Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Wrap-up

Another trip around the sun is in the books. Looking back over the year, I thought I'd tie a bow on some of the things I'd done, and share a bit about what to expect in the coming year.

In August, I released RegRipper 4.0. Among the updates are some plugins with JSON output, and I found a way to integrate Yara into RegRipper.

I also continued updating Events Ripper, which I've got to say, has proven (for me) time and again to be well worth the effort, and extremely valuable. As a matter of fact, within the last week or so, I've used Events Ripper to great effect, specifically with respect to MSSQLServer, not to "save my bacon", as it were, but to quickly illuminate what was going on on the endpoint being investigated. 

For anyone who's followed me for a while, either via my blog or on LinkedIn or X, you'll know that I'm a fan of (to steal a turn of phrase from Jesse Kornblum) "using all the parts of the buffalo", particularly when it comes to LNK file metadata.

For next year, I'm working on an LNK parser that will allow you to automatically generate a bare-bones Yara rule for detecting other similar LNK files (if you have a repository from a campaign), or submitting as a retro-hunt to VirusTotal. 

Finally, I'm working on what I hope to be the first of several self-published projects. We'll see how the first one goes, as the goal is to provide the foundation of other subsequent projects.

That being said, I hope everyone had a great 2023, and that you're looking forward to a wonderful 2024...even though for many of us, it's probably going to be April before we realize that we're writing 2023 on checks, etc.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Round Up

MSSQL is still a thing
TheDFIRReport recently posted an article regarding BlueSky ransomware being deployed following MSSQL being brute forced. I'm always interested in things like this because it's possible that the author will provide clear observables so that folks can consider the information in light of their infrastructure, and write EDR detections, or create filter rules for DFIR work, etc. In this case, I was interested to see how they'd gone about determining that MSSQL had been brute forced.

You'll have to bear with me...this is one of those write-ups where images and figures aren't numbered. However, in the section marked "Initial Access", there's some really good information shared, specifically where it says, "SQL Server event ID 18456 Failure Audit Events in the Windows application logs:"...specifically, what they're looking at is MSSQLServer/18456 events in the Application Event Log, indicating a failed login attempt to the server (as opposed to the OS). This is why I wrote the Events Ripper plugin. I'd seen a number of systems running Veeam and MSSQL, and needed a straightforward, consistent, repeatable means to determine if  a compromise of Veeam was the culprit, or if something else had occurred.

LNK Files

TheDFIRSpot had an interesting write-up on using LNK files in your investigations, largely from the perspective of determining what a user or threat actor may have done or accessed while logged in via the Windows Explorer shell. Lining up creation and last modification times of shortcuts/LNK files in the account's Recent folder can provide insight into what might have occurred. Again, keep in mind that for this to work, for the LNK files to be present, access was obtained via the shell (Windows Explorer). If that's the case, then you're likely going to also want to look at the automatic JumpLists, as they will provide similar information, and LNK files in the Recent folder, and the RecentDocs and shellbags keys for the account can provide a great deal of insight into, and validation of activity. Note that automatic JumpLists are OLE/structured storage format files, with the individual streams consisting of data that follows the LNK format.

While I do agree that blog posts like this are extremely valuable in reminding of us of the value/importance of certain artifacts, we need to take an additional step to normalize a more comprehensive approach; that is, we need to consistently drive home the point that we shouldn't just be looking at a single artifact. We need to normalize and reinforce the understanding that there is no go-to artifact for any evidence category, when we should be considering artifact constellations, and that constellation will depend upon the base OS version and software load of the endpoint. Understanding default constellations, as part of a base software load (OS, minimal applications) is imperative, as is having a process to build out that constellation based on additional installed software (Sysmon, LANDesk Software Monitoring, etc.).

Something to keep in mind is that access via the shell has some advantages for the threat actor, one being that using GUI tools means that EDR is blind to most activity. EDR tools are great at recording process creation events, for example, but when the process (explorer.exe) already exists, what happens via the process that does not involve cmd.exe, PowerShell, WSL, or WSA (Windows Subsystem for Android) may not be visible to EDR. Yes, some EDR frameworks also monitor network connections, as well as Registry and file system modifications, but by necessity, those are often filtered. When a GUI tool is opened, EDR based on process creation events is largely blind to activity that occurs via drop-down boxes, check boxes, text fields, and buttons being pushed.

For example, check out this recent Huntress blog where curl.exe was observed being used for data exfil (on the heels of this Huntress blog showing finger.exe being used for data exfil). In the curl blog, there's a description of MemProcFS being used for memory dumping; using a GUI tool essentially "blinds" EDR, because you (the analyst) can't see which buttons the threat actor pushes. We can assume that the 4-digit number listed in the minidump file path was the process ID, but the creation of that process was beyond the data retention window (the endpoint had not been recently rebooted...), so we weren't able to verify which process the threat actor targeted for the memory dump.

