Scammers Impersonating Windows Defender to Push Malicious Windows Apps

Summary points:

  • Scammers are increasingly using Windows Push Notifications to impersonate legitimate alerts
  • Recent campaigns pose as a Windows Defender Update
  • Victims end up allowing the installation of a malicious Windows Application that targets user and system information

Browser push notifications can highly resemble Windows system notifications.  As recently discussed, scammers are abusing push notifications to trick users into taking action.  This recent example demonstrates the social engineering tactics used to trick users into installing a fake Windows Defender update.  A toaster popup in the tray informs the user of a Windows Defender Update.

Clicking the message takes the user to a fake update website.

The site serves a signed ms-appinstaller (MSIX) package.  When downloaded and run, the user is prompted to install a supposed Defender Update from “Publisher: Microsoft”

After installation, the “Defender Update” App appears in the start menu like other Windows Apps.

The shortcut points to the installed malware: C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\245d1cf3-25fc-4ce1-9a58-7cd13f94923a_1.0.0.0_neutral__7afzw0tp1da5e\bloom\Eversible.exe, which is a data stealing trojan, targeting various applications and information:

  • System information (Process list, Drive details, Serial number, RAM, Graphics card details)
  • Application profile data (Chrome, Exodus wallet, Ethereum wallet, Opera, Telegram Desktop)
  • User data (Credit card, FileZilla)

Am I protected?

  • McAfee customers utilizing Real Protect Cloud were proactively protected from this threat due to machine learning.
  • McAfee customers utilizing web protection (including McAfee Web Advisor and McAfee Web Control) are protected from known malicious sites.
  • McAfee Global Threat Intelligence (GTI) provides protection at Very Low sensitivity

General safety tips

  • See: How to Stop the Popups
  • Scams can be quite convincing. It’s better to be quick to block something and slow to allow than the opposite.
  • When in doubt, initiate the communication yourself.
    • For Windows Updates, click the Start Menu and type “Check For Updates”, click the System Settings link.
    • Manually enter in a web address rather than clicking a link sent to you.
    • Confirm numbers and addresses before reaching out, such as phone and email.

Reference IOCs

  • MSIX installer: 02262a420bf52a0a428a26d86aca177796f18d1913b834b0cbed19367985e190
  • exe: 0dd432078b93dfcea94bec8b7e6991bcc050e6307cd1cb593583e7b5a9a0f9dc
  • Installer source site: updatedefender [dot] online


The post Scammers Impersonating Windows Defender to Push Malicious Windows Apps appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Recovering "lost" treasure-filled floppy discs with an oscilloscope

There are many good, modern solutions for reading data off old floppy discs and drives. Perhaps the best is the Greaseweazle: it's capable, open source, open hardware, inexpensive and has a vibrant and friendly community behind it. It connects directly to a floppy drive, replacing the floppy disc controller, and reads the disc in great detail. It can handle regular discs or any known copy protection without really breaking a sweat.

But what happens when the Greaseweazle reports data that is heavily corrupted and unreadable? Are we out of luck? What if the unreadable disc contains some historic treasure, such as source code for an iconic game? Do we have to shed a tear and move on?

I recently found myself, along with Phil Pemberton, in this situation. Given the unique nature of source code discs, and the potential for historical interest, we were determined to succeed...

A Greaseweazle F7 Plus. A very capable disc reading device, but it is limited by the information the disc drive sends to it.

How do discs and drives work anyway?

Back in the 1980s, your electronic devices often had outstanding user manuals and maintenance manuals, and this definitely applied to floppy disc drives. Aside from enabling you to service the devices you owned, you often got great information on how the device worked. Here is an extremely informative page from the TEC FB-50x technical manual:

This one page concisely describes the chain of electronic transforms from the disc drive magnetic read head, through to the READ DATA output pin that the disc drive offers to the Greaseweazle. As can be seen, the READ DATA pulses (digital pulses, but with analog timing between them) are a best guess approximation at where the analog waveform peaks exist in the voltages coming off the read head.

