LockBit 3.0 affiliate sideloads Cobalt Strike through Windows Defender

Pierluigi Paganini August 02, 2022

An affiliate of the LockBit 3.0 RaaS operation has been abusing the Windows Defender command-line tool to deploy Cobalt Strike payloads.

During a recent investigation, SentinelOne researchers observed threat actors associated with the LockBit 3.0 ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operation abusing the Windows Defender command line tool MpCmdRun.exe to decrypt and load Cobalt Strike payloads.

The attackers initially compromise the target networks by exploiting the Log4j vulnerability affecting an unpatched VMWare Horizon Server. The attackers modified the Blast Secure Gateway component of the application by installing a web shell using PowerShell code that is detailed here.

Once gained a foothold in the target system, the attackers performed a series of enumeration commands and attempted to run multiple post-exploitation tools, including Meterpreter, PowerShell Empire and used a new technique to side-load Cobalt Strike.

LockBit 3.0

“In particular, when attempting to execute Cobalt Strike we observed a new legitimate tool used for side-loading a malicious DLL, that decrypts the payload.” reads the analysis published by SentinelOne. “Previously observed techniques to evade defenses by removing EDR/EPP’s userland hooks, Event Tracing for Windows and Antimalware Scan Interface were also observed.”

SentinelOne highlights the importance of sharing information on the exploitation of novel “living off the land” tools to drop Cobalt Strike beacons and evade detection of common security solutions.

MpCmdRun.exe is a command-line tool for carrying out various functions in Microsoft Defender Antivirus, including scanning for malicious software, collecting diagnostic data, and restoring the service to a previous version, among others.

“Importantly, tools that should receive careful scrutiny are any that either the organization or the organization’s security software have made exceptions for. Products like VMware and Windows Defender have a high prevalence in the enterprise and a high utility to threat actors if they are allowed to operate outside of the installed security controls.” concludes the analysis.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, LockBit 3.0)

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