Minerva Prevents an XtremeRat Attack

One of Minvera Labs’ clients, a midsize critical infrastructure organization, was almost disabled or worse, because of an innocent mistake made by one of their employees.

The saga began when one of the organization’s IT employees downloaded an illegal Operation System ISO file through BitTorrent. The ISO was successfully downloaded and deployed to a workstation. After that, additional software’s were successfully installed, including the organization endpoint security tools. This was of course against company policy, and always a bad idea.

While the installation initially seemed successful and the workstation initially showed no ill-effects from the installation, it soon turned out that the Operation System package has preinstalled malicious code, and was just waiting for the right conditions to manifest and it could  infect the network.

The Attack Is Launched
The employee registered the computer to the organization network. This action triggered the initial stage of the malicious attack. Until that moment, the XtremeRat malware was dormant. It was programmed to do nothing until it was registered in the organization’s environment and in that specific moment to “wake up” and become active, but in a sophisticated and evasive way.

Once triggered, a series of actions were made by built-in, and legitimate tools that are part of the Operation System, such as cmd.exe and PowerShell.exe. These tools were used as a trampoline, to carry out initial foothold, persistence, and connection to the threat actor Command & Control server. Such behavior of abusing legitimate tools for non-legitimate purposes, is also called ‘Living-off-the-Land’ attack, where instead of initially launching a malicious payload (that could be early detected or flagged), threat actors trying to use existing tools that will start the attack for them, unnoticed and hard to detect.

Worst Case Scenarios
From this point on the threat actor had access to carry out any number of malicious acts, –copy data, delete data, take screenshots and steal sensitive data, use keyloggers to discover passwords, download additional malware (including ransomware) and many others  that would allow the threat actor to gain valuable information.

If the company was lucky at this point, the malware would be discovered shortly after this point by an installed security solution and the malware would have been removed, and recovery actions were taken. Even in the best scenario though, this could take months and cost the company a lot of money and lost time.  In another scenario, the threat actor could decide to encrypt the data, and all the sensitive information, or the entire network and demand a large ransom under threat of publishing the sensitive data. In this case, not only would a lot of money be lost, but the organization’s reputation would be permanently damaged as well, and sensitive data will get to the wrong hands.

These two possibilities are not even the worst possible outcome, although these  are the scenarios we would most likely hear about. An even worse scenario is the one that is the most common – it is the one where the attacker gain access to the organization and just “sits” there, for days, months or even years, gaining a good grasp in the organization, seeing all the data and business processes, copy it, and decide how to use it - maybe sell it to competitors, sell access to the organization through the dark web, or in a case of sensitive critical infrastructure like this one, impair security to the country.

Minerva Prevents a Bad Outcome
In this case however, nothing bad happened because the organization used Minerva’s anti-ransomware solution which prevents this kind of evasive attack. By using a solution that does not rely on the detection approach the organization was able to prevent the attack at the initial stage and the attack was thwarted before it began. Minerva’s unique solution was able to disguise the files that the malware was looking for, and by that action, the owner of the malware was never aware that it got to the right place.

An interesting point to note is that the malware was spread to whomever downloaded the file through BitTorrent , but it was clearly meant to hurt only organizations, as it was activated only after the computer was registered to a network domain. In every other situation the malware hasn’t been activated and nothing would have happened, it would have never been “woken”, because it was just not aimed for it. It is a sophisticated way to spread malicious code and wait for the specific target and moment to appear. No security solution recognizes it, until it will be too late. That’s why it is truly important to prevent it from gaining a foothold in the initial stage.

In this case nothing has happened, the threat actor will never know how close he/she was to a successful attack, and the attack was stopped in the beachhead stage. But unfortunately, other stories happen daily, we hear about some of them, but about most of them we will never know.

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