|Tactic||Command and Control|
|Platform||Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Vista, Windows 8.1|
|Data Sources||Host network interface, Netflow/Enclave netflow, Network protocol analysis, Packet capture|
Adversaries may use an existing, legitimate external Web service as a means for relaying commands to a compromised system.
Popular websites and social media can act as a mechanism for command and control and give a significant amount of cover due to the likelihood that hosts within a network are already communicating with them prior to a compromise. Using common services, such as those offered by Google or Twitter, makes it easier for adversaries to hide in expected noise. Web service providers commonly use SSL/TLS encryption, giving adversaries an added level of protection.
- Patchwork hides base64-encoded and encrypted C2 server locations in comments on legitimate websites.1
- The CALENDAR malware communicates through the use of events in Google Calendar.2
- GLOOXMAIL communicates to servers operated by Google using the Jabber/XMPP protocol.34
- The "tDiscoverer" variant of HAMMERTOSS establishes a C2 channel by downloading resources from Web services like Twitter and GitHub. HAMMERTOSS binaries contain an algorithm that generates a different Twitter handle for the malware to check for instructions every day.5
- LOWBALL uses the Dropbox cloud storage service for command and control.6
- CozyCar uses Twitter as a backup C2 channel to Twitter accounts specified in its configuration file.7
- Some MiniDuke components use Twitter to initially obtain the address of a C2 server or as a backup if no hard-coded C2 server responds.8
- OnionDuke uses Twitter as a backup C2 method. It also has a module designed to post messages to the Russian VKontakte social media site.8
- One variant of CloudDuke uses a Microsoft OneDrive account to exchange commands and stolen data with its operators.8
- BLACKCOFFEE uses Microsoft’s TechNet Web portal to obtain an encoded tag containing the IP address of a command and control server.9
- BADNEWS can use multiple C2 channels, including RSS feeds, Github, forums, and blogs.10
Firewalls and Web proxies can be used to enforce external network communication policy. It may be difficult for an organization to block particular services because so many of them are commonly used during the course of business.
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 may be based on the specific protocol or encoded commands used by a particular adversary or tool, and will likely be different across various malware families and versions. Adversaries will likely change tool C2 signatures over time or construct protocols in such a way as to avoid detection by common defensive tools.11
Host data that can relate unknown or suspicious process activity using a network connection is important to supplement any existing indicators of compromise based on malware command and control signatures and infrastructure or the presence of strong encryption. Analyze network data for uncommon data flows (e.g., a client sending significantly more data than it receives from a server). Analyze packet contents to detect communications that do not follow the expected protocol behavior for the port that is being used.11
- Kaspersky Lab's Global Research & Analysis Team. (2016, July 8). The Dropping Elephant – aggressive cyber-espionage in the Asian region. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
- Mandiant. (n.d.). Appendix C (Digital) - The Malware Arsenal. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
- Mandiant. (n.d.). APT1 Exposing One of China’s Cyber Espionage Units. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
- CyberESI. (2011). TROJAN.GTALK. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
- FireEye Labs. (2015, July). HAMMERTOSS: Stealthy Tactics Define a Russian Cyber Threat Group. Retrieved September 17, 2015.
- FireEye Threat Intelligence. (2015, December 1). China-based Cyber Threat Group Uses Dropbox for Malware Communications and Targets Hong Kong Media Outlets. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
- F-Secure Labs. (2015, April 22). CozyDuke: Malware Analysis. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
- F-Secure Labs. (2015, September 17). The Dukes: 7 years of Russian cyberespionage. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
- FireEye Labs/FireEye Threat Intelligence. (2015, May 14). Hiding in Plain Sight: FireEye and Microsoft Expose Obfuscation Tactic. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
- Settle, A., et al. (2016, August 8). MONSOON - Analysis Of An APT Campaign. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
- Gardiner, J., Cova, M., Nagaraja, S. (2014, February). Command & Control Understanding, Denying and Detecting. Retrieved April 20, 2016.