So conceptually, a disc drive's read operation is fairly simple. Magnetic flux reversals on the disc surface generate peaks in an analog voltage waveform. The drive outputs pulses corresponding to these peaks. It's up to the floppy disc controller to make sense of the timings between the pulses and turn these into data bits. There are several different encoding schemes used for turning pulse timings into data (and visa versa), such as MFM (used in PCs, Amiga, BBC Micro ADFS) and GCR (used in the Apple II and Commodore 64). The BBC Micro DFS discs we're dealing with have the simplest encoding of them all, FM.

The drive doesn't care at all about the encoding, as long as the time between the pulses is calibrated such that the magnetic reversals can be stored reliably on the physical disc surface.

The Greaseweazle view of some "unreadable" discs

Phil and I had the honor of trying to recover the source code to the iconic BBC Micro game Repton 3. We also received the source code discs for other games by the same author (Matthew Atkinson), including Tempest, The Living Daylights and U.I.M.

The recovery was not entirely smooth. Some of the discs had patches of moderate damage and a few of the discs had patches of heavy damage. Let's have a look at two of those, as seen by the Greaseweazle and rendered by HxC Floppy Emulator Software:

Track 22 of one of the Repton 3 source code discs.

Looking at the first disc above, we've got problems in the middle of one of the sectors on track 22 of the disc. The vertical green bars are the sectors. Unsurprisingly, the red one has the problem. Red means that there's a CRC error: the on-disc CRC doesn't match the calculated expected CRC.

Have a look at the two horizontal blank bands. These are actually "dot clouds" representing timings between pulses coming back from the disc drive. The tighter these bands are, the clearer the signal and the better condition the disc surface is in. The black bands above are ok -- not too ragged -- until they degenerate to almost random noise at the point of the error. This is a serious read failure because the faulty timings are all over the place. We can re-read this disc all we want, but the Greaseweazle will only see noise. Any data in that faulty region is lost to the Greaseweazle.

Out of curiosity, what is wrong with this disc?? Well, a quick inspection of the disc itself reveals the culprit: a dent!

This dent affects around 10 tracks, some severely.

A disc's surface is made of pretty robust and pliable plastic, so we did carefully flatten the dent out without scraping off any disc surface. Unfortunately, this did not improve the signal quality. One theory is that the disc was written after the dent was formed.

Track 0 of one of The Living Daylights source code discs.

Looking at the second disc above, we see this poor disc has suffered a terrible corruption! The first two physical sectors on track 0 are comprised largely of noise. This is one of the worst sector read attempts you are likely to see. An unformatted track looks worse, but not by a whole lot.

What is particularly curious is that the sector headers leading up to the sector data are perfectly intact. Before the grey noise clouds on the white background, you'll see a thin vertical strip of green. That's the sector header and they're 100% fine. So, we're not looking at a contiguous patch of disc damage. Instead, the write of the sector bodies appears to have written noise.  The question of "what happened here?" is definitely interesting so we'll revisit it later.

The analog hookup

So, we're dealing with discs that are sufficiently faulty as to be unreadable to a Greaseweazle. Is the data lost forever? To find out, we need to look at what's actually on the disc surface (as opposed to what the drive sends to the Greaseweazle). This image shows the setup we used to investigate:

My TEC FB-502 drive connected to a Greaseweazle and also connected to my Siglent SDS 1104X-E scope.

In this setup, we're still using the Greaseweazle, but only for control and not data. We use it to seek and to spin up the drive motor. The red, yellow and blue wires are connected to three of the drive's test points. The blue wire is the index signal, which pulses once per revolution of the disc. We use this to trigger the oscilloscope capture. The red and yellow wires correspond to the TP3 and TP4 test points referenced above in the diagram from the TEC technical manual. These are the post-amplified voltages coming off the disc drive read head and are the inverse of one another. The trick is to subtract one from the other to eliminate noise common to both signals.

The oscilloscope is a Siglent SDS 1104X-E. It's considered entry level but fortunately, modern tech is powerful compared to 1980s tech. It can sample an entire disc track (200ms of time) to its internal memory at a sample rate of 25Msamples/s, whereas the on-disc bit rate is 250kbit/s. It has voltage sensitivity down to 500uV/div, which dwarfs the a typical signal strength of 400mV peak-to-peak.

