Standard Application Layer Protocol
|Standard Application Layer Protocol|
|Tactic||Command and Control|
|Platform||Linux, macOS, Windows|
|Data Sources||Packet capture, Netflow/Enclave netflow, Process use of network, Malware reverse engineering, Process monitoring|
Adversaries may communicate using a common, standardized application layer protocol such as HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, or DNS to avoid detection by blending in with existing traffic. Commands to the remote system, and often the results of those commands, will be embedded within the protocol traffic between the client and server.
For connections that occur internally within an enclave (such as those between a proxy or pivot node and other nodes), commonly used protocols are RPC, SSH, or RDP.
- APT28 used SMTP as a communication channel in various implants, initially using self-registered Google Mail accounts and later compromised email servers of its victims. Later implants such as CHOPSTICK use a blend of HTTP and other legitimate channels, depending on module configuration.1
- APT34 malware often uses HTTP and DNS for C2. The group has also used the Plink utility and other tools to create tunnels to C2 servers.3
- BRONZE BUTLER malware has used HTTP for C2.4
- FIN6 used the Plink command-line utility to create SSH tunnels to C2 servers.5
- A Gamaredon Group file stealer can communicate over HTTP for C2.6
- A Lazarus Group malware sample conducts C2 over HTTP.7
- Magic Hound malware has used HTTP and IRC for C2.8
- OilRig has used HTTP and DNS for C2.9
- Stealth Falcon malware communicates with its C2 server via HTTPS.10
- 3PARA RAT uses HTTP for command and control.11
- 4H RAT uses HTTP for command and control.11
- ADVSTORESHELL connects to port 80 of a C2 server using Wininet API.12
- BACKSPACE uses HTTP as a transport to communicate with its command server.13
- BADNEWS establishes a backdoor over HTTP.14
- BBSRAT uses GET and POST requests over HTTP or HTTPS for command and control to obtain commands and send ZLIB compressed data back to the C2 server.15
- BUBBLEWRAP can communicate using HTTP or HTTPS.16
- BlackEnergy communicates with its C2 server over HTTP.17
- Various implementations of CHOPSTICK communicate with C2 over HTTP, SMTP, and POP3.18
- has exfiltrated data in HTTP POST headers.19
- CORESHELL can communicate over HTTP, SMTP, and POP3 for C2.120
- The Carbanak malware communicates to its command server using HTTP with an encrypted payload.21
- ChChes communicates to its C2 server over HTTP and embeds data within the Cookie HTTP header.2223
- China Chopper executes code using HTTP POST commands.24
- One variant of CloudDuke uses HTTP and HTTPS for C2.25
- Cobalt Strike uses a custom command and control protocol that is encapsulated in HTTP, HTTPS, or DNS. In addition, it conducts peer-to-peer communication over Windows named pipes encapsulated in the SMB protocol. All protocols use their standard assigned ports.26
- ComRAT has used HTTP requests for command and control.27
- CosmicDuke can use HTTP or HTTPS for command and control to hard-coded C2 servers.2528
- CozyCar's main method of communicating with its C2 servers is using HTTP or HTTPS.29
- Daserf uses HTTP for C2.4
- Dipsind uses HTTP for C2.30
- DownPaper communicates to its C2 server over HTTP.31
- Duqu uses a custom command and control protocol that communicates over commonly used ports, and is frequently encapsulated by application layer protocols.32
- DustySky has used both HTTP and HTTPS for C2.33
- ELMER uses HTTP for command and control.34
- Elise communicates over HTTP or HTTPS for C2.35
- Emissary uses HTTP or HTTPS for C2.36
- Epic implements a command and control protocol over HTTP.37
- FLIPSIDE uses RDP to tunnel traffic from a victim environment.38
- Some variants of FakeM use SSL to communicate with C2 servers.39
- Felismus uses HTTP for C2.40
- Gazer communicates with its C2 servers over HTTP.41
- GeminiDuke uses HTTP and HTTPS for command and control.25
- The "Uploader" variant of HAMMERTOSS visits a hard-coded server over HTTP/S to download the images HAMMERTOSS uses to receive commands.42
- HTTPBrowser has used HTTP, HTTPS, and DNS for command and control.4344
- Helminth can use HTTP or DNS for C2.45
- Hi-Zor communicates with its C2 server over HTTPS.46
- JHUHUGIT variants have communicated with C2 servers over HTTP and HTTPS.474849
- JPIN can use HTTP for C2.30
- JPIN can communicate over FTP and send email over SMTP.30
- ... further results
Network intrusion detection and prevention systems that use network signatures to identify traffic for specific adversary malware can be used to mitigate activity at the network level. Signatures are often for unique indicators within protocols and will be different across various malware families and versions. Adversaries will likely change tool signatures over time or construct protocols in such a way to avoid detection by common defensive tools.50
Analyze network data for uncommon data flows (e.g., a client sending significantly more data than it receives from a server). Processes utilizing the network that do not normally have network communication or have never been seen before are suspicious. Analyze packet contents to detect application layer protocols that do not follow the expected protocol for the port that is being used.50
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- FireEye Threat Intelligence. (2016, April). Follow the Money: Dissecting the Operations of the Cyber Crime Group FIN6. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
- Kasza, A. and Reichel, D.. (2017, February 27). The Gamaredon Group Toolset Evolution. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
- Sherstobitoff, R. (2018, February 12). Lazarus Resurfaces, Targets Global Banks and Bitcoin Users. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
- Lee, B. and Falcone, R. (2017, February 15). Magic Hound Campaign Attacks Saudi Targets. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
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- ESET. (2016, October). En Route with Sednit - Part 2: Observing the Comings and Goings. Retrieved November 21, 2016.
- FireEye. (2018, February 20). APT37 (Reaper): The Overlooked North Korean Actor. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
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- F-Secure Labs. (2015, April 22). CozyDuke: Malware Analysis. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
- Windows Defender Advanced Threat Hunting Team. (2016, April 29). PLATINUM: Targeted attacks in South and Southeast Asia. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
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- ClearSky. (2016, January 7). Operation DustySky. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
- Winters, R.. (2015, December 20). The EPS Awakens - Part 2. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
- Falcone, R., et al.. (2015, June 16). Operation Lotus Blossom. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
- Falcone, R. and Miller-Osborn, J.. (2015, December 18). Attack on French Diplomat Linked to Operation Lotus Blossom. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
- Kaspersky Lab's Global Research and Analysis Team. (2014, August 7). The Epic Turla Operation: Solving some of the mysteries of Snake/Uroburos. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
- Bromiley, M. and Lewis, P. (2016, October 7). Attacking the Hospitality and Gaming Industries: Tracking an Attacker Around the World in 7 Years. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
- Falcone, R. and Miller-Osborn, J.. (2016, January 24). Scarlet Mimic: Years-Long Espionage Campaign Targets Minority Activists. Retrieved February 10, 2016.
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- Unit 42. (2018, February 28). Unit 42 Playbook Viewer - Sofacy. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
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