NETRESEC Network Security Blog - Tag : STAGE2


Robust Indicators of Compromise for SUNBURST

Were you targeted by SUNBURST? Image credit: NASA

There has been a great deal of confusion regarding what network based Indicators of Compromise (IOC) SolarWinds Orion customers can use to self assess whether or not they have been targeted after having installed a software update with the SUNBURST backdoor. Many of the published IOCs only indicate that a backdoored SolarWinds Orion update has been installed, but the question that many security teams are trying to answer is whether or not the installed backdoor has been been used by the threat actor.

Dont trust everything you read!

There is a widespread misunderstanding that receiving a so-called “NetBios” DNS A record (for example an address in 8.18.144.0/23) in response to a *.avsvmcloud.com DNS query would mean that you’ve been targeted. Our analysis of the decompiled SUNBURST code and passive DNS data show that that receiving a “NetBios” response does not necessarily mean that the client has been targeted. Unfortunately this misunderstanding has lead to various sensationalist stories being published with long lists of companies and organizations that are claimed to be “singled out by the hacking group for the second stage of the attack” or “victims where attackers escalated access”.

Another common misunderstanding is that clients sending *.avsvmcloud.com DNS queries with encoded timestamps, and optionally a list of installed/running AV products, have been actively targeted. Our analysis of the decompiled SUNBURST code show that the timestamped “Pings” or AV service status reports get exfiltrated in DNS traffic after the client’s internal AD domain has been sent, but before the perpetrators decide whether or not they want to activate the backdoor. Additionally, our analysis of publicly available passive DNS traffic indicate that there are almost as many unique clients transmitting timestamps and AV products in avsvmcloud.com DNS queries (409) as there are clients leaking their internal AD domains (513).

Indicators of a Targeted Attack

So what network based IOC’s can incident responders, blue teams and SOC analysts use in order to see if they have been targeted by the SUNBURST operators?

The following network based events indicate that a client has been actively targeted and the SUNBURST backdoor has progressed beyond the initial mode of operation:

  • Received a DNS A record for an *.avsvmcloud.com query, that points to an IP address in any of the following three networks: 18.130.0.0/16, 99.79.0.0/16 or 184.72.0.0/15
  • Sent an *.avsvmcloud.com DNS query with the STAGE2 flag encoded in the subdomain.
  • Received a CNAME record for a query to *.avsvmcloud.com
These three indicators are DNS based, so organizations will need to have a full historical backlog of DNS transactions ranging back to April 2020 in order to use them reliably.

Another network based IOC is HTTPS communication to one of the known STAGE3 C2 domains. However, please note that the C2 domain list might not be complete. It is even possible that a unique C2 domain is used for each victim. Nevertheless, here’s a list of the SUNBURST STAGE3 C2 domains we are currently aware of:

  • avsvmcloud[.]com
  • databasegalore[.]com
  • deftsecurity[.]com
  • digitalcollege[.]org
  • freescanonline[.]com
  • globalnetworkissues[.]com
  • highdatabase[.]com
  • incomeupdate[.]com
  • kubecloud[.]com
  • lcomputers[.]com
  • mobilnweb[.]com
  • panhardware[.]com
  • seobundlekit[.]com
  • solartrackingsystem[.]net
  • thedoccloud[.]com
  • virtualwebdata[.]com
  • webcodez[.]com
  • websitetheme[.]com
  • zupertech[.]com

Palo Alto was a Targeted SUNBURST Victim

We can now verify that Palo Alto was among the targeted SUNBURST victims, because their DNS request for "5qbtj04rcbp3tiq