Looking on the scope screen, the top half represents an analog capture of an entire track. There's not much to see other than a couple of cyan blips -- those are the index pulses denoting the start of the track revolution. The bottom half is a zoomed-in view and shows the analog view of actual stored bits on the disc surface. To the left, there is 4us between each peak, and on the right, 8us between each peak. We'll get into the encoding later, but a couple of 4us peaks typically represents a "1" data bit and an 8us peak a "0" data bit.

[For another journey on analog-level disc reading, we recommend this FloppyControlApp blog post]

Different drives, different results

One thing we found interesting is that different disc drives have different behaviors at the analog level. These differences won't affect discs in good condition, but definitely lead to different behavior when trying to read faulty discs.

I captured the analog signal from various drives' test points, for a couple of faulty discs. First up, here's another disc with a dent, my Animated Numbers educational title. The manifestation of a dent generally seems to be a significant loss of signal amplitude. Let's have a look at the analog signal captured around the region of the dent:

Mitsubishi MF503 (full res: click here)

At the low amplitudes in the middle of the dent, my MF503 drive provides a noisy, spiky signal. After filtering the noise out in modern software, the signal still isn't clean and differentiating the 0 bits from the 1 bits isn't trivial.

Mitsubishi MF504C (full res: click here)

This slightly less ancient Mitsubishi drive offers a much cleaner analog signal, although quite weak at the worst of the dent: about 5mV peak-to-peak in places. The signal cleans up further with filtering in modern software. The peaks are far too faint for the drive electronics to resolve anything, but as a human, you can discern 4us peaks from 8us peaks. From a quick eyeball, the data appears to be intact.

TEAC FD-55FV (full res: click here)

The TEAC drive signal appears "thick" in the above image. That's the presence of some high frequency noise. It is probably there because some TEAC technical reference manuals show the analog signal test points as being wired before the low pass filter. Applying a low pass filter in software reveals a reasonable looking signal that is slightly stronger than the Mitsubishi drives.

TEC FB-502 (full res: click here)

This TEC drive does very well! The "worst" peaks are clear, clean and reasonably strong at 50mV peak-to-peak. No further software filtering is needed to get clearly resolvable peaks. Also, this drive has a generally stronger signal than the other drives (at 700mV peak-to-peak) for the undamaged sections of the disc.

Let's move on to another dodgy disc to test our ability to recover data at the analog level. This time, we're looking at "Old Macdonald's Farm" by EDIT, an unarchived disc I'm borrowing that is damaged in an identical manner to the "The Living Daylights" source code disc noted above. Here's the analog view of track 0 of that disc.

Track 0 of Old McDonald's Farm.

On top we have a full-track view. It repeats about 75% of the screen width across. The first two sector bodies have a completely collapsed signal, denoted by a magenta flat-line. The strong blip in the middle of the two sector bodies is the sector header, which is fully intact. Only the bodies are toast. On the bottom we have a zoomed-in view to the point where the signal collapses. At first glace, it's a total signal collapse that looks like analog noise.

Let's see what the different drives make of the collapsed area, if we turn up the oscilloscope sensitivity to 10mV/div and zoom in. We'll specifically look at what the first byte of the sector data looks like on various different drives:

In each case, the oscilloscope is capturing at a resolution of 10mV/div, so these are weak signals. The TEC drive has the strongest signal at around 25mV peak-to-peak, with weaker peaks at 10mV peak-to-peak. The other drives are downhill from there. The TEC drive also produces the clearest, least noisy signal. It is the only drive with any reasonable hope of recovering bits from "Old Macdonald's Farm", because the signal gets more chaotic later into the ruined sectors.

For each signal sample, you'll see the bits of the first sector data byte annotated underneath in red (always the same, obviously, and it happens to be the ASCII character '1', the first character of the disc title which is "1187V1.0"). The BBC Micro discs we are dealing with here are single density discs, which use a very simple FM encoding. Inside a sector body, this encoding uses one "clock" bit to keep track of timing for every data bit. The clock bit is always 1, representing a flux transition and therefore a voltage peak every 8us. To store a "0" data bit, there will only be one peak in an 8us window; to store a "1" data bit there will be two peaks.