Malware Write-ups
Malware and threat actor write-ups need to include clear observables so that analysts can implement them, whether they're doing DFIR work, threat hunting, or working on writing detections. Here is Simone Kraus's write-up on the Rhysida ransomware; I've got to tell you, it's chock full of detection and hunting opportunities. Like many write-ups, the images and listings aren't numbered, but about 1/4 of the way down the blog post, there's a listing of reg.exe commands meant to change the wallpaper to the ransom note, many of which are duplicates. What I mean by that is that you'll see a "cmd /c reg add" command, followed by a "reg.exe add" command with the same arguments in the command line. As Simone says, these are commands that the ransomware would execute...these commands are embedded in the executable itself; this is something we see with RaaS offerings, where commands for disabling services and the ability to recover the system are embedded within the EXE itself. In 2020, a sample of the Sodinokibi ransomware contained 156 unique commands, just for shutting off various Windows services. If your EDR tech allows for monitoring the Registry and disabling processes at the endpoint, this may be a good option to enable automated response rules. Otherwise, detecting these processes can lead to isolating endpoints, or the values themselves can be used for threat hunting across the enterprise.

Something else that's interesting about the listing is that  the first two entries are misspelled; since the key path doesn't exist by default, the command will fail. It's likely that Simone simply cut-n-pasted these commands, and since they're embedded within the EXE, they likely will not be corrected without the EXE being recompiled. This misspelling provides an opportunity for a high fidelity threat hunt across EDR telemetry.

Monday, December 11, 2023

...and the question is...

I received an interesting question via LinkedIn not long ago, but before we dive into the question and the response...

If you've followed me for any amount of time, particularly recently, you'll know that I've put some effort forth in correcting the assumption that individual artifacts, particularly ShimCache and AmCache, provide "evidence of execution". The is a massive oversimplification of the nature and value of each of these artifacts, in addition to just being an extremely poor analytic process; that is, viewing single artifacts in isolation to establish a finding.

Okay, so now, the question I was asked was, what is my "go to" artifact to demonstrate evidence of execution?

First, let me say, I get it...I really do. During my time in the industry, I've heard customers ask, "..what is the product I need to purchase to protect my infrastructure?", so an analyst asking, "...what is the artifact that illustrates evidence of execution?" is not entirely unexpected. After all, isn't that the way things work sometimes? What is the one thing, which button do I push, which is the lever I pull, what is the one action I need to take, or one choice I need to make to move forward?

So, in a way, the question of the "go to" artifact to demonstrate...well, a trick question. Because there should not be one. Looking just at "evidence of execution", some might think, "...well, there's Prefetch files...right?", and that's a good option, but what do we know about application prefetching? 

We know that the prefetcher monitors the first 10 seconds of execution, and tracks files that are loaded.

We know that beginning with Windows 8, Prefetch files can hold up to 8 "last run" times, embedded within the file itself. 

We know that application prefetching is enabled by default on workstations, but not servers. 

Okay, this is great...but what happens after those first 10 seconds? What I mean is, what happens if code within the program throws an error, doesn't work, or the running application is detected by AV? Do we consider that the application "executed" only if it started, or do we consider "evidence of execution" to include the application completing, and impacting the endpoint in some manner?

So, again, the answer is that there is no "go to" artifact. Instead, there's a "go to" process, one that includes multiple, disparate data sources (file system, Registry, WEVTX, SRUM, etc.), normalized and correlated based on some common element, such as time. Windows Event Log records include time stamps, as do MFT records, Registry keys and some values.

Our analytic process needs to encompass two concepts...artifact constellations, and validation. First off, we don't ever look at single artifacts to establish findings; rather, we need to incorporate multiple, disparate data sources, through a process of parsing, normalization, decoration and enrichment to truly determine the context of an event. Looking at just a log entry, or entry from EDR telemetry by itself does not truly tell us if something executed successfully. If it was launched, did it complete successfully? Did it have the intended impact on the endpoint, leaving traces of its execution?

Second, artifact constellations lead to validation. By looking at multiple, disparate data sources, we can determine if what we thought was executed, what appeared to have been executed, was able to "survive". For example, I've seen malware launched, visible through EDR telemetry and log sources, that never succeeded. Each time it launched, it generated an error, per Windows Error Reporting. I've seen malicious installation processes (MSI files) fail to install. I've seen threat actors push out their ransomware EXE to multiple endpoints and run each instance, resulting in files on those systems being encrypted, but not be able to get the executable to run on the nexus endpoint; I've seen threat actors run their ransomware EXE multiple times with the "--debug" option, and the files on that endpoint were never encrypted.

If you're going to continue to view single artifacts in isolation, then please understand the nature and nuance of the artifacts themselves. Thoroughly review (and understand) this research regarding AmCache, as well as Mandiant's findings regarding ShimCache. However, over the years, I've found it so much more straightforward to incorporate these artifacts into an overall analysis process, as it continually demonstrates the value of the individual artifacts, as well as provides insights into the intent and capabilities of the threat actor.