We need to talk about criminal hackers using Cobalt Strike, says Cisco Talos

Pentesting tool showing up in the hands of baddies, warns threat intel biz


Penetration testing tool Cobalt Strike is increasingly being used by black hats in non-simulated attacks as traces show up in scenarios from ransomware infections to state-backed APT threats, says Cisco Talos.

The paid-for tool, created by Raphael Mudge and sold to HelpSystems in March, began its existence as a legitimate item, billed as "software for adversary simulations and red team operations." It sells for $3,500 per seat, at list price.

"Cobalt Strike gives you a post-exploitation agent and covert channels to emulate a quiet long-term embedded actor in your customer's network," the marketing copy boasts. Oddly enough, those qualities make it attractive to criminals too – and now Cisco Talos wants to draw more attention to that.

Claiming that the tool "accounted for 66 per cent of all ransomware attacks Cisco Talos Incident Response responded to this quarter," the threat intel firm reckons that both criminal hackers and pentesting security analysts' red teams alike are making great use of Cobalt Strike, especially for its ability to deploy listeners on targeted networks.

Listeners are used to determine how infected hosts communicate with command 'n' control servers to retrieve malware payloads and further commands from malicious persons bent on pwning the network.

"Cobalt Strike's strength comes from the many answers it offers to difficult questions an attacker might have. Deploy listeners and beacons? No problem. Need to create some shellcode? Easy. Create staged/stageless executables? Done. Given Cobalt Strike's versatility, it's no wonder... Talos is noticing a trend for attackers to lean more upon Cobalt Strike and less upon commodity malware," said Cisco Talos senior research engineer Nick Mavis in a post.

In a detailed whitepaper (accessible via the blog post above) Cisco Talos said it had analysed the Cobalt Strike attack framework and devised about 50 attack signatures for use with intrusion detection tool Snort and open-source antivirus engine ClamAV.

Cobalt Strike's malicious uses have rather passed under the radar in the last few years, though in 2018 Talos spotted it being used by a person or persons based in China's Jiangxi province as part of a cryptojacking scam.

Before that, a joint investigation into malicious persons targeting Germany's Bundestag and Turkish diplomats uncovered Cobalt Strike in use by a crew called CopyKittens, tentatively attributing the group’s geographic base to Iran. ®


Other stories you might like

  • VMware claims ‘bare-metal’ performance from virtualized Nvidia GPUs
    Is... is that why Broadcom wants to buy it?

    The future of high-performance computing will be virtualized, VMware's Uday Kurkure has told The Register.

    Kurkure, the lead engineer for VMware's performance engineering team, has spent the past five years working on ways to virtualize machine-learning workloads running on accelerators. Earlier this month his team reported "near or better than bare-metal performance" for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) and Mask R-CNN — two popular machine-learning workloads — running on virtualized GPUs (vGPU) connected using Nvidia's NVLink interconnect.

    NVLink enables compute and memory resources to be shared across up to four GPUs over a high-bandwidth mesh fabric operating at 6.25GB/s per lane compared to PCIe 4.0's 2.5GB/s. The interconnect enabled Kurkure's team to pool 160GB of GPU memory from the Dell PowerEdge system's four 40GB Nvidia A100 SXM GPUs.

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia promises annual datacenter product updates across CPU, GPU, and DPU
    Arm one year, x86 the next, and always faster than a certain chip shop that still can't ship even one standalone GPU

    Computex Nvidia's push deeper into enterprise computing will see its practice of introducing a new GPU architecture every two years brought to its CPUs and data processing units (DPUs, aka SmartNICs).

    Speaking on the company's pre-recorded keynote released to coincide with the Computex exhibition in Taiwan this week, senior vice president for hardware engineering Brian Kelleher spoke of the company's "reputation for unmatched execution on silicon." That's language that needs to be considered in the context of Intel, an Nvidia rival, again delaying a planned entry to the discrete GPU market.

    "We will extend our execution excellence and give each of our chip architectures a two-year rhythm," Kelleher added.

    Continue reading
  • Now Amazon puts 'creepy' AI cameras in UK delivery vans
    Big Bezos is watching you

    Amazon is reportedly installing AI-powered cameras in delivery vans to keep tabs on its drivers in the UK.

    The technology was first deployed, with numerous errors that reportedly denied drivers' bonuses after malfunctions, in the US. Last year, the internet giant produced a corporate video detailing how the cameras monitor drivers' driving behavior for safety reasons. The same system is now apparently being rolled out to vehicles in the UK. 

    Multiple camera lenses are placed under the front mirror. One is directed at the person behind the wheel, one is facing the road, and two are located on either side to provide a wider view. The cameras are monitored by software built by Netradyne, a computer-vision startup focused on driver safety. This code uses machine-learning algorithms to figure out what's going on in and around the vehicle.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022