The signals above are not only faint but also messed up. If you're having trouble discerning why the "1"s and "0"s are labeled the way they are, that's not surprising. Here's what the analog signal looks like when it's normal:

This is "00101100".

The signal is very clear. You'll notice that the peaks all have the same amplitude and shape as well as regular timing. This is from a floppy disc that is well over 30 years old. As long as floppy discs have been stored well, it's staggering how good the data integrity still is!

In terms of disc drives, one of my drives performs head and shoulders above the others: my TEC FB-502. I don't know why, and it's also one of my older drives. It could be that the disc read head is more sensitive, or able to hover closer to the disc surface. Or it could be the first stage amplifier has a far superior gain and signal-to-noise ratio. Or perhaps a mix of the two. The amplifier is a Hitachi HA16331P, which none of my other drives have. I look forward to finding another drive with this chip and comparing. It's also possible that the components (capacitors, perhaps?) have degraded on some of my drives and not the others. There are a lot of possible variables at play here.

The advice when recovering a signal that barely exists, is to try a few drives and see which is best. My TEC FB-502 is clearly a bit of a beast! The "Repton 3" and "The Living Daylights" discs were captured by Phil on his Mitsubishi drive, which is different still to my pair -- with different read heads and electronics -- which was giving good results.

As a fun bonus, Phil's drive also happened to have a variable resistor to control the rotation speed. This enabled us to crank the speed from the standard 300rpm to 400rpm. Why? Because of physics! The voltages induced in the drive read head are supposed to be proportional to the speed of magnetic flux change, and it did help a little with the signal strength.

A quick audio diversion

The astute observer will notice that we're using "Audacity" for viewing the analog disc waveforms -- which is a well-known audio analysis and editing tool. This may seem strange at first, but it's a perfect fit. It enables rapid zooming and exploration of the waveforms, as well as having versatile low-pass filters and the ability to draw directly onto the canvas to fix iffy peaks. It also has a facility to import CSV files, which is one of the formats you might get from an oscilloscope.

And since we're in an audio tool, we can have some fun!

Have you ever heard what a floppy disc recording sounds like? If not, check out this WAV: click me. It's slowed down so that it's in the range of human hearing. A disc revolution is normally 0.2s, as opposed to the 20s or so sample here. Some people say it evokes memories of their old modems connecting. This sample is actually the dented disc and perhaps my favorite part is the dent, where it sounds like a bit of a wub! wub! Could be a good bass sample for a tune :)

Peak recovery

Having wired up our oscilloscopes to our best drives for capturing analog data, it's time to interpret the resulting waveforms. Of course, we ideally want a program to turn the analog waveform into a series of sector data bytes.

One of my attempts simply filtered the data aggressively with a low-pass filter and then looked at the timings between the peaks. Surprisingly (at least to me), this worked terribly. Upon investigation, there were various contributing factors:

  • The signal is very degraded, so there's a baseline of jitter in where the peaks appear vs. where they should be.
  • Applying aggressive filtering that is sufficient to eliminate "false" peaks also shifts the peaks' positions, exaggerating the jitter to the point that some peak timing deltas become indeterminate between 8us and 4us.
  • In the weak signals, the amplitude of the 4us peaks has degraded more than the 8us peaks. Sometimes, the 4us peaks are almost completely gone and filtering doesn't help with the clarity.
The attempt that bore some fruit was to instead locate the start of the sector data, and continually look at the next 8us of the analog stream. If the voltage appears to generally drift in one direction, then it's a "0" bit, or if the voltage peaks one way and then the other, it's a "1" bit. After the decision, a re-sync is performed to the nearest peak. Visually, it looks like this:

A slide from a recent presentation.

As can been seen, the algorithm isn't fazed by false peaks. The 9th bit, a "0" bit, has a very prominent false peak. But the algorithm summarizes that the voltage trend in the 8us chunk is a big downward drift, which has to be a "0" bit.

