Cobalt Strike is a paid penetration testing product that allows an attacker to deploy an agent named ‘Beacon’ on the victim machine. The Beacon includes a wealth of functionality for the attacker, including, but not limited to command execution, key logging, file transfer, SOCKS proxying, privilege escalation, mimikatz, port scanning and lateral movement.
Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) announced that has collaborated with Fortra, the company that develops and maintains the tool, and Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Health-ISAC) to curb the abuse of Cobalt Strike by cybercriminals.
The Microsoft DCU secured a court order in the U.S. to remove cracked versions of Cobalt Strike (“refer to stolen, unlicensed, or otherwise unauthorized versions or copies of the tool”) so they can no longer be used by cybercriminals.
Threat actors, including ransomware groups and nation-state actors, use Cobalt Strike after obtaining initial access to a target network. The tool is used to conduct multiple malicious activities, including escalating privileges, lateral movements, and deploying additional malicious payloads.
“More specifically, cracked versions of Cobalt Strike allow Defendants to gain control of their victim’s machine and move laterally through the connected network to find other victims and install malware. This includes installing ransomware like Conti, LockBit, Quantum Locker, Royal, Cuba, BlackBasta, BlackCat and PlayCrypt, to arrest access to the systems. In essence, Defendants are able to leverage cracked versions of Cobalt Strike to brutally force their way into victim machines and deploy malware.” reads the court order. “Additionally, once the Defendants deploy the malware or ransomware onto computers running Microsoft’s Window operating system, Defendants are able to execute a series of actions involving abuse of Microsoft’s copyrighted declaring code.”
Example of an attack flow by threat actor DEV-0243.
Microsoft observed more than 68 ransomware attacks, involving the use of cracked copies of Cobalt Strike, against healthcare organizations in more than 19 countries around the world.
The attacks caused huge financial damages to the attacked hospitals in recovery and repair costs, plus interruptions to critical patient care services.
Microsoft also observed nation-state actors, including APT groups from Russia, China, Vietnam, and Iran, using cracked copies of Cobalt Strike.
“Microsoft, Fortra and Health-ISAC remain relentless in our efforts to improve the security of the ecosystem, and we are collaborating with the FBI Cyber Division, National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF) and Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) on this case. While this action will impact the criminals’ immediate operations, we fully anticipate they will attempt to revive their efforts. Our action is therefore not one and done.” concludes the report.
In November 2022, Google Cloud researchers announced the discovery of 34 different Cobalt Strike hacked release versions with a total of 275 unique JAR files across these versions.
Google Cloud Threat Intelligence (GCTI) researchers developed a set of YARA rules to detect hacked variants in the wild with a high degree of accuracy. The researchers noticed that each Cobalt Strike version contains approximately 10 to 100 attack template binaries
Please vote for Security Affairs (https://securityaffairs.com/) as the best European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards 2022 – VOTE FOR YOUR WINNERS
Vote for me in the sections:
Please nominate Security Affairs as your favorite blog.
Nominate here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfaFMkrMlrLhOBsRPKdv56Y4HgC88Bcji4V7OCxCm_OmyPoLw/viewform
Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook and Mastodon
(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Phishing)