Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Tiger and the Ghost

Companies like Mandiant have placed themselves in the lead of the counter-APT fight in a lot of people's eyes. I respect this, and they certainly have teams with great skill and experience. They have done a great job of stirring up a lot of discussion, and have caused a lot of debate. An unfortunate side effect of this is that a lot of people have put on their firefighter hats, and are chasing ghosts. No, not ghosts that pop out of closets and say "boo!". I mean ghosts as in invisible warriors. Unfortunately, this effect is precisely what is expected, and possibly even wanted by our enemies.

A quick word about Mandiant's claims about our adversaries tactics. They are spot on.

Yes, this post is about the APT. However, it is not about their specific tactical assaults. I would submit that though this is important, the most important aspect of countering the APT is understanding him. I've asked before if it really matters how new this threat is. I still contend it does not. Walking that path is wasted effort. It's time to step up our game to understand the enemy.

For several years there have been warnings and warning signs that this adversary was up to something. Several ally countries were penetrated by the ghosts. The U.S. was hit hard during this time as well. While all of this is going on, officials are disavowing and claiming no knowledge of these attacks. Meanwhile, the military general standing behind said official is trying hard to keep his lip from curling in to a tiger's smile.

Stratagem 1:
Deceive the heaven to cross the sea.

For years, we have invited the tiger in for dinner. And why not? He knocked at the door and asked nicely. Only he didn't outright kill us. He learned about us, in the open, and with our invitation. It was accomplished through foreign exchange studies, open trade agreements, imports & exports, business mergers, the legal system, and watching us fight in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They watched us unleash our strike packages, and watched others defend against it. This was done until he felt he could learn no more. He took all he learned and used it for further study.

Stratagem 3:
Kill with a borrowed knife.

Our enemy is no doubt using the works of others to strengthen himself while wearing us down. If your army is not strong enough for attack, let the works of others weaken the enemy. They let our industries get worn down by the daily barrage of malware infections, lesser intrusions, and perhaps some more skilled adversaries. While all of this is going on, they conserve strength.

Stratagem 4:
Wait at ease for the enemy.

Our networks are under constant barrages by lesser opponents, or skilled opponents using simple techniques and tactics to wear down defenses and tie down huge numbers of opponents. Exhaust his will to fight before the real fight comes. This enemy clearly practices this strategy. These ghosts do not step up their game until they have to, they do not reveal the full breadth and depth of their plans until we match them.

What does our enemy want?
To establish the links between political, economic and military installations. To exploit ways to control & disable our ability maintain C2 or C4I. To identify key systems and perform what Mr. Tim Thomas calls "acupuncture warfare" with precision strikes. The adversary is aiming to close market gaps and gain the information advantage. This allows him to control and predict our responses and behaviors. Based on the study of "three-three" this adversary focuses on obtaining, transmitting, handling, and protecting information. He defends himself while controlling our actions or attempting to control our actions with the incursions we are seeing. He seeks to level the playing field through the use of information.

Too much reliance on technology to do the work has led us to a situation where many don't know how to begin fighting this adversary. He has been honing his skills in this space for nearly two decades. If you don't know yourself you will lose. That is, what are your key systems, what relationships do you have with other organizations and who maintains these relationships? What are your true capabilities? Do they match your requirements? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered.

This has nothing to do with what technology you can buy. This has everything to do with how you think, how your boss thinks, how their boss thinks and so on, and how your enemy thinks. If you're just joining, welcome to the fight.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Triage of Agent.BTZ

I'm a huge proponent of triage incident response. So much so that I developed procedures based on the idea that gathering a little information from key data points early can lead to an accurate assessment of the situation without having to conduct laborious processes such as creating a full disk image all the time. Triage saves time and effort. The purpose of triage is not to conduct a full analysis. The purpose is to 1) sort and prioritize and 2) gather enough information to decide whether or not to continue an investigation. It also maximizes the effectiveness of analyst, systems, and tools. Tools like F-response make triage possible. Tools like Responder Pro from HBgary make triage possible. Speaking of Responder pro..

I recently upgraded my copy of Responder 1.5 to Responder 2. I've got some great things to say about this product but I'll save that for another post. I ran an analysis some time ago in 1.5 against a dangerous little piece of malware that got quite a bit of press in 2008. The malware in question is Trojan.Agent.BTZ. This little gem is what ransacked the military and pentagon. Vendors like to call it Autorun malware, as that's really how it works but it's of course more than what a vendor will tell you.

Generally speaking I was looking for a piece of malware that infects removable media, phones home, gives remote control and downloads other malware. I arrived on scene a short while after the alert and after talking to the admin, decided to plug in my USB key, knowing full well what would probably happen to it. USB key defenses aside, I ran FastDump Pro and grabbed an .hpak memory dump.

So now I had a memory dump and I grabbed a disk image from the computer. In this case I decided to take the drive because I would use this later in a lab scenario for training. Triage requirements aside, this was a good case to capture for later use.

Let's analyze it quickly with 2.0 eh?