Despite the chaotic nature of this waveform, the algorithm recovered all of the bytes in these "lost" sectors. To crib another slide from the recent presentation:

The recovered sector data from "The Living Daylights".

As noted in the slide, we compare the recovered sector data against the recovered on-disc CRC16. The sector data is 256 bytes followed by a 2 byte CRC16. We got a match.

In case you were wondering, one thing we glossed over is "locate the start of the sector data". The start of a sector body (or a sector header) contains a pulse sequence that cannot occur in a well formed sector body or header. Essentially, it contains missing clock bits.

As a recap, recovering this data was looking hopeless not that long ago. The Greaseweazle returned mostly noise, but now we've got all the bytes off successfully! This is incredibly encouraging: it suggests that many discs that appear "lost" at first glance are in fact recoverable. Faint traces of data often remain and these can be scooped up with an analog read.

The dented "Repton 3" source code disc was a bit more of a headache because of how incredibly weak the signal becomes in the region of the dent, as seen by Phil's drive. The peak detection algorithm wasn't able to resolve it, although in retrospect, it may have done if we had further filtered the signal. In the end, we resorted to what seems to work best for the worst signals: human intervention! By drawing in repaired peaks on the most degraded parts, the peak detection algorithm was able to resolve the dented region:

Original signal above, hand-drawn fixes applied below.

In the end, with a combination of the above techniques and tools, we were able to recover 100% of the file data from all of the source code discs.

One final note on peak recovery: I know very little about the field of signal processing, so I can't help but suspect there's a "proper" way to recover faint digital signals from analog captures. Advice most welcome.

[This section wouldn't be complete without a link to this very interesting FloppyControlApp Waveform editor. I haven't tried it as we only just found it as we've finished this write up. I wish I had found it sooner! That said, the pulses I've been fixing have often degraded in different ways to the notes and pictures in the video. Perhaps it's a difference due to the difference physical spacings or materials on 5.25" vs. 3.5".]

Caring for discs

No discussion of recovering data from old floppy discs would be complete without some notes on how to best handle the discs. So far, we've looked at hardware, tools and techniques to read data from discs but haven't considered the condition of the discs themselves, or risks to the discs.

To be clear why it matters: spinning some random disc in some random drive can damage the disc, perhaps even irreparably! Possible problems with the discs include:

  • The physical disc surface may have degraded to the point where it is either brittle, or goopy.
  • The disc sleeve lining may have become brittle and scratchy.
  • The disc surface may have become covered in mold.
  • The disc sleeve lining and/or disc may be dented.
And possible problems with drives include:
  • The drive read heads are dirty or scratched.
  • Internal mechanical components bent or out of place.
  • Excessive friction placed on disc surface.

If dealing with rare or unique discs, a minimum level of care is needed:

  • Use a well-tested drive that doesn't mark discs.
  • Stop and ask for advice if the disc or disc surface is visible damaged, moldy or dirty. There's a good discussion on cleaning discs (albeit 3.5") in this video.
  • Inspect and clean the drive heads before inserting each different disc.
  • (Strongly recommended) - use a "sealed / bubble head" drive, such as the FB-502, which places less friction on the disc.

A more thorough document on the preservation of BBC Micro discs may be found here: click me.

And a cautionary note on what can go wrong when trying to read old discs:

Somewhat horrifyingly, part of the disc surface is now transparent. At some point in the past, the information carrying oxide particles were stripped off the plastic disc. Perhaps this could have been avoided by using a cleaner or more gentle disc drive.

What on earth happened to that The Living Daylights disc?

We've now encountered two discs that are corrupted in exactly the same and very curious way: one of "The Living Daylights" source code discs, and the "Old Macdonald's Farm" educational title. In both cases, the re-write of sector bodies has left them totally trashed.

Our initial theory is that the writing drive could have become misaligned. This is a common ailment and it's where the drive read/write head get knocked slightly off where it should be. One effect would be that every write would be off-center of the track, possibly leading to read difficulties in a correctly aligned drive. This theory was eliminated by taking the "Old Macdonald's Farm" disc and manually misaligning a drive in both directions to look for a better data signal; none was obtained. Another flaw with the alignment theory is that a misaligned drive might have trouble reading the sector headers, which would prevent the write from occurring at all.

