Thursday, July 05, 2018

LNK "Toolmarks"

LNK Artifacts and "Toolmarks"
I've discussed LNK files in this blog a number of times over the years, mostly focusing on the file format.  In one instance (from 5 years ago), the focus was on parsers, and specifically about determining devices that had been connected to the system, as when it comes to illicit images/videos, such things can determine the difference between "possession" and "production".  This sort of information can also be used to address such topics as data exfiltration.

Last year, I started looking at LNK files (here, and then shortly thereafter, here...) from a different perspective; that of LNK files being sent as email attachments, or somehow being delivered to a "victim".

So, what?  Why does this matter?  Most users of Windows systems are very familiar with LNK files, or "Windows shortcuts", as they pertain to user actions on a system, or software installations.  Both of these generally result in an LNK file being created.  And if you follow malware write-ups or threat intel blog posts, you'll very likely see mention of some malware variant or targeted adversary creating an LNK file in a user's StartUp folder as a means of remaining persistent on the system.  These LNK files are usually created on the compromised system, through the use of the local API, so other than their location, there's nothing too terribly interesting about them.

However, when an adversary sends a Windows shortcut file as an email attachment (or through some other mechanism) that LNK file contains information about their (the adversary's) system.  The folks at JPCERT/CC mentioned this about a year and half ago (the folks at NViso Labs said something similar, as well); if the LNK file was created (via the MS API) on the adversary's system, then it likely contains the NetBIOS name of the system, the MAC address, the volume serial number, and the code page number (although in the research I've done so far, I have yet to find an LNK file with the code page number populated).  While anyone of these values may be seen as trivial, all of them together can be employed to great effect by researchers. For example, using the NetBIOS name, MAC address, and VSN (such as illustrated in this blog post), I wrote a Yara rule that I deployed as a VirusTotal retro-hunt, in order to look for other examples; I ended up with several dozen responses in very short order.  An example of such a rule is the "shellphish" Yara rule illustrated in this blog post.  In the case of the "shellphish" rule, the LNK file that I initially looked at also included a SID in the Property Store Data Block, and including it in the retro-hunt served to minimize false positives (i.e., hits on files that contained the other byte sequences, but were not what I was looking for).

Using an LNK file parser available online, I parsed a LNK file with an embedded, base64-encoded Powershell command, and saw the following:

[Distributed Link Tracker Properties]
Version: 0
Droid volume identifier: 69426764-4841-414d-0000-000000000032
Droid file identifier: e09ff242-e6d1-9945-a75d-f512f84510dc
Birth droid volume identifier: 8e3691fc-e7be-bc11-6200-1fe2f6735632
Birth droid file identifier: e09ff242-e6d1-9945-a75d-f512f84510dc
MAC address: f5:12:f8:45:10:dc
UUID timestamp: 03/17/3700 (13:54:42.551) [UTC]
UUID sequence number: 10077
The file was moved to a new volume.

Okay, so, this is very different.  Usually, the "NetBIOS name" is 16 bytes, which is what my own parser looks for; however, in this case, what is the "machine ID" consumes a good bit more than 16 bytes, as illustrated in figure 1.

Fig 1: Hex dump from LNK file; Tracker Data Block

In this case, as you can see in figure 1, the "machine ID" is 31 bytes in size, with the first 24 bytes being "RAA6AFwAYQBhAC4AdgBiAHM", and the last 7 being all zeros.  As the size of the Tracker Data Block (4 bytes at 0xca3) remains consistent at 96 bytes, the larger-than-expected machine ID presents a parsing problem.  The "droids" start at offset 0xcd2, and are identical, so due to the larger machine ID, the Tracker Data Block itself "ends" part way through that section of data, at offset 0xd02.  This leaves the remaining 15 bytes of the final droid (which ends at 0xd11) unparsed...notice how the math works out?  The machine ID is 15 bytes larger than it should be, and as such, everything is "off" (per the MS file format documentation) by 15 bytes.

Normally, my parser returns output that appears as follows:

Machine ID            : admin-pc
New Droid ID Time     : Tue Sep 19 12:57:20 2017 UTC
New Droid ID Seq Num  : 11190
New Droid    Node ID  : 08:00:27:3a:ce:83
Birth Droid ID Time   : Tue Sep 19 12:57:20 2017 UTC
Birth Droid ID Seq Num: 11190
Birth Droid Node ID   : 08:00:27:3a:ce:83

The above output is from an LNK file that fully meets the file format specification.  During my research into some of these malicious LNK files, I added the ability to provide debugging information so that anomalies would be more apparent, rather than "hidden" behind the parsing process.

From the LNK file from which the hex dump in figure 1 was extracted, we can still extract and manually parse the droids; as the ObjectIDs are based on the UUID version 1 format (discussed in this blog post), we can use this information to our advantage in our research, extracting the node IDs (MAC addresses), etc.  Interestingly enough, though, the larger machine ID doesn't seem to have an effect on the command embedded within the LNK file; having sections of the file format that do not comply with the specification doesn't seem to affect the performance of the LNK file.

I began wondering if the larger machine ID field might be a "toolmark" of some kind, an artifact of whatever process or application that had been used to create the LNK file.  I also began looking at a range (I hesitate to qualify the range with "wide"...) of LNK files found online, particularly those that ran external commands (encoded Powershell commands, bitsadmin commands, etc.), as well as looking for tools, applications, or processes that would allow someone to create arbitrary, malicious LNK files.  At this point in time, I haven't yet found one that produces "toolmarks" similar to what's seen in figure 1.

The machine ID/NetBIOS name, user SID, VSN, and MAC address are all artifacts from the adversary's system that remain within the LNK file when it is sent to a target.  The folks at ProofPoint discussed one or two means of deploying LNK files, which could result in some very interesting artifacts.  I'm sure that if enough specifically-malicious LNK files were examined, we'd be able to pull out "toolmarks" from such things as specific applications/tools or processes used to create (or modify) the LNK files, or perhaps even identify misbehaving applications that create LNK files on non-Windows systems.

Friday, June 29, 2018


I just pushed three new plugins up to the RegRipper plugin repository, two written by Gabriele Zambelli (,, and I wrote, to address the "When Windows Lies" issue that Mari brought up last year.

Addendum, 30 June: Pushed a new plugin from M. Godfrey, named "" to the repo this afternoon. Many thanks to Michael (and Gabriele) for writing and submitting plugins!

Addendum, 2 July: Thanks to input and test data from Mitch Impey, I was able to quickly update not only and, but also  Providing sample/test data makes troubleshooting and updating current plugins, or creating new ones, a much quicker and more efficient process.  Thanks, Mitch!

Addendum, 5 July: Many thinks to Micah Jones for sharing the plugin he wrote created!  This is a plugin that pulls information about media streaming devices from the System hive.  Thanks, Micah, for the great work and for sharing the plugin.  Also, based on the data that Micah shared, I updated the plugin, as well.

Also, I added to the repository, as well.  This will help in performing timeline analysis for such things as data exfil via Bluetooth devices.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

More about EDR/MDR

On the heels of my previous post on the topic, from my perspective, there still seems to be something of a misconception within the market as a whole as to the value of EDR/MDR. 

During conversations on the EDR/MDR topic, one of the questions we hear quite often is, "Do you detect X?", with "X" being some newly-identified virus or exploit.  I think that the reason we hear this question so often is that EDR/MDR is still somewhat new in the minds of the marketplace, and most organizations are still trying to visualize and really understand the concept, and how it applies to them.  The way we most often go about doing that sort of thing is by finding something we're familiar with, and start by building a comparison relationship there.  Unfortunately, starting with AV as the comparison doesn't really get us to where we need to be, in part because this is a whole new way of looking at things. 

And believe me, I do understand how difficult it is in today's marketplace to really understand what's out there.  A while back, I was in a sales presentation, and a sales rep was going through the slide pack they'd been provided by marketing; at one point, the client just came right out and said, "...yes, everyone says that, every other vendor we've spoken to has said the same exact thing.  How are you different?"  They were asking this question because they were trying to get beyond the initial fluff and down to, okay, how is this vendor's product better for us and our needs? Now, the folks we were talking to were actually very mature, in the sense that they had already identified their EDR needs, and actually had been working with an EDR product with a subset of their infrastructure, so they were essentially trying to make an apples-to-apples comparison of products.