*note I've already done this in 1.5 I'm just re-doing it in 2.0 and during the middle of this I experienced a licensing hiccup*

My standard technique for beginning memory analysis in Responder is as follows:
1) Evaluate DDNA listing.

DDNA while not perfect, can be used to quickly hone in on oddities and badness. It helps identify WHAT is on the box, WHAT it might be, and HOW it might be working. Add a cross reference listing to the modules running on the box for more detailed information. DDNA is a boon to any analyst looking to conduct rapid analysis.

Here's what the DDNA output looked like for BTZ. Focusing on the left hand side, we don't see a whole lot that sticks out. A sea of Orange really...

2) Evaluate Network connections. This helps me answer two questions. WHAT is talking, and to WHOM? I tend to go for Network connections before Processes as network connections often identify the process I need to investigate. For all intensive purposes, 2&3 are interchangeable.

3) Evaluate Process lists.
Typically I evaluate processes in a number of ways. I'll look for processes that don't belong, those with odd names, those that are 'hidden', all svchost processes since they are a huge target for process and dll injection attacks, those processes that are "red flags" such as ones executing from the wrong directory or with incorrect paths and processes that don't normally exist.

4) Open file handles and Registry keys.
This should be fairly obvious as to the why. It allows me to find out what process has what file handles and reg keys open.

5) Use a DNS blacklist or keyword list. There are great blacklists out there plus I have a few extras. This immediately helps with data reduction in some cases. It can also assist in zeroing in on the malware. This is great for casting a drag net on a network to look for other infections.

6) Other poking - looking for clues that might tip me off to the true nature of the infection or compromise.

This usually does the trick for the overwhelming majority of malware cases I look at. Granted there are more difficult ones but with malware being as templated as it is..this tends to work.
So now let's work through this for real...

DDNA in this case didn't appear to be helpful, or was it? Looking at the listing, there's a wide variety of suspicious looking processes and modules. That's not really that helpful by all appearances. Let's add a little intelligence to this analysis by pulling up the module listing next to the DDNA listing for processes. This is what that looks like:

So, now we have even more orange...GREAT you might be thinking sarcastically..but what do we see if we look closely? Like a simple equation we can rule out common processes and modules that we have a possible explanation for now and I've highlighted something that looks REALLY suspicious..a process loading a module out of the user's profile. As I said DDNA is not perfect, but what it does is raise the interesting stuff to the top by severity and color coding. This is automated analysis and while it has limits, when we add human intelligence to the analysis process we get an immediate bead on the target.

So what are the key indicators?

* The .dll
* rundll32.exe is calling a .dll out of the user profile
* The file path for the .dll.

Yeah that's pretty odd isn't it? What traits does it have?

Nothing sticks out a whole lot, but there are some good clues in there.

So now I've found something odd and definitely worth looking in to a bit further. This happens to be the jackpot but let's keep evaluating.

How about the DNS blacklist for connections to known bad domains?

The list of hits was far too many to show here. The matches numbered upwards of 336 bad domains. That's too many domains to be helpful but it's definitely a sign that the computer was talking to a lot of known bad actors.

And Network Connections?

The network cable in this incident was unplugged when I arrived. No joy for active connections.

And the process listing?

There's one above the rest that sticks out:
C:\WINDOWS\system32\rundll32.exe" "C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\HELP\system32\rtn.dll"

That just about settles it for me. rtn.dll does not belong. Let's go ahead and process it. I always start by right clicking and taking a look at the strings. This allows me to drill right in to what I am interested in.

Immediate strings of interest:
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\Help
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\Help
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\HELP\
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\HELP\\system32\
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\HELP\\system32\mswmpdat.tlb
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\HELP\\system32\wmcache.nld
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\HELP\system32
C:\Documents and Settings\ctuser\Application Data\HELP\system32\rtn.dll

Yep, this tells us a little about the files the malware is using. Point of interest here is that the malware created a directory structure for the user the malware was run under, and one of the few directories it could write to was in the profile as the user had no elevated privileges. Many people still think that Administrator rights is a means of stopping the execution of modern malware. Those people couldn't be more wrong but I digress...

Right now we don't know what the files are are specifically but we will soon...

How about this?

My that's odd isn't it? And it's referenced in three different memory locations. So just what is that string? The following code should give you a big hint.

If you can't tell that's an XOR key and function. We can use that bit of information later when we want to do deeper analysis. As we learn from later analysis, this XOR key is used to encode data written to log files by the malware.

When I did this analysis for real I completed the analysis and decoded the log files kept by the malware, and conducted a more thorough disk based analysis. The purpose of this posting is to illustrate a quick analysis method that pays off with the extraction of the XOR key to encode log files created by malware. In all, doing it this way takes about 15 minutes to get actionable intelligence. Think about it. In a just a few minutes we've gathered:

* Filenames on a filesystem. Pass that information off to your windows admins, and they can search desktops for the files.
* The XOR key to decrypt any discovered log files
* There's more to be seen in the memory dump that allows us to create a snort signature if need be(of course one already exists at present time).
* The malware does not require administrative privileges to execute or maintain persistence.

I realize this post is a bit incomplete..hopefully I'll get back to a continuation piece.