Our current theory, and one that is a reasonable match for the evidence, is that the drive, cabling or floppy disc controller chip failed in way that prevented write pulses taking effect. This means that any write would energize the drive head but never reverse magnetic polarity. In effect, this runs a constant current through the write head and is a type of erase across the disc sector. So, how thoroughly does this erase remove traces of magnetic flux reversals? I tried this by doing this type of erase on top of a FM bit pattern of "1111000011110000....":

The erased bits have left a trace behind.

Normal signal strength for this disc and drive is 650mV peak-to-peak. The signal strength of the erased bits is about 50mV peak-to-peak for "0" bits, but the higher frequency "1" bits are down to about 20mV peak-to-peak, and are hard to discern. Also, a much higher frequency oscillation has crept in, possible around the frequency of the low-pass filter's cutoff?

Obviously, the result here is going to vary wildly depending upon drive electronics, drive head, and disc material. But the point is made: erasing over floppy disc data leaves a signal behind on some drives.

We think that the sector bodies were erased by a write fault 30+ years ago, leaving a faint signal that then further decayed and became chaotic over the decades. But the data is still there.

Closing remarks

We're very pleased to have recovered some old BBC Micro source code and games discs that were not recoverable by standard means. In the case of the recovered source code, it is now with the original author of the games, who is checking over the materials and deciding whether to publicly release them.

In the case of "Old Macdonald's Farm", we pieced a working disc back together from a combination of bit recovery plus some cross-referencing with a related title that uses the same game engine and a similar disc layout. The results were posted here: click me. It's hard to exaggerate how really faint and corrupted the "Old Macdonald's Farm" disc signal is. It's much worse than the "The Living Daylights" source code disc. We didn't previously look at what Greaseweazle thinks of it, so here it is:

The signal on the trashed sectors is just desolation as far as the Greaseweazle sees. It's a miracle that the bits are still there and recoverable.

We wish to warmly extend the general offer: for unique discs, rare discs, or discs of historical interest, we're happy to receive them and do our best to recover them using the care and procedures outlined above. The offer extends beyond BBC discs to any 5.25" discs: Apple, Commodore, PC, etc.

We don't have any tooling to release at this time, because none of it is close to production quality. This is an area of ongoing effort as and when we encounter new discs to recover. It's also non-trivial to put together an overall packaging of this work, because disc drives and oscilloscopes are all different. Reach out if you'd like to wade in to this area and don't mind dealing with messiness.

There's plenty of opportunity to further research and improve the hardware and software story here:

  • On the hardware side, the general theme is to replace old 1980s tech with modern tech, i.e. the filtering and peak detection has been moved to modern software. Continuing along this theme, it'd be interesting to replace the 1980s amplifier with a high quality modern amplifier with excellent gain and signal to noise ratios. At that point, we could directly compare the quality of different drive read heads.
  • On the software side, as previously covered, I'm pretty convinced my peak recovery efforts could be a lot better!

Thanks for reading!

Chris Evans and Phil Pemberton...

... and Mr. Macdonald

CISA Publishes Eviction Guidance for Networks Affected by SolarWinds and AD/M365 Compromise

Original release date: May 14, 2021

CISA has released an analysis report, AR21-134A Eviction Guidance for Networks Affected by the SolarWinds and Active Directory/M365 Compromise. The report provides detailed steps for affected organizations to evict the adversary from compromised on-premises and cloud environments.

Additionally, CISA has publicly issued Emergency Directive (ED) 21-01 Supplemental Direction Version 4: Mitigate SolarWinds Orion Code Compromise to all federal agencies that have—or had—networks that used affected versions of SolarWinds Orion and have evidence of follow-on threat actor activity.

Although the guidance in AR21-134A and ED 21-01 Supplemental Direction V.4 is tailored to federal agencies, CISA encourages critical infrastructure entities; state, local, territorial, and tribal government organizations; and private sector organizations to review and apply it, as appropriate.