As recently as last week, I was encouraged via a marketing email to sign up for a webinar, and one of the inducement statements in the corresponding blog post (linked in the email) was along the lines of, " should be detecting ransomware the moment it reaches out to the C2 server."

Hhhhmmm...but what if we could detect the issue before that point?  What if you could detect the initial behaviors that lead to a malware infection, and block the activity at that point, rather than waiting to try to detect the malware itself?  If we focused our efforts earlier in the attack cycle, we could impose greater pain on the attacker, raising the level of effort required on their part, and forcing them to change their tactics.

So what do I mean by this?  Every day, thousands (millions?) of employees log into their corporate computer systems, launch Outlook, and read their email.  Part of this may involve opening attachments, including MSWord documents and Excel spreadsheets.  As such, it's normal and expected to see a process tree that goes from the user logging in (Windows Explorer), to launching Outlook, and then Outlook includes whichever attachment is opened as a child process.  It looks something like this:


Now, when a user is sent a phishing email with a weaponized attachment, the user may be prompted to click the "Enable Content" button in MSWord in order to allow any embedded macros to run; once this happens, we generally see something like the command prompt (cmd.exe), or something else (PowerShell, etc.) running as a child process of MSWord.  This is ( a ) never a good thing, ( b ) easy to detect, and ( c ) equally trivial to block.  Here's what that might look like:

                        |__cmd.exe /c powershell.exe...

Here's a good example, shared by Phil Burdette some time ago, albeit without the Outlook component. 

The point is that this behavior can be detected and alerted on, and then action can be take at the point where winword.exe spawns a command shell as a subprocess.  As such, if we're blocking processes from executing at that point, then we're not even getting to the point where PowerShell or WScript or BITSAdmin or whatever is used to download the malicious stuff to the compromised system.  With the right instrumentation, you may also be able to isolate the system on the network after having blocked the malicious behavior.  That way, instead of sending someone a ticket telling them that they have to respond, and them getting it at some point in the future (even as much as a few minutes is enough for the adversary to burrow their way into your infrastructure), all access is immediately disabled.

This is where MDR solutions come into play.  With the right endpoint technology in place, an MDR not only monitors what's going on, but is able to take threat intelligence developed from monitoring their entire client base, and apply is across all monitored clients.  This means that every client benefits from what was gleaned and developed from any one client, and they benefit immediately.

What this ultimately leads to is much earlier detection of malicious activity, and a much quicker response to that activity, such that reporting is obviated.  After all, if you're able to detect and respond to an adversary much earlier in their attack cycle, and you're able to cycle through the OODA loop faster than the adversary, then you're able to prevent access to any "sensitive data".  If that sensitive data isn't accessed, then you don't have to report.  Also, you've got a record of activity that demonstrates that you were able to respond to, contain, and eradicate the adversary.

Monday, June 18, 2018


I've had a bunch of draft blog posts sitting around, and for some of them, particularly the really technical ones, I thought, "...ah, no one's gonna read this...", so I opted for another medium, or I simply deleted them.  However, I decided to throw a couple of them in together, into one post, just so I could complete my thoughts and get them out there, and do a bit of housekeeping with respect to my blog drafts.

Brett Shavers recently posted some interesting content on the topic of publishing in DFIR.  While DFIR doesn't necessary follow the "publish or perish" adage most often seen in academia, Brett does have some very good points.

To Brett's point about "lack of contributors", this is the reason why efforts like Into The Boxes project never really took can't sustain a community-based project if folks within the community aren't willing to contribute.

By the way, I still have my inaugural hard copy of "Into The Boxes #1", knowing full well that one day it's going to be part of my DFIR museum, right alongside my MS-DOS install diskettes, my original Windows XP install CDs, and an AOL installation CD!

Something else that Brett mentioned in his post was "peer review".  Oddly enough, I've been engaged in a conversation with someone else in the DFIR community about this very topic, particularly as it applies to analysis findings.  In my experience, peer reviews within the community are spotty, at best.  We all know that team member that we can go to, because they'll turn around a 40 page report draft in 15 minutes, saying just that it "looks good."  And we also know that team member we can go to and rely on to catch stuff we may have missed.

Blog-a-Day Challenge
Speaking of publishing, it looks as if over the last couple of weeks a number of folks have decided to take the Zeltser Challenge, that is to post a blog a day for an entire year.  Not only has David Cowen picked it back up (he's done it before...), but others have joined the party, as well.  For example, Stacey has started The Knowledge Bean and decided to partake in the challenge. Tony at Archer Forensics has picked up the mantle, as well, and is off and running.

If anyone else in DFIR is doing something like, or even blog-a-week, let me know...I'd like to check it out.

Oh, and tying this back to the previous topic, something Tony mentioned in one of the blog posts:

I would solicit everyone to do that deeper dive research to further the field.

Agreed, 1000%. 

New Plugins
Well, let's see...what's new on the plugin front?  So, I recently received one updated plugin ( and a new plugin ( from Michael Godfrey (author information included in the plugins), and uploaded them to the repository.  I also added, which is based on this finding from Costas K.  Finally, I created, a plugin to check the PowerShell ExecutionPolicy value, if it exists...some folks have said that adversaries have been observed modifying the Registry value to that they can bypass the execution policies in order to run their code, albeit not from the command line.

Not a new plugin, but I also updated the license for RegRipper to the MIT license, at the request of some folks at AWS.

Tool Usage
Mari published a blog article recently, which I thought was great...not just because Mari's great at sharing information in an easy-to-understand and repeatable manner, but more so due to how her post discussed tool usage.  There any number of DFIR sites out there, web sites and blogs alike, that are full of tool's this tool, and here's this tool.  Great.  It's like shop class, with all of the tools hanging on the peg board, on their specific hooks, over their specific silhouettes. 

The question folks should have is, great, but how can I best employ those tools to complete the goals of my investigation in a complete, thorough, accurate, and timely manner?

If you're looking for something to blog about...there you go.  There are potentially hundreds or thousands of blog posts based on just that single theme, that one topic.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Coding in DFIR

A while back, I wrote a blog post where I discussed writing my own tools, and why I do it.  I have publicly shared the tools I've written, and I was asked to share my thoughts as to why I do it, and how it's "of value" to me, and more importantly, to my workflow.  I generally find it very helpful to have tools that fit into and support the workflow I'm using (i.e., timelines), and I also find it very valuable to be able to address issues with the tools (and others) as a result of the available data that's being parsed.

Something I've been interested in for quite some time is the metadata embedded in various file formats used on Windows systems, and this interest has cracked the shell a bit in more than a few cases, and given me just a peak inside of what may be going on when someone creates a file for malicious purposes.  I've not only been able to pull apart OLE format MS documents (MS Word .doc files), but also the OLE objects embedded inside the newer .docx format files.

One tool I like to use is Didier Stevens', in part because it provides a great deal of functionality, particularly where it will decompress VBA macros.  However, I will also use my own OLE parser, because it pulls some metadata that I tend to find very useful when developing a view into an adversary's activities.  Also, there is the potential for additional data to be extracted from areas that other tools simply do not address.

An example of simply metadata extraction came from the Mia Ash persona that Allison Wickoff (an excellent intel analyst at SecureWorks) unraveled.  I didn't have much at all to do with the amazing work that Allison did...all I did was look at the metadata associated with a document sent to the victims.  However, from that small piece of information came some pretty amazing insights.

Another, much older example of how metadata can be extracted and used comes from the Blair case.  That's all I'll say about that one.

Another file format that I've put some work into understanding and unraveling is the LNK file format, which MS has done a very good job of documenting.

There are a number of FOSS tools available for parsing the binary LNK file format that will display the various fields, but I noticed during some recent testing that there were files submitted to VirusTotal that had apparently "done their job" (i.e., been successfully used to infect systems), but the parsing tools failed at various points in dissecting the binary contents of the file.  Some tools that did all of their parsing and then displayed the various fields failed completely, and those that displayed the fields as they were parsed appeared to fail only at a certain point.  Understanding the file format allowed me to identify where the tools appeared to be failing, and in this way, I'm not simply going back to some who wrote a tool with, "..didn't work."  I know exactly what happened and why, and more importantly, can address it.  As a result of the work I did, I have also seen that some aspects of these file formats can be abused without degrading the base functionality offered via the format.

