Email Collection

Adversaries may target user email to collect sensitive information from a target.

Files containing email data can be acquired from a user's system, such as Outlook storage or cache files .pst and .ost.

Adversaries may leverage a user's credentials and interact directly with the Exchange server to acquire information from within a network. Adversaries may also access externally facing Exchange services or Office 365 to access email using credentials or access tokens. Tools such as MailSniper can be used to automate searches for specific key words.[1]

Email Forwarding Rule

Adversaries may also abuse email-forwarding rules to monitor the activities of a victim, steal information, and further gain intelligence on the victim or the victim’s organization to use as part of further exploits or operations.[2] Outlook and Outlook Web App (OWA) allow users to create inbox rules for various email functions, including forwarding to a different recipient. Messages can be forwarded to internal or external recipients, and there are no restrictions limiting the extent of this rule. Administrators may also create forwarding rules for user accounts with the same considerations and outcomes.[3]

Any user or administrator within the organization (or adversary with valid credentials) can create rules to automatically forward all received messages to another recipient, forward emails to different locations based on the sender, and more.

ID: T1114
Tactic: Collection
Platform: Windows, Office 365
Permissions Required: User
Data Sources: Office 365 trace logs, Mail server, Email gateway, Authentication logs, File monitoring, Process monitoring, Process use of network
Contributors: Swetha Prabakaran, Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC)
Version: 2.0

Procedure Examples

Name Description
APT1

APT1 uses two utilities, GETMAIL and MAPIGET, to steal email. GETMAIL extracts emails from archived Outlook .pst files, and MAPIGET steals email still on Exchange servers that has not yet been archived.[22]

APT28

APT28 has collected emails from victim Microsoft Exchange servers.[17]

Backdoor.Oldrea

Backdoor.Oldrea collects address book information from Outlook.[11]

Carbanak

Carbanak searches recursively for Outlook personal storage tables (PST) files within user directories and sends them back to the C2 server.[9]

CosmicDuke

CosmicDuke searches for Microsoft Outlook data files with extensions .pst and .ost for collection and exfiltration.[8]

Crimson

Crimson contains a command to collect and exfiltrate emails from Outlook.[14]

Dragonfly 2.0

Dragonfly 2.0 accessed email accounts using Outlook Web Access.[18]

Emotet

Emotet has been observed leveraging a module that scrapes email data from Outlook.[15]

Empire

Empire has the ability to collect emails on a target system.[6]

FIN4

FIN4 has accessed and hijacked email communications using stolen credentials.[23][24]

Ke3chang

Ke3chang used a .NET tool to dump data from Microsoft Exchange mailboxes.[20]

Leafminer

Leafminer used a tool called MailSniper to search through the Exchange server mailboxes for keywords.[21]

LightNeuron

LightNeuron collects emails matching rules specified in its configuration.[16]

Magic Hound

Magic Hound has collected .PST archives.[19]

MailSniper

MailSniper can be used for searching through email in Exchange and Office 365 environments.[7]

Pupy

Pupy can interact with a victim’s Outlook session and look through folders and emails.[4]

Ruler

Ruler can be used to enumerate Exchange users and dump the GAL.[5]

SeaDuke

Some SeaDuke samples have a module to extract email from Microsoft Exchange servers using compromised credentials.[12]

Smoke Loader

Smoke Loader searches through Outlook files and directories (e.g., inbox, sent, templates, drafts, archives, etc.).[13]

TrickBot

TrickBot collects email addresses from Outlook.[10]

Mitigations

Mitigation Description
Audit

Enterprise email solutions have monitoring mechanisms that may include the ability to audit auto-forwarding rules on a regular basis.

In an Exchange environment, Administrators can use Get-InboxRule to discover and remove potentially malicious auto-forwarding rules.[3]

Encrypt Sensitive Information

Use of encryption provides an added layer of security to sensitive information sent over email. Encryption using public key cryptography requires the adversary to obtain the private certificate along with an encryption key to decrypt messages.

Multi-factor Authentication

Use of multi-factor authentication for public-facing webmail servers is a recommended best practice to minimize the usefulness of usernames and passwords to adversaries.

Detection

There are likely a variety of ways an adversary could collect email from a target, each with a different mechanism for detection.

File access of local system email files for Exfiltration, unusual processes connecting to an email server within a network, or unusual access patterns or authentication attempts on a public-facing webmail server may all be indicators of malicious activity.

Monitor processes and command-line arguments for actions that could be taken to gather local email files. Remote access tools with built-in features may interact directly with the Windows API to gather information. Information may also be acquired through Windows system management tools such as Windows Management Instrumentation and PowerShell.

Detection is challenging because all messages forwarded because of an auto-forwarding rule have the same presentation as a manually forwarded message. It is also possible for the user to not be aware of the addition of such an auto-forwarding rule and not suspect that their account has been compromised; email-forwarding rules alone will not affect the normal usage patterns or operations of the email account.

Auto-forwarded messages generally contain specific detectable artifacts that may be present in the header; such artifacts would be platform-specific. Examples include X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AutoForwarded set to true, X-MailFwdBy and X-Forwarded-To. The forwardingSMTPAddress parameter used in a forwarding process that is managed by administrators and not by user actions. All messages for the mailbox are forwarded to the specified SMTP address. However, unlike typical client-side rules, the message does not appear as forwarded in the mailbox; it appears as if it were sent directly to the specified destination mailbox.[25] High volumes of emails that bear the X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AutoForwarded header (indicating auto-forwarding) without a corresponding number of emails that match the appearance of a forwarded message may indicate that further investigation is needed at the administrator level rather than user-level.

References