Review the following resources for additional information:

Note: the U.S. Government attributes this activity to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Additional information may be found in a statement from the White House and in the three Joint Cybersecurity Advisories summarized in the CISA Fact Sheet: Russian SVR Activities Related to SolarWinds Compromise.

This product is provided subject to this Notification and this Privacy & Use policy.

DarkSide Ransomware Victims Sold Short

Over the past week we have seen a considerable body of work focusing on DarkSide, the ransomware responsible for the recent gas pipeline shutdown. Many of the excellent technical write-ups will detail how it operates an affiliate model that supports others to be involved within the ransomware business model (in addition to the developers). While this may not be a new phenomenon, this model is actively deployed by many groups with great effect. Herein is the crux of the challenge: while the attention may be on DarkSide ransomware, the harsh reality is that equal concern should be placed at Ryuk, or REVIL, or Babuk, or Cuba, etc. These, and other groups and their affiliates, exploit common entry vectors and, in many cases, the tools we see being used to move within an environment are the same. While this technical paper covers DarkSide in more detail, we must stress the importance of implementing best practices in securing/monitoring your network. These additional publications can guide you in doing so:

DarkSide Ransomware:  What is it?

As mentioned earlier, DarkSide is a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) that offers high returns for penetration-testers that are willing to provide access to networks and distribute/execute the ransomware. DarkSide is an example of a RaaS whereby they actively invest in development of the code, affiliates, and new features. Alongside their threat to leak data, they have a separate option for recovery companies to negotiate, are willing to engage with the media, and are willing to carry out a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack against victims. Those victims who do pay a ransom receive an alert from DarkSide on companies that are on the stock exchange who are breached, in return for their payment. Potential legal issues abound, not to mention ethical concerns, but this information could certainly provide an advantage in short selling when the news breaks.

The group behind DarkSide are also particularly active. Using MVISION Insights we can identify the prevalence of targets. This map clearly illustrates that the most targeted geography is clearly the United States (at the time of writing). Further, the sectors primarily targeted are Legal Services, Wholesale, and Manufacturing, followed by the Oil, Gas and Chemical sectors.

Coverage and Protection Advice

McAfee’s market leading EPP solution covers DarkSide ransomware with an array of early prevention and detection techniques.

Customers using MVISION Insights will find a threat-profile on this ransomware family that is updated when new and relevant information becomes available.


MVISION EDR includes detections on many of the behaviors used in the attack including privilege escalation, malicious PowerShell and CobaltStrike beacons, and visibility of discovery commands, command and control, and other tactics along the attack chain. We have EDR telemetry indicating early detection before the detonation of the Ransomware payload.


ENS TP provides coverage against known indicators in the latest signature set. Updates on new indicators are pushed through GTI.

ENS ATP provides behavioral content focusing on proactively detecting the threat while also delivering known IoCs for both online and offline detections.

ENS ATP adds two (2) additional layers of protection thanks to JTI rules that provide attack surface reduction for generic ransomware behaviors and RealProtect (static and dynamic) with ML models targeting ransomware threats.

For the latest mitigation guidance, please review:

Technical Analysis

The RaaS platform offers the affiliate the option to build either a Windows or Unix version of the ransomware. Depending on what is needed, we observe that affiliates are using different techniques to circumvent detection, by masquerading the generated Windows binaries of DarkSide. Using several packers or signing the binary with a certificate are some of the techniques used to do so.

As peers in our industry have described, we also observed campaigns where the affiliates and their hacking crew used several ways to gain initial access to their victim’s network.

  1. Using valid accounts, exploit vulnerabilities on servers or RDP for initial stage
  2. Next, establish a beachhead in the victim’s network by using tools like Cobalt-Strike (beacons), RealVNC, RDP ported over TOR, Putty, AnyDesk and TeamViewer. TeamViewer is what we also see back in the config of the ransomware sample:

The configuration of the ransomware contains several options to enable or disable system processes, but also the above part where it states which processes should not be killed.

As mentioned before, a lot of the current Windows samples in the wild are the 1.8 version of DarkSide, others are the version. In a chat one of the actors revealed that a V3 version will be released soon.