This is where coding in DFIR comes in...using a hex editor, I was able to see where and why the tools were having issues, and I could also see that there really wasn't anything that any of the tools could do about.  What I mean by that is, when parsing Extra Data Blocks within an LNK file (in particular, the TrackerDataBlock) what would be the "machine ID" or NetBIOS name of the system on which the LNK file was created extends beyond the bounds of the size value for that section.  Yes, the machine ID value is of variable length (per the specification) but it also represents the NetBIOS name of a Windows system, so there's an expectation (however inaccurate) that it won't extend beyond the maximum length of a NetBIOS name.

In some of the test cases I observed (files downloaded from VirusTotal using the "tag: lnk" search term), the machine ID field was several bytes longer than expected, pushing the total length of the TrackerDataBlock out beyond the identified length.  This causes all tools to fail, and begin reading the droids from the wrong location.  In other instances, what would be the machine ID is a string of hex characters that extends beyond the length of the TrackerDataBlock, with no apparent droid fields visible via a hex editor.

These are possibly modifications of some kind, or errors in the tool used to create the LNK files (for an example of such a tool, go here).  Either way, could these be considered 'tool marks' that could be used to track LNK files being deployed across campaigns?

Am I suggesting that everyone, every examiner needs to be proficient at coding and knowledgeable of file formats?  No, not at all.  In this blog post, I'm simply elaborating on a previous response, and illustrating how having an understanding of coding can be helpful.

Other examples of how coding in DFIR is useful include not just being able to automate significant portions of your workflow, but also being able to understand what an attacker may have been trying to achieve.  I've engaged in a number of IR engagements over the years where attackers have left batch files or Visual Basic scripts behind, and for the most part, they were easy to understand, and very useful.  However, every now and then, there would be a relatively un- or under-used command that required some research, or something "new".

Another example is decoding weaponized MSWord documents.  Not long ago, I unraveled a macro embedded in an MSWord document, and having some ability to code not only helped me do the unraveling, but also helped me see what was actually being done.  The macro had multiple layers of obfuscation, including base64 encoding, character encoding (i.e., using the character number from an ASCII table instead of the character itself, and decoding via chr()...), as well as a few other tricks.  At one point, there was even a base64-encoded string embedded within a script that was, itself, base64 encoded.

So, in summary, having some capability to code, at some level, is extremely valuable within the DFIR community...that, or knowing someone.  In fact, having someone (or a few someones) you can go to for assistance is just helpful all around.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

EDR Obviates Compliance

Okay, you'll have to excuse me for the title of this blog post...I needed something to get your attention, and get you to read this, because it's important. I know that stating that "EDR obviates compliance" is going to cause a swirl of emotions in anyone's mind, and my intention was to get you to read on and hear me out; 280 characters simply is not enough to share this line of reasoning.

GDPR is just around the corner, and article 4 of GDPR defines a "personal data breach as"...

...‘personal data breach’ means a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed...

Something to be aware of is that this definition includes ransomware, as it includes "access to" and "alteration of". 

As security professionals have been saying for quite some time now, breaches of your perimeter are going to happen, it's simply inevitable.  However, per GDPR, it's not a reportable breach until something happens with respect to 'personal data'.  The simple fact is that without adequate/suitable instrumentation and visibility, you simply won't know if personal data has been accessed during a breach.  EDR provides that visibility.

Where Are We Now?
Right now, we're "right of breach".  Most organizations are simply unprepared for breaches to occur, and breach identification comes in the form of third-party external notification.  This notification comes weeks or even months after the initial intrusion occurred, during with time the dearth of instrumentation and "evidence decay" makes it nearly impossible to definitively determine what the adversary may have done, with any degree of certainty. 

The 2018 Nuix Black Report states that 98% of those surveyed stated that they could breach the perimeter of a target organization and exfil data in 15 hrs or less.  Compare that to the 2017 Ponemon Institute report that indicated that the 'dwell time' (the time between a breach actually occurring and it being detected) was 191 days, and it's still in the triple digits.  I hardly seems far, but that's reality in today's terms.

Where we need to be is "left of breach".  We know breaches are going to occur, and we know that clean up is going to be messy, so what we need to do is get ahead of the game and be prepared.  It's not unlike boxing...if you step into the ring with gloves on, you know you're going to get hit, so it behooves you to get your gloves up and move around a bit, lessening the impact and effect of your opponent's punches. In cybersecurity, we move "left of breach" by employing monitored EDR (MDR) so that breaches can be detected and responded to early in the adversary's attack cycle, allowing us to contain and eradicate the adversary before they're able to access "critical value data", of CVD.  CVD can consist of "personal data", or PII; credit card data, or PCI; healthcare data, or PHI; or it can be intellectual property, or IP.  Regardless of what your "CVD" is, the point is that you want to detect, respond to and stop the bad guy before they're able to access it, and the only way you can do that is to instrument your infrastructure for visibility.

Chris Pogue wrote this blog post, addressing the "cost of breach" topic, almost three years ago.  With the help of our wonderful marketing department, I recently gave this webinar on reducing costs associated with breaches.  Things haven't changed...breaches are becoming more expensive; more expensive to clean up, more expensive in terms of down-time and lapses in productivity, and more expensive in terms of legal fees and fines.

While researching information for the webinar, one of the things I ran across was the fines that would have been associated with GDPR, had GDPR been in effect at the time that the Equifax breach.  In 2016, Equifax reportedly earned $3.145B USD.  High end GDPR fines can be "20M euros or 4% of world-wide operating revenue, whichever is greater", bringing the fine to $125.8M USD.  That's just the GDPR fine; that does not include direct costs associated with the IR response and investigation, subsequent notification, nor any indirect costs.

On 1 May, Alabama became the 50th US state to enact a data breach notification law, SB 318.  As you read over the stipulations regarding reporting detailed in the law, keep in mind that for the 50 US states, everyone is different.  If you store or process the personal data for US citizens, the cost associated with simply determining to which states you actually have to report is enormous!  And that's before you even doesn't include the actual cost of notification, it's just the cost of determining to whom (which states) you need to report!

So where does endpoint detection and response (EDR) come in?

I've been doing DFIR work for about two decades now, and most of the work I've done has been after an incident has occurred.  Early on, the work involved a system or two thought to be infected or compromised in some manner, but it was always well after the supposed infection or compromise occurred.  In most cases, questions involving things like, "...what data was taken?" simply could not be answered.  Either the information to answer the question didn't exist due to evidence decay, or it didn't exist because that information was was never actually recorded or logged.

EDR/MDR solutions allow you to detect a breach early in the adversary's attack cycle, as one of the things monitored by most, if not all, EDR tools is the processes executed on systems.  Yes, you get a lot of 'normal' user stuff (allowing you to detect fraud and insider threats), but you also get a detailed look at the adversary's activities.

To see some really good examples of process trees showing what various attacks look like, go to Phil Burdette's Twitter feedThis tweet includes an example of a phish, with the user clicking "Enable Content" on a malicious document, leading to the implant being downloaded via bitsadminThis tweet illustrates a great example of credential theft.  I could go on and on about this, but I think that the point has been made...EDR gives you a level of visibility that you don't get through any other instrumentation.

Where I've used this information to great effect was detecting an adversary's activities within a client's infrastructure several years ago; the tool being used at the time alerted on the use of an archive utility known as "Rar".  The adversary had renamed the executable so that it was no longer 'rar.exe', but adding a password to protect the archive is not something the adversary could change, and it's what was detected in this case.  So, we had the fact that data was marshaled and archived for exfiltration (along with the password), and we further was that after exfiltrating the archives, the adversary deleted the archived data.  However, once we got an image of the system we were able to carve unallocated space and recover a number of the archives, and using the adversary's password, we were able to open the recovered archives and see exactly what data was taken. 

