How a cloud server nearly released IP at a major manufacturing company

Andrew Tsonchev, Director of Cyber Analysis | Monday September 18, 2017

4 million customers had their information exposed in the Time Warner compromise. In the Verizon breach, that number rose to 14 million. Third-party cloud vulnerabilities were responsible for both.

Signature-based security tools consistently fail to detect cloud-based threats like these, which are often subtle and unique from threats found on the physical network.

At a leading manufacturing company in Europe, Darktrace detected a similar cloud vulnerability, only instead of customer data at risk, it was sensitive intellectual property.

The company was using a third-party cloud server to store files containing product details and sales projections. The files on the server and the root IP were gated with a username and password.

After entering their credentials, however, the files contained on the server were left unencrypted. Darktrace detected this vulnerability when a device downloaded a ZIP file from a rare external IP address that Darktrace deemed highly anomalous compared to the device’s normal behavior.

94:65:9c:a6:XX:XX made an HTTP connection to XX[.]23.0.23 on TCP port 80

Destination Port: 8080
Path: hxxp://XX.23.0[.]23/dl/ntt_download.php?key=DLNT57fe6b54[PARTLY REDACTED]

Ordinarily, this activity would indicate unauthorized content entering the network, but in this case, the anomaly revealed a critical security flaw. Darktrace’s AI algorithms and mathematical models immediately recognized this activity as a deviation from the device’s normal ‘pattern of life’.

Upon investigation of the anomaly, it was discovered that the ZIP file wasn’t access restricted. In other words, anybody could have downloaded the ZIP file if they knew the URL, which could have been obtained by simply intercepting network traffic, either internally or externally. More dedicated attackers could have even brute-forced the file ‘key’ parameter of the URL.

The files in question included product specs, market research, and other sensitive data. The loss or leakage of such information could have placed the entire product line at risk.

A sample of the file names in the ZIP file included:

2016-09-30 - [REDACTED] - Spectral Reconstruction and Measurement.docx
2016-09-30 - [REDACTED] - Brightness analysis.docx
2016-09-30 - Coverage on validation cards - Statistical analysis.xlsx

By reporting this incident as soon as it was detected, the company prevented the loss of valuable intellectual property and internal documents. Darktrace assisted the security team in revising their data storage practices in order to better protect their product information moving forward.

Too often, subtle anomalies like these are obscured by the cloud or lost in the noise of the network. Traditional security tools tend to have limited visibility of cloud activity, and even then, they only look for known threats. This vulnerability was unique and would have gone undetected by signature-based controls.

To learn more, check out our Threat Use Cases page which details some of the most interesting recent threats we’ve found.

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About the authors

Justin Fier

Justin Fier is the Director for Cyber Intelligence & Analytics at Darktrace, based in Washington D.C. Justin is one of the US’s leading cyber intelligence experts, and his insights have been widely reported in leading media outlets, including Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Washington Post, and VICELAND. With over 10 years of experience in cyber defense, Justin has supported various elements in the US intelligence community, holding mission-critical security roles with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and Abraxas. Justin is also a highly-skilled technical specialist, and works with Darktrace’s strategic global customers on threat analysis, defensive cyber operations, protecting IoT, and machine learning.

Dave Palmer

Dave Palmer is the Director of Technology at Darktrace, overseeing the mathematics and engineering teams and project strategies. With over ten years of experience at the forefront of government intelligence operations, Palmer has worked across UK intelligence agencies GCHQ & MI5, where he delivered mission-critical infrastructure services, including the replacement and security of entire global networks, the development of operational internet capabilities and the management of critical disaster recovery incidents. He holds a first-class degree in Computer Science and Software Engineering from the University of Birmingham.

Andrew Tsonchev

Andrew advises Darktrace’s strategic Fortune 500 customers on advanced threat detection, machine learning and autonomous response. He has a technical background in threat analysis and research, and holds a first-class degree in physics from Oxford University and a first-class degree in philosophy from King’s College London. He was most recently featured on BBC World, BBC Morning and Al Jazeera to comment on the news regarding the GRU.

Max Heinemeyer

Max is a cyber security expert with over eight years’ experience in the field specializing in network monitoring and offensive security. At Darktrace, Max works with strategic customers to help them investigate and respond to threats as well as overseeing the cyber security analyst team in the Cambridge UK headquarters. Prior to his current role, Max led the Threat and Vulnerability Management department for Hewlett-Packard in Central Europe. He was a member of the German Chaos Computer Club, working as a white hat hacker in penetration testing and red teaming engagements. Max holds a MSc from the University of Duisburg-Essen and a BSc from the Cooperative State University Stuttgart in International Business Information Systems.