-time visibility into an organization’s systems and data. This always-on threat analysis already makes humans better at cyber security, improving decisions and outcomes based on total visibility of the digital ecosystem, supporting human performance with AI coverage and empowering security teams to proactively protect critical assets.
Converting Darktrace alerts to the Amazon Security Lake Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework (OCSF) supplies the Security Operations Center (SOC) and incident response team with contextualized data, empowering them to accelerate their investigation, triage and response to potential cyber threats.
Darktrace is available for purchase on the AWS Marketplace.
Learn more about how Darktrace provides full-coverage, AI-powered cloud security for AWS, or see how our customers use Darktrace in their AWS cloud environments.