Today, the way to address this behavior is that rather than alerting on the condition, instead, block the process itself.  And the same thing is true with other adversary behaviors; intelligence gives us excellent insight into adversary behaviors, and using these behaviors, we can implement our EDR solution to alert on some things, but if other specific conditions are met, prevent those actions from completing.  We can further isolate the adversary by isolating the system on the network.

In March of this year, the City of Atlanta was hit with Samsam ransomware.  Interestingly enough, Secureworks, a security MSSP located within the corporate limits of the city, has a good bit of documentation as to the methodology used by the adversary that deploys the ransomware; had the city had an EDR/MDR solution in place prior to the incident, they would've detected and been able to respond to the initial breach, before the adversary was able to deploy the ransomware. 

Given all this, the benefits of employing an EDR/MDR solution are:

1. The solution becomes part of your budget.  Employing an EDR/MDR solution is something you plan for, and include in your annual budget.  Breaches are rarely planned for.

2.  You now have definitive data illustrating the actions taken by an adversary prior to your containment and eradication procedures. You have a record of the commands they ran, the actions they took, and hence their behaviors.  You know exactly where they are within your infrastructure, and you can track back to how they got there, meaning that you can quickly contain and eradicate them.

3. Due to early detection and response, you now have definite data to support not having to report the breach.  Let's say that you detect someone on your network running the "whoami" command; this is a behavior that's been observed in many adversaries.  Alerting on this behavior will allow you to respond to the adversary during their initial recon phase, before they're able to perform credential theft, privilege escalation, and lateral movement.  All of their activity and behavior is recorded, and it's a short list because you've detected and responded to them very early in their attack cycle.  As 'personal data' was not accessed, you've obviated your need to report, and obviated costs associated with fines, notification, clean-up, etc.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Tools, Books, Lessons Learned

As part of my Sunday morning reading a bit ago, I was fascinated by an evolving tweet thread...Eric recently tweeted some random threat hunting advice involving shimcache data.  In response, Nick tweeted regarding an analytic approach to using shimcache/appcompatcache data, at scale, along with AmCache data.  Nick also provided a link to the FireEye blog post that describes their AppCompatProcessor tool.

I really like this approach, and I think that it's a fantastic step forward, not only in single system analytics, analyzing one system through the traditional, "dead box" analysis, but also with respect to an enterprise-wide approach to threat hunting and response.  In many ways, threat hunting and response is the next logical step in DFIR work, isn't it?  Taking what you learned from one system and expanding it to many systems just kinda makes sense, and it looks as though what the FireEye folks did was take what they learned from many single system examinations and developed a process, with an accompanying tool, from that information.

From even a single system analysis approach, there are still a number of analysts within the community who either aren't parsing the AppCompatCache data as a matter of course, or they're misinterpreting the time stamp data all together. Back in Dec, 2016, Matt Bromiley wrote an article describing some of the important aspects of the AppCompatCache data ("important" with respect to interpretation of the data).  Also, be sure to check out read thoroughly the section named "AppCompatSecrets" here, as well as Luis's article here.  A correct understanding of the data and it's context is important going forward.

From an enterprise perspective, there are tools that do nothing more than collect/parse this data from systems, but do not provide any analytics to the data itself, in short, simply dumping this massive trove of data on the analyst.  The analytic approach described by the FireEye folks is similar in nature to the Hamming distance, something I learned about while taking Dr. Hamming's seminar at NPS; in short, the closer the temporal execution of two entries (smaller Hamming distance), the stronger the tcorr value.  This can be applied to great effect as a threat hunting technique across the enterprise.  In the case of AppCompatCache data, the time stamp does not indicate temporal execution; rather, it's a combination of a flag value and the position of the entry, in the order that it's stored within the Registry value.  The "temporal" aspect, in this case, refers to the location of entries in the data with respect to each other.

This can also be applied on a single system dead box analysis, when you look at it as a system, and include not just the System hive, but the System hive in the RegBack folder, as well as any that exist in VSCs, as well as within a memory dump.

I'd recently blogged about using several Registry and Registry-like artifacts in a much smaller approach to "analytics", looking at the use and correlation of multiple sources of data on a single system, with my base assumption being that of single system dead box analysis.  I figured, hey, it's a place to start.

Getting a Book Published
I recently had an opportunity to read Scar's blog post entitled, Finding a Publisher For Your Book.  I found it fascinating because what she wrote about is not too dissimilar from my own experiences.

I have not read her book, Windows Forensic Cookbook.  In fact, I wasn't aware of it until recently.  Once I found out about it, I checked the Amazon site and didn't see any reviews of the book; I'm not surprised...after all, this is the DFIR "community"...but I did hope to get a sense of the material within the book.  So, this isn't a book review, but rather commentary in solidarity with her experiences.

Like Scar, I've put a lot of work into writing a manuscript, only to get the proofs back for review and thinking...what?  In one instance, every single instance of "plugin" had been changed to "plug-in" in a chapter.  My response back to the copy editor was simply to state at the being of the chapter, "...change it back...all of it."

Scar's comments about expectations caught my attention, as well, particularly when the publisher wanted a chapter review turned around in 48 hrs.  What?!?  This is one of those things you have to be prepared for when working with publishers...they simply do not understand their suppliers, at all.  A publisher or editor works on getting multiple books out, that's what they do all day.  However, those of us writing books and providing material do other things all day, and write books when we have time.  That's right...we do the stuff during the day that makes us qualified to write books, and then actually get to write the books in our copious "free time", after putting in a full day or week of work.  These crazy deadlines are something I've pushed against, more so since I've developed greater credibility with the publisher by writing more books.  When my tech editor is working full days just like everyone else and gets a 35+ page chapter with a demand to have the review returned within 48 hrs, that's simply an unrealistic expectation that needs to be addressed up front.

I've been writing books for a while didn't occur to me just how long I've been doing it until last week.  I have a book in the process of being published right now...I'm waiting on the proofs to come back for review...and I submitted a prospectus recently for another book, and the reviews of the proposal I sent in have started coming back.  One reviewer referred to WFA 1/e, published in 2005; this means that I actually started working on it late in 2003, or really in 2004.  And that wasn't my first book. All of this is to say that when I see someone write a blog post where they share their experiences in writing a book and getting it published, what I find most interesting about it is that nothing seems to have changed.  As such, a lot of what Scar wrote in her blog post rings very true, even to this day.

Finally, I've mentioned this before but I'll say it again...over the years, I've heard stories about issues folks have had working with publishers; I've had some of my own, but I like to think that I've learned from them.  Some folks don't get beyond the proposal stage for their book, and some folks have gotten to a signed contract, but drop out due to apparently arbitrary changes made by the editorial staff, after the contract was signed by both parties.  What I had proposed to the publisher I have worked with is to create a liaison position, one where I would work directly with authors (singles, groups) to help them navigate the apparent labyrinth of going from a blank sheet of paper to a published book, using what I've learned over the years.  This never really went anywhere, in part due to the turnover with the publisher...once I had found a champion for the idea, that person left the company.  The fact that after attempting to do this three times and not succeeding, and that the publisher hasn't come back to me to pursue it, tells me that they (the publisher) are happy with the status quo.

If you're interested in writing a book, you don't have to be.  Read over Scar's blog post, ask questions, etc., before you make a decision to commit to writing a book.  It isn't easy, but it can be done.  If your main fear against writing a book is that someone else is going to read it and be critical, keep in mind that no one will be as passionate as you about what you write.

Lessons Learned
I was engaged in an exchange with a trusted and respected colleague recently, and he said something to me that really struck a chord...he said that if I wanted to progress in the direction we were discussing, I've got to stop "giving stuff away for free".  He was referring to my blog (I think), and his point was well taken.  If you're like me, and really (REALLY) enjoy the work...the discovery, the learning, solving a problem in what may be a unique manner, etc...then what does something like writing books and blog posts get you?  I'm not sure what it gets others, but it doesn't lead to being able to conduct analysis, that's for sure.  I mean, why should it, right...if I put it in writing what I did or would do, any someone else can replicate it (like a recipe for tollhouse cookies) then why reach out and say, "Hey, Harlan...I could really use your help on this...", or "...can you analyze these images for malicious activity..."?

Monday, April 09, 2018

Mommy, where do plugins come from?

This is one of those questions kids have been asking their parents throughout history, and in more recent times, those parents may have resorted to a book.  Just sayin'.

Well, they come from three general sources, really, none of which involves a stork or a cabbage leaf.

Recently, there were a couple of requests for functionality to be added to RegRipper.  One was for the ability to automatically update the default profiles in RegRipper.  I was speaking with someone recently, and demonstrating the RegRipper extension that had been added to Nuix's Workbench product.  As part of the discussion, I explained that I do not update the default profiles when I create new plugins (something I've mentioned a number of times in this blog), as I don't want to overwrite any customized profiles folks have made to their installations.  This person then asked, "...can you add the ability to update the default profiles automatically?"  I thought for a minute and realized that rip already has about 2/3 of the code I would need to do exactly that.  So, I opened an editor, used that code to populate a hash of arrays, and then wrote the lists of plugin names, each to their own file.  Boom.  Done.

The other "feature" was for a new plugin to be created.  Someone I know reached out to me to say that they'd found value in a particular Registry key/value during an investigation, and that it might make a good plugin to retrieve the value in question.  This person didn't initially provide any test data, and when they did, it was an exported .reg file; I know it sounds easy enough to handle, but this adds several additional steps (i.e., open a VM, transfer the .reg file to it, import the .reg file into a hive, then shut down the VM, open the .vmdk file in FTK Imager, and extract the hive...), as well as a level of uncertainty (are there variations based on the version of Windows, etc.), to the testing process.

Not having data to test on makes it difficult to write a plugin, as well as test the plugin before releasing it. 

Intel from IR engagements
So, where do other plugins come from?  Similar to the request for the new plugin, sometimes I'll find something during an examination that might make a good plugin.  For example, during an examination, we found a Registry value of interest, and as such, I added the key LastWrite times from the user's NTUSER.DAT hive to a timeline, using regtime.exe.  For context, I did the same for the Software hive from that system, and as an aside, found some interesting Registry keys/values associated with the installed AV product.  In this instance, the keys and values were related to the responder's activities, but writing a plugin (or two) to extract data from the Registry keys/values would facilitate research activities, and as such, make it easier to determine their nature and context.

Interestingly enough, this is how RegRipper started, and was the source of most of the plugins I've written in the past decade.

Online research
Another source of plugins is OSINT, and online research.

For example, FireEye recently released their 2018 M-Trends report, and page 23 includes a Registry key that an attacker modified to hide their activity, by adding a folder to the AV exclusion list.  If I had data on which to test a plugin, I'd write one; online research indicates that there's a key within the path that may vary, and as such, I'd need a bit better understanding of the path in order to write a useful plugin. 

Oddly enough, I don't think I have ever received a request for a plugin based on something published online, via a blog post, or an annual report.  I don't see (or know) everything, and it's likely that I may simply have not seen that post or report. 

Another analysis aspect that RegRipper can be used for is the check or verify system configuration.  For example, see this Microsoft documentation regarding making remote calls to the local SAM database; including a plugin to extract these values may help an analyst narrow down the original attack vector, or at least identify possibilities.

Friday, April 06, 2018


Based on some feedback I received recently, I updated RegRipper's (and the corresponding .exe, of course) to include the "-uP" switch.

What this switch does is run through all of the plugins, determine to which hives they apply, and the automatically update the default profiles with those plugins.  As I've stated in the past, when I create a new plugin, I do not update that appropriate profile...I just add the plugin to the repository.  If you want to run all of the plugins available for the NTUSER.DAT hive against all NTUSER.DAT hives you get, run rip.exe with the "-uP" switch, and the profile named "ntuser" will include all of those plugins, EXCEPT those with "_tln" in their name.

This switch will create or overwrite (if they already exist) profiles named for the hives (lower case, without ".dat" at the end).  This does NOT affect any custom profiles you've created, unless they use the same names.

I recently received a request from someone to create a new plugin to retrieve the IE Search Scopes.  The '' plugin was added to the repository today, along with the updated mentioned above.

Something I wanted to point out about both of these updates...they started with someone asking.  That's it.  I don't use RegRipper's profiles for the analysis work I do, but I know that others do.  If you use the GUI, then that's pretty much what you use profiles, rather than individual plugins.  The profiles are also valuable when using the RegRipper extension added to the Nuix Workbench product (fact sheet); the extension relies on a mapping of the hive type to the RegRipper profile.  You can edit/update the profiles themselves, or you can create your own custom profiles and edit the mapping file (JSON, just open it in Notepad...).  I showed the extension to someone, and they asked, "hey, can you create a tool that automatically updates the default profiles?"

The same is true with the plugin...someone said, hey, there's this thing that I found useful during an investigation, it might make a good plugin.  Boom.  Done. 

If you've been thinking about something along these lines, or trying to find a way to do it manually, maybe there's a way to do it in an automated fashion.  Sometimes, the smallest interaction can lead to a big result.  Don't isolate yourself on your own island.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

DFIR Analysis and EDR/MDR Solutions

There is only so much the DFIR analysis can do.

There it is, I said it.  And it's especially true when the DFIR analysis is the result of external third party incident notification, which we ultimately determine to come months after the incident originally occurred.

Some artifacts exist forever.  Until they don't.  Some artifacts are recorded and exist for an unspecified and indeterminate period of time...nanoseconds, microseconds, weeks, or months.  Processes execute, finish, and the memory they used is freed for use by another process.  Text files exist until they are deleted, and the last modification times on the files remain the same until the next time they're modified.  Windows Event Logs record events, but some event logs "roll over" more quickly than others; events in some may exist for only a few days, while events in others may exist for weeks or even months.  As time passes, artifact clusters corrode to the point where, by the time DFIR analysts get the data for analysis, their ability to definitively answer questions is severely hampered.

The 2017 Ponemon Institute Data Breach Report indicates an average "dwell time" (the time between initial breach and discovery of the breach) of 191 days.  The Nuix 2018 Black Report findings indicate that professional red teamers/pen testers report that they can target, compromise, and exfil data within 15 hrs.  Hardly seems fair, particularly when you consider that if legitimate, scheduled pen tests go undetected, what chance do we have of detecting an unscheduled, uninvited intruder?

Some artifacts are created, are extremely transient (although they do exist), but are never recorded.  An example of this is process command lines; if an adversary runs the "whoami" command as part of their initial attempts to orient themselves, that process exists for a very short time, and then the memory used gets freed for later use.  By default, this is not recorded, so it ceases to exist very quickly, and the ceases to be available a short time later.   The same is true when an intruder runs the command "net user /add" to create a user account on the system; the command runs, and the command line no longer exists.  Yes, the user account is created, so the results of the command persist...but the command line itself, which likely included the password for the account, is no longer available.  Finally, when the adversary stages files or data for exfiltration, many times they'll use rar.exe (often renamed) to archive the collected data with a password...the command line for the process will include the password, but once the command has completed, the plain text password issued at the command line is no longer available.

Several years ago, I was working a targeted threat response engagement, and we'd observed the adversary staging data for exfiltration.  We alerted on the command line was rar.exe, although the executable had been renamed.  The full command line included the password that the adversary used, and was recorded by the EDR/MDR solution.  We acquired an image of the system, and through analysis determined that the archive files were no longer visible within the "active" file system.  As such, we carved unallocated space for RAR archives and were able to open the twelve archives we retrieved, using the password recorded in the command line used to archive the files.  The web server logs definitively illustrated that the files had been exfiltrated (the IIS logs included the requested file name, number of bytes transferred, and the success code of "200"), and we had several of the archives themselves; other deleted archives have enough sectors overwritten that we were not able to successful recover the entire files.

That's a great example of how an EDR/MDR solution can be so powerful in today's world.  Also, consider this recent Tanium blog post regarding the Samsam ransomware, the same ransomware family that recently hit the City of Atlanta...using the EDR/MDR solution to detect malicious actor activity prior to them deploying the ransomware, such as during their initial orientation and recon phase, means that you have a better chance of inhibiting, hampering, or completely obviating their end goal.