On March 23rd, 2021, on XSS, one of the DarkSide spokespersons announced an update of DarkSide as a PowerShell version and a major upgrade of the Linux variant:

In the current samples we observe, we do see the PowerShell component that is used to delete the Volume Shadow copies, for example.

  1. Once a strong foothold has been established, several tools are used by the actors to gain more privileges.

Tools observed:

  • Mimikatz
  • Dumping LSASS
  • IE/FireFox password dumper
  • Powertool64
  • Empire
  • Bypassing UAC
  1. Once enough privileges are gained, it is time to map out the network and identify the most critical systems like servers, storage, and other critical assets. A selection of the below tools was observed to have been used in several cases:
  • BloodHound
  • ADFind
  • ADRecon
  • IP scan tools
  • Several Windows native tools
  • PowerShell scripts

Before distributing the ransomware around the network using tools like PsExec and PowerShell, data was exfiltrated to Cloud Services that would later be used on the DarkSide Leak page for extortion purposes. Zipping the data, using Rclone or WinSCP are some of the examples observed.

While a lot of good and in-depth analyses are written by our peers, one thing worth noting is that when running DarkSide, the encryption process is fast. It is one of the areas the actors brag about on the same forum and do a comparison to convince affiliates to join their program:

DarkSide, like Babuk ransomware, has a Linux version. Both target *nix systems but in particular VMWare ESXi servers and storage/NAS. Storage/NAS is critical for many companies, but how many of you are running a virtual desktop, hosted on a ESXi server?

Darkside wrote a Linux variant that supports the encryption of ESXI server versions 5.0 – 7.1 as well as NAS technology from Synology. They state that other NAS/backup technologies will be supported soon.

In the code we clearly observe this support:

Also, the configuration of the Linux version shows it is clearly looking for Virtual Disk/memory kind of files:

Although the adversary recently claimed to vote for targets, the attacks are ongoing with packed and signed samples observed as recently as today (May 12, 2021):


Recently the Ransomware Task Force, a partnership McAfee is proud to be a part of, released a detailed paper on how ransomware attacks are occurring and how countermeasures should be taken. As many of us have published, presented on, and released research upon, it is time to act. Please follow the links included within this blog to apply the broader advice about applying available protection and detection in your environment against such attacks.

MITRE ATT&CK Techniques Leveraged by DarkSide:

Data Encrypted for Impact – T1486

Inhibit System Recovery – T1490

Valid Accounts – T1078

PowerShell – T1059.001

Service Execution – T1569.002

Account Manipulation – T1098

Dynamic-link Library Injection – T1055.001

Account Discovery – T1087

Bypass User Access Control – T1548.002

File Permissions Modification – T1222

System Information Discovery – T1082

Process Discovery – T1057

Screen Capture – T1113

Compile After Delivery – T1027.004

Credentials in Registry – T1552.002

Obfuscated Files or Information – T1027

Shared Modules – T1129

Windows Management Instrumentation – T1047

Exploit Public-Facing Application – T1190

Phishing – T1566

External Remote Services – T1133

Multi-hop Proxy – T1090.003

Exploitation for Privilege Escalation – T1068

Application Layer Protocol – T1071

Bypass User Account Control – T1548.002

Commonly Used Port – T1043

Compile After Delivery – T1500

Credentials from Password Stores – T1555

Credentials from Web Browsers – T1555.003

Credentials in Registry – T1214

Deobfuscate/Decode Files or Information – T1140

Disable or Modify Tools – T1562.001

Domain Account – T1087.002

Domain Groups – T1069.002

Domain Trust Discovery – T1482

Exfiltration Over Alternative Protocol – T1048

Exfiltration to Cloud Storage – T1567.002

File and Directory Discovery – T1083

Gather Victim Network Information – T1590

Ingress Tool Transfer – T1105

Linux and Mac File and Directory Permissions Modification – T1222.002

Masquerading – T1036

Process Injection – T1055

Remote System Discovery – T1018

Scheduled Task/Job – T1053

Service Stop – T1489

System Network Configuration Discovery – T1016

System Services – T1569

Taint Shared Content – T1080

Unix Shell – T1059.004

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