Minacce interne, catene di approvvigionamento e IoT: Analisi di un attacco informatico moderno
It’s ten to five on a Friday afternoon. A technician has come in to perform a routine check on an electronic door. She enters the office with no issues – she works for a trusted third-party vendor, employees see her every week. She opens her laptop and connects to the Door Access Control Unit, a small Internet of Things (IoT) device used to operate the smart lock. Minutes later, trojans have been downloaded onto the company network, a crypto-mining operation has begun, and there is evidence of confidential data being exfiltrated. Where did things go wrong?
Threats in a business: A new dawn surfaces
As organizations keep pace with the demands of digital transformation, the attack surface has become broader than ever before. There are numerous points of entry for a cyber-criminal – from vulnerabilities in IoT ecosystems, to blind spots in supply chains, to insiders misusing their access to the business. Darktrace sees these threats every day. Sometimes, like in the real-world example above, which will be examined in this blog, they can occur in the very same attack.
Insider threats can use their familiarity and level of access to a system as a critical advantage when evading detection and launching an attack. But insiders don’t necessarily have to be malicious. Every employee or contractor is a potential threat: clicking on a phishing link or accidentally releasing data often leads to wide-scale breaches.
At the same time, connectivity in the workspace – with each IoT device communicating with the corporate network and the Internet on its own IP address – is an urgent security issue. Access control systems, for example, add a layer of physical security by tracking who enters the office and when. However, these same control systems imperil digital security by introducing a cluster of sensors, locks, alarm systems, and keypads, which hold sensitive user information and connect to company infrastructure.
Furthermore, a significant proportion of IoT devices are built without security in mind. Vendors prioritize time-to-market and often don’t have the resources to invest in baked-in security measures. Consider the number of start-ups which manufacture IoT – over 60% of home automation companies have fewer than ten employees.
Insider threat detected by Cyber AI
In January 2021, a medium-sized North American company suffered a supply chain attack when a third-party vendor connected to the control unit for a smart door.
Figure 1: The attack lasted 3.5 hours in total, commencing 16:50 local time.
The technician from the vendor’s company had come in to perform scheduled maintenance. They had been authorized to connect directly to the Door Access Control Unit, yet were unaware that the laptop they were using, brought in from outside of the organization, had been infected with malware.
As soon as the laptop connected with the control unit, the malware detected an open port, identified the vulnerability, and began moving laterally. Within minutes, the IoT device was seen making highly unusual connections to rare external IP addresses. The connections were made using HTTP and contained suspicious user agents and URIs.
Darktrace then detected that the control unit was attempting to download trojans and other payloads, including upsupx2.exe and 36BB9658.moe. Other connections were used to send base64 encoded strings containing the device name and the organization’s external IP address.
Cryptocurrency mining activity with a Monero (XMR) CPU miner was detected shortly afterwards. The device also utilized an SMB exploit to make external connections on port 445 while searching for vulnerable internal devices using the outdated SMBv1 protocol.
One hour later, the device connected to an endpoint related to the third-party remote access tool TeamViewer. After a few minutes, the device was seen uploading over 15 MB to a 100% rare external IP.
Figure 2: Timeline of the connections made by an example device on the days around an incident (blue). The connections associated with the compromise are a significant deviation from the device’s normal pattern of life, and result in multiple unusual activity events and repeated model breaches (orange).
Security threats in the supply chain
Cyber AI flagged the insider threat to the customer as soon as the control unit had been compromised. The attack had managed to bypass the rest of the organization’s security stack, for the simple reason that it was introduced directly from a trusted external laptop, and the IoT device itself was managed by the third-party vendor, so the customer had little visibility over it.
Traditional security tools are ineffective against supply chain attacks such as this. From the SolarWinds hack to Vendor Email Compromise, 2021 has put the nail in the coffin for signature-based security – proving that we cannot rely on yesterday’s attacks to predict tomorrow’s threats.
International supply chains and the sheer number of different partners and suppliers which modern organizations work with thus pose a serious security dilemma: how can we allow external vendors onto our network and keep an airtight system?
The first answer is zero-trust access. This involves treating every device as malicious, inside and outside the corporate network, and demanding verification at all stages. The second answer is visibility and response. Security products must shed a clear light into cloud and IoT infrastructure, and react autonomously as soon as subtle anomalies emerge across the enterprise.
Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst reported on every stage of the attack, including the download of the first malicious executable file.
Figure 3: Example of Cyber AI Analyst detecting anomalous behavior on a device, including C2 connectivity and suspicious file downloads.
Cyber AI Analyst investigated the C2 connectivity, providing a high-level summary of the activity. The IoT device had accessed suspicious MOE files with randomly generated alphanumeric names.
Figure 4: A Cyber AI Analyst summary of C2 connectivity for a device.
Not only did the AI detect every stage of the activity, but the customer was also alerted via a Proactive Threat Notification following a high scoring model breach at 16:59, just minutes after the attack had commenced.
Third parties coming in to tweak device settings and adjust the network can have unintended consequences. The hyper-connected world which we’re living in, with the advent of 5G and Industry 4.0, has become a digital playground for cyber-criminals.
In the real-world case study above, the IoT device was unsecured and misconfigured. With rushed creations of IoT ecosystems, intertwining supply chains, and a breadth of individuals and devices connecting to corporate infrastructure, modern-day organizations cannot expect simple security tools which rely on pre-defined rules to stop insider threats and other advanced cyber-attacks.
The organization did not have visibility over the management of the Door Access Control Unit. Despite this, and despite no prior knowledge of the attack type or the vulnerabilities present in the IoT device, Darktrace detected the behavioral anomalies immediately. Without Cyber AI, the infection could have remained on the customer’s environment for weeks or months, escalating privileges, silently crypto-mining, and exfiltrating sensitive company data.
Thanks to Darktrace analyst Grace Carballo for her insights on the above threat find.
Learn more about insider threats
Darktrace model detections:
- Anomalous File/Anomalous Octet Stream
- Anomalous Connection/New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
- Unusual Activity/Unusual External Connectivity
- Device/Increased External Connectivity
- Anomalous Server Activity/Outgoing from Server
- Device/New User Agent and New IP
- Compliance/Cryptocurrency Mining Activity
- Compliance/External Windows Connectivity
- Anomalous File/Multiple EXE from Rare External Locations
- Anomalous File/EXE from Rare External Location
- Device/Large Number of Model Breaches
- Anomalous File/Internet Facing System File Download
- Device/Initial Breach Chain Compromise
- Device/SMB Session Bruteforce
- Device/Network Scan- Low Anomaly Score
- Device/Large Number of Connections to New Endpoint
- Anomalous Server Activity/Outgoing from Server
- Compromise/Beacon to Young Endpoint
- Anomalous Server Activity/Rare External from Server
- Device/Multiple C2 Model Breaches
- Compliance/Remote Management Tool on Server
- Anomalous Connection/Data Sent to New External Device
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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.