Finally, EDR/MDR solutions become budget items; I'm pretty sure that Equifax never budgeted for their breach, or budgeted enough.  So, not only do you detect breaches early in the attack cycle, but with an IR plan, you can also respond in such a way as to prevent the adversary from accessing whatever it is they're after, obviating compliance and regulatory issues, notification, and keeping costs down.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Even More DFIR Brain Droppings...

Something I've seen over the years that I've been interested in addressing is the question of "how do I analyze X?"  Specifically, I'll see or receive questions regarding analysis of a particular artifact on Windows systems, such as " do I analyze this Windows Event Log?" and I think that after all this time, this is a good opportunity to move beyond the blogosphere to a venue or medium that's more widely accessible.

However, addressing the issue here, the simple fact is that artifacts viewed in isolation are without context.  A single artifact, by itself, can have many potential meanings.  For example, Jonathon Poling correctly pointed out that the RemoteConnectionManager/1149 event ID does not specifically indicate a successful login via Terminal Services; rather, it indicates a network connection.  By itself, in isolation, any "definitive" statement made about the event, beyond the fact that a network connection occurred, amounts to speculation.  However, if we know what occurred "near" that event, with respect to time, we can get enough information to provide come much needed context.  Sure, we can add Security Event Log records, but what if (and this happens a lot) the Security Event Log only goes back a day or two, and the event you're interested in occurred a couple of months ago?  File system metadata might provide some insight, as would UserAssist data from user accounts.  As you can see, as we start adding specific data sources...not willy-nilly, because some data sources are more valuable than others under the circumstances...we begin to develop context around the event of interest.

The same can be said for other events, such as a Registry key LastWrite time...this could indicate that a key was modified by having a value added, or deleted, or even that the key had been created on that date/time.  In isolation, we don't know...we need more context.  I generally tend to look to the RegBack folder, and then any available VSCs for that additional context.  Using this approach, I've been able to determine when a Registry key was most likely modified, versus the key being created and first appearing in the Registry hive.

As such, going back to the original questions, I strongly recommend against looking at any single artifact in isolation.  In fact, for any artifact with a time stamp, I strongly recommend developing a timeline in order to see that event in context with other events. 

LNK Shell Items...what's old is new again
It's great to see LNK Shell Items being discussed on the Port139 blog, as a lot of great stuff is being shared via the blog.  It's good to see stuff that's been discussed previously being raised and discussed again, as over time, artifacts that we don't see a lot of get forgotten and it's good to revisit them.  In this case, being able to parse LNK files is a good thing, as adversaries are using LNK files for more than just simple persistence on systems.  For example, they've have been observed sending LNK files to their intended victims, and as was described by JPCERT/CC about 18 months ago, those files can provide clues to the adversary's development environment. LNK files have been sent as attachments, as well as embedded in OLE objects; both can be parsed to provide insight into not just the adversary's development environment, but also potentially to track a single actor/platform used across multiple campaigns.

Another use for parsing LNK files is that adversaries can also use them for maintaining the ability to return to a compromised environment, by modifying the icon filename variable to point to a remote system.  The adversary records and decrypts authentication attempt, and gets passwords that may have changed.

Something else that hasn't been discussed in some time is the fact that shell items can be used to point to devices attached to a system.  Sure, we know about USB devices, but what about digital cameras, and being able to determine the difference between possession of images, and production?

EDR Solutions
Something I've encountered fairly regularly throughout my DFIR experience is Locard's Exchange Principle. I've also blogged and presented on the topic, as well.  Applied to DFIR, this means that when an adversary connects to/engages with a system on a compromised infrastructure, digital material is exchanged between the two systems.  Now, this "digital material" may be extremely transient and persist for only a few micro-seconds, but the fact is that it's there.  As most commercial operating systems are not created with digital forensics and incident response in mind, most (if not all) of these artifacts are not recorded in any way (meaningful or otherwise).  This is where EDR solutions come in.

For the sake of transparency, I used to work for a company that created endpoint technology that was incorporated into its MSSP offering.  My current employer includes a powerful EDR product amongst the other offerings within their product suite.

For something to happen on a system, something has to be executed.  Nothing happens, malicious or otherwise, without instructions being executed by the CPU.  Let's say that an adversary is able to get a remote access Trojan (RAT) installed on a system, and then accesses that system.  For this to occur, something needed to have happened, something that may have been extremely transient and fleeting.  From that point, commands that the adversary runs to, say, perform host and network reconnaissance,  will also be extremely transient.

For example, one command I've seen adversaries execute is "whoami".  This is a native Windows command, and not often run by normal users.  While the use of the tool is not exclusive to adversaries, it's not a bad idea to consider it a good indicator.  When the command is executed, the vast majority of the time involved isn't in executing the command, but rather in the part of the code that sends the results to the console.  Even so, once the command is executed, the process block in memory is freed for use by other processes, meaning that even after a few minutes, without any sort of logging, there's no indication that this command was ever executed; any indication that the adversary ran the command is gone.

Now, extend this to things like copy commands (i.e., bad guy collects files from the local system or remote shares), archival commands (compressing the collected files into a single archive, for staging), exfiltration, and deletion of the archive.  All of these commands are fleeting, and more importantly, not recorded.  Once the clean-up is done, there're few, if any, artifacts to indicate what occurred, and this is something that, as many DFIR practitioners are aware, is significantly impacted by the passage of time.

This is where an EDR solution comes in.

The dearth of this instrumentation and visibility is what leads to speculation (most often incorrect and over exaggerated) about the "sophistication" of an adversary.  When we don't see the whole picture, because we simply do not accept the fact that we do not have the necessary instrumentation and visibility, we tend to fill the gaps in with assumption and speculation.  We've all been in meetings where someone would say, "...if I were the attacker, this is what I would do...", simply because there's no available data to illustrate otherwise.  Also, it's incredibly easy under such circumstances for us to say that the attacker was "sophisticated", when all they really did was modify the hosts file, and then create, run, and then delete an FTP script file.

Why does any of this matter?

Well, for one, current and upcoming legislation (i.e., GDPR) levies 'cratering' fines for breaches; that is, fines that have what can be a hugely significant impact on the financial status of a company.  If we continue the way we're going now...receiving external notification of an intrusion weeks or months after the attack actually occurred...we're going to see significant losses, beyond what we're seeing now.  Beyond paying for a consulting firm (or multiple firms) to investigate the breach, along with loss of productivity, reporting/notification, law suits, impact to brand, drop in stock price, there are these huge fines. 

Oh, and the definition of a breach includes ransomware, so yeah...there's that.

And all of these costs, both direct and indirect, are included in the annual budget for companies...right?  We sit down at a table each year and look at our budget, and take a swag...we're gonna have five small breaches and one epic "Equifax-level" breach next year, so let's set aside this amount of money in anticipation...that actually happens, right?

Why not employ an EDR solution?  It's something you can plan for, include in your budget...costs are known ahead of time.  The end result is that you detect breaches early in the attack cycle, obviating the need to report.  In addition, you know have the actual data to definitively demonstrate that 'sensitive data' was NOT accessed, so why would you need to notify?  If client data is not accessed, and you can demonstrate that, why would you need to notify? 

Recently, following a ransomware attack, an official with a municipality in the US stated that there was "no evidence" that sensitive data was accessed.  What should have been said was that there was simply no evidence...the version of ransomware that impacted that municipality was one that is not email-borne; delivery of the ransomware required that someone access the infrastructure remotely, locate the servers, and deploy the ransomware.  If all of this occurred and no one noticed until the files are no longer accessible and the ransom note was displayed, how can you then state definitively that sensitive data was not accessed?

You can't.  All you can say is that there is "no evidence".

It's almost mid-year 2018...if you don't already have a purchase of an EDR product planned, rest assured that you'll be part of the victim pool in the coming year.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

More DFIR Brain Droppings

Ransomware (TL;DR)
This past week, the City of Atlanta was hit with ransomware. This is not unusually...I've been seeing a lot of municipalities in the US...cities, counties, etc...getting hit, since last fall.  Some of them aren't all that obvious to anyone who isn't trying to obtain government services, of course, and the media articles themselves may not be all that easy to find.  Here are just a few examples:

Mecklenburg County update
Spring Hill, TN update
Murfreesboro, TN update

Just a brief read of the above articles, and maybe doing a quick Google search for other articles specific to the same venues will quickly make it clear how services in these jurisdictions are affected by these attacks.

The ArsTechnica article that covered the Atlanta attack mentioned that the ransomware used in the attack was Samsam.  I've got some experience with this variant, and Kevin Strickland wrote a great blog post about the evolution of the ransomware itself, as well.  (Note: both of those blog posts are almost 2 yrs old at this point).  The intel team at SWRX followed that up with some really good information about the Samas ransomware campaigns recently. The big take-away from this is that the Samsam (or Samas) ransomware has not historically been email-borne. Instead, it's delivered (in most cases, rather thoughtfully) after someone has gained access to the organization, escalated privileges (if necessary), located the specific systems that they want to target, and then manually deployed the ransomware.  All of these actions could have been detected early in the attack cycle. Think of it this way...instead of being delivered via mail (like a letter), it's more like Amazon delivery folks dropping the package...for something that you never in your house...only you didn't have one of those special lock-and-camera combinations that they talked about, there was just a door or window left open.  Yeah, kind of like that.

On the topic of costs, the CNN article includes:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security are investigating the cyberattack...


The city engaged Microsoft and a team from Cisco's Incident Response Services in the investigation...

Okay, so we're getting a lot of help, that's good.  But they're getting a lot of help, and that's going to be expensive.

Do you, the reader, think that when the staff and leadership for the City of Atlanta sat down for their budget meetings last year, that they planned for this sort of thing?  When something like this occurs, the direct costs include not only the analyst's time, but food, lodging, etc.  Not only does it add up over time, but it's multiplied...$X per analyst per day, times Y analysts, times Z days.

From the USAToday article on the topic:

Such attacks are increasingly common. A report last year from the Ponemon Institute found that half of organizations surveyed had had one or more ransomware incidents in 2017, and 40% had experienced multiple attacks.   

An IBM study found that 70% of businesses have been hit with ransomware. Over half of those paid more than $10,000 to regain their data and 20% paid more than $40,000.

In January, an Indiana hospital system paid a $50,000 ransom to hackers who hijacked patient data. The ransomware attack accessed the computers of Hancock Health in Greenfield through an outside vendor's account Thursday. It quickly infected the system by locking out data and changing the names of more than 1,400 files to "I'm sorry."

Something else that's not addressed in that Ponemon report, or at least not in the quote from the USAToday article, is that even when the ransom is paid, there's no guarantee that you'll get your files back.  Just over a year ago, I did some DFIR analysis work for a client that paid the ransom and didn't get all of their files back, and the paid us to come in and try to provide some answers.  So the costs are stacking up.

What about other direct and/or indirect costs associated with ransomware attacks?  There are hits to productivity and the ability to provide services, costs of downtime, costs to bring consultants in to assist in discovery and recovery, etc.  While we don't have the actual numbers, we can see these stacking up.  But what about other costs?  Not too long ago, another municipality got hit with ransomware, and a quote from one of the articles was along the lines of, "...we have no evidence that sensitive information was accessed."

Yes, of course you don't.  There was no instrumentation, nor visibility, to detect the early stages of the attack, and as a consequence, no evidence of anything about the attack was recorded.  On the surface that sounds like a statement meant to comfort those whose personal data was held by that organization, but focusing just 1nm beyond that statement reveals an entirely different picture; there is "no evidence" because no one was watching.

So what can we expect to see in the future?  We're clearly going to see more of these attacks, because they pay; there is a monetary incentive to conducting these attacks, and an economic benefit (to the attacker) for doing so.  As such, there is no doubt in my mind that two things are going to happen; one is that with the advent of GDPR and other similar legislation, this is going to open up a whole new avenue for extortion.  Someone's going to gain access to an infrastructure, collect enough information to have solid proof that they've done so, and use that as their extortion.  Why is this going to work?  Because going public with that information is going to put the victim organization in the legislative spotlight in a way that they will not be able to avoid.

The other thing that's going to happen is that when statements regarding access to 'sensitive data' are made, there are going to be suits demanding proof.  I don't think that most individuals (regardless of country) have completely given up on "privacy" yet.  Someone...or a lot of going to go to court to demand definitive answers.  A hand-waving platitude isn't going to be enough, and in fact, it's going to be the catalyst for more questions.

Something else I thought was pretty interesting from the CNN article:

When asked if the city was aware of vulnerabilities and failed to take action, Rackley said the city had implemented measures in the past that might have lessened the scope of the breach. She cited a "cloud strategy" to migrate critical systems to secure infrastructure.

This is a very interesting question (and response), in part because I think we're going to see more of questions just like this.  We will never know if this question was a direct result of the Equifax testimony (by the former CEO, before Congress), but I do think that it's plausible enough to assume that that's the case.

And the inevitable has occurred...the curious have started engaging in their own research and posted their findings publicly.  Now, this doesn't explicitly mean that this is the avenue used by the adversary, but it does speak to the question from the CNN article (i.e., "...were you aware of vulnerabilities...").

Attacker Sophistication
Here's a fascinating GovTech article that posits that some data breaches may be the result of professional IT pride.  As I read through the article, I kept thinking of the Equifax breach, which reportedly occurred for want of a single patch, and then my mind pivoted over to what was found recently via online research conducted against the City of Atlanta.

From the article, "’s sometimes an easy out to say: “the bad guys are just too good.” "  Yes, we see that a lot...statements are made without qualification about the "sophisiticated" attacker, but for those of us who've been in the trenches, analyzed the host and log data, and determined the initial avenue that the attacker used to get into the "sophisticated" does one have to be to guess that password for an Internet-accessible Terminal Services/RDP account when that password is on every password list?  Or to use a publicly available available exploit against an unpatched, unmanaged system?  "Hey, here's an exploit against JBoss servers up through and including version 6, and I just found a whole bunch of JBoss servers running version 4...hold my beer."

In my experience, the attacker only needs to be as sophisticated as he needs to be.  I worked an engagement once where the adversary got in, collected and archived data, and exfiltrated the archive out of the infrastructure.  Batch files were left in place, and the archive was copied (not moved) from system to system, and not deleted from the previous location.  The archive itself didn't have a password on it.  Someone said that the adversary was sloppy and not sophisticated.  However, the client had been informed of the breach via third party notification, weeks after the data was taken.

Tool Testing
Daniel Bohannon has a great article up about testing your tools.

I'd like to add to his comments about tool testing...specifically, if you're going to effectively test your tools, you need to understand what the tools do (or at least what they're supposed to do...) and how they work.  Perhaps not at a bit-level (you don't have to be the tool developer), but there are some really simple troubleshooting steps you can follow if you have an issue with a tool and you feel that you want to either ask a question, or report the issue.

For one...and Jamie Levy can back me up on this..."don't work" don't work.  What I mean is, if you're going to go to a tool developer (or you're going to bypass the developer and just go public), it's helpful to understand how the tool works so that you can describe how it appears to not be working.  A long time ago, I learned that Volatility does NOT work if the 8Gb memory dump you received is just 8Gb of zeroes.  Surprising, I know.

Oddly enough, the same is true for RegRipper; if you extract a hive file from an image, and for some reason it's just a big file full of zeroes, the RegRipper will through errors.  This is also true it you use reg.exe to export hive files, or portions thereof.  RegRipper is intended to be run against the raw hive file, NOT text files with a .reg extension.  Instead of using "reg export", use "reg save".

The overall point is that it's important to test the tools you're using, but it's equally important to understand what the tools are supposed/designed to do.

Speaking of tools, not long ago I ran across a reference to Rattler, which is described as, "...a tool that automates the identification of DLL's which can be used for DLL preloading attacks."  Reading through the blog post that describes the issue that Rattler addresses leads me to believe that this is the DLL search order hijacking issue, in that if you have malicious DLL in the same folder as the executable, and the executable calls a DLL with the same name that's found in another folder (i.e., C:\Windows\system32), then your malicious DLL will be loaded before the legit DLL.

Monday, March 19, 2018

DFIR Brain Droppings

Live Response
It's been a while since I posted anything on the topic of live response, but I recently ran across something that really needed to be shared as widely as possible.

Specifically, Hadar Yudovich recently authored an article on the Illusive Networks blog about finding time stamps associated with network connections. His blog post is pretty fascinating, as he says some things that are probably true for all of us; in particular, we'll see a native tool (such as netstat.exe), and assume that the data that the tool presents is all that there is.  We simply don't remember that MS did not create an operating system with DFIR in mind.  However, Hadar demonstrates that there is a way to get time stamps for network connections on Windows systems, and wrote a Powershell script to do exactly that.

I downloaded and ran the Powershell script from a command prompt (not "Run as administrator") using the following command line:

powershell -ExecutionPolicy Bypass .\Get-NetworkConnections.ps1

The output is in a table format, but for anyone familiar with Powershell, I'm sure that it wouldn't be hard to modify the output to CSV, or some other format.  Either way, this would be a great addition to any volatile data collection script.

This is pretty cool stuff, and I can see it being included in volatile data collection processes going forward.

Processes and Procedures
Speaking of collecting volatile data...

A couple of things I've seen during my time as an incident responder is (a) a desire within the community for the "latest and greatest" volatile data collection script/methodology, and (b) a marked reticence to document processes and procedures.  I mention these two specifically because from my perspective, they seem to be diametrically opposed; after all, what is a volatile data collection script but a documented process?

Perhaps the argument I've heard against documented processes over the years is that having them "stifles creativity".  My experience has been the documenting my analysis process for activities such as malware detection within an acquired image, I'm able to ultimately spend more time on the fun and interesting aspects of analysis.  Why is that?  Well, for me, a documented process is a living document, one that is continually used and updated as necessary.  Also, the documented process serves as a means for automation.  As such, as I learn something new, I add it to the process, so that I don't forget something..God knows that most days, I can't remember what I had for breakfast, so how am I going to remember something that I read (didn't find or do as part of my own analysis) six months ago?  The simple fact is that I don't know everything, and I haven't seen everything, but I can take those things I have seen, as well as what others have seen (culled together from blog posts, etc.) and incorporate them into my process.  Having the process automated means that I spend less time doing those things that can be automated, and more time actually investigating those things that I need to be...well...investigating.

An example of this is eventmap.txt; I did not actually work the engagement where the event source/ID pair for "Microsoft-Windows-TaskScheduler/709" event record was observed.  However, based on what it means, and the context surrounding the event being recorded, it was most definitely something I wanted to incorporate into my analysis process.  Even if I never see the event again in the next 999 cases I work, that 1000th case where I do see it will make it worth the effort to document it.

Documenting processes and procedures for many is a funny thing.  Not long ago, with a previous employer, I was asked to draft analysis processes and workflows, because other analysts said that they didn't "have the credibility".  Interestingly enough, some of those who said this are now active bloggers.  Further, after I drafted the workflows, they were neither reviewed, nor actually used.  However, I found (and still find) a great deal of value in having a documented process or workflow, and I continue to use and develop my own.

All this talk of processes and workflows logically leads to questions of, where do I get the data and information that I turn into intelligence and incorporate into my workflows?  Well, for the most part, I tend to get the most intel from cases I work.  What better way to go from GB or TB of raw data to a few KB of actual information, with the context to turn that information into intelligence, than to do so working actual DFIR cases?  Ultimately, that's where it all starts, right?

So, we can learn from our own cases, but we can also learn from what others have learned and shared.  Ah, that's the key, though, isn't it...sharing the information and intelligence.  If I learn something, and keep it to myself, what good is it?  Does it mean that I have some sort of "power"?  Not at all; in fact, it's quite the opposite.  However, if I share that information and/or intelligence with others, then you get questions and different perspectives, which allows us to develop and sharpen that intelligence.  Then someone else can use that intelligence to facilitate their analysis, and perhaps include additional data sources, extending the depth and value of the intelligence. As such, pursuing OSINT sources is a great way to not only further develop your own intel, but to develop indicators that you can then use to further your analysis, and by extension, furthering your intel. 

This recent FireEye blog post is a great example (it's one, there are many others) of OSINT material.  For example, look at the reference to the credential theft tool, HomeFry.  This is used in conjunction with other tools; that alone is pretty powerful.  In the past, we've seen a variety of sources say things like, " X uses Y and Z tools..." without any indication as to how the tools are used.  In one of my own cases, it was clear that the adversary used Trojan A to get on an initial jump system, and from there, installed Trojan B, and the used that as a conduit to push our Trojan B to other systems.   So, it's useful to know that certain tools are used, but yes, those tools are easily changed.  Knowing how the tools are used is even more valuable. There's also a reference to lure documents that exploit the CVE-2017-11882 vulnerability; here's the PaloAlto Networks analysis of the exploit in the wild (they state that they skipped some of the OLE metadata...), and here are some apparent PoC exploits.

This write-up from ForcePoint is also very informative.  I know a lot of folks in the industry would look at the write-up and say, "yeah, so the malware persists via the user's Run key...big deal."  Yeah, it IS a big deal.  Why?  Because it still works.  You may have seen the use of the Run key for persistence of years, and may think it's passe, but what does it say about the security industry as a whole that this still works, and that this persistence mechanism is found through response post-mortem?

Here's a fascinating write-up on the QWERTY ransomware from BleepingComputer.  Some of what I thought was fascinating about it is the use of batch files and native tools...see, the bad guys automate their stuff, so maybe we should, too...right?  Part of what the ransomware does is use two different commands to delete volume shadow copies, and uses wbadmin to delete backups.  So how is this information valuable?  Well, do you use any of these tools in your organization?  If not, I'd definitely enable filters/alerts for their use in an EDR framework.  If you do use these tools, do you use them in the same way as indicated in the write-up?  No?  Well, have alerts you can add to your EDR framework.

Here's another very interesting blog post from Carbon Black, in part describing the use of MSOffice doc macros.  I really like the fact that they used Didier's to list the streams and extract the VBS code.  Another interesting aspect of the post is something we tend to see a great deal of from the folks at CarbonBlack, and that's the use of process trees to illustrate the context behind one suspicious or apparently malicious process.  Where did it come from?  Is this something we see a great deal of?  For example, in image 7, we see that wmiprvse.exe spawns certutil.exe, which spawns conhost.exe; is this something that we'd want to create an alert for?  If we do and run it in testing mode, or search the EDR data that we already have available, do we see a great deal of this?  If not, maybe we'd want to put that alert into production mode.

Recently, US CERT published an alert, TA18-074A, providing intel regarding specific threat actors.  As an example of what can be done with this sort of information and intelligence, Florian Roth published some revised Yara rules associated with the alert.

Something I saw in the alert that would be useful for both threat hunters and DFIR (i.e., dead box) analysis is the code snippets seen in section 2 of the alert.  Specifically, modified PHP code appears as follows:

img src="file[:]//[.]dd/main_logo.png" style="height: 1px; width: 1px;" /

Even knowing that the IP address and file name could change, how hard would it be to create a Yara rule that looks for elements of that line, such as "img src" AND "file://"?  More importantly, how effective would the rule be?  Would it be a high fidelity rule, in your environment?  I think that the answer to the last question depends on your perspective.  For example, if you're threat hunting within your own environment, and you know that (a) you have PHP code, and (b) your organization does NOT use "img src" in any of your code, then this would be pretty effective.

Something else that threat hunters and DFIR analysts alike may want to consider adding to their analysis processes is from the section of the alert that talks about the adversary's use of modified LNK files to collect credentials from systems.  Parsing LNK files and looking for "icon filename" paths to remote systems might not seem like something you'd see a great deal of, but I can guarantee you that it'll be worth the effort the first time you actually do find something like that.

Side Note: I updated my lnk parsing tool (as well as the source files) to display the icon filename path; the tool would already collect it, it just wasn't displaying it.  It does now. 

If you're looking into threat feeds as a "check in the compliance box", then none of this really matters.  But if you're looking to really develop a hunting capability, either during DFIR/"dead box" analysis, or on an enterprise-wide scale, the real value of threat intel is only realized in the context of your infrastructure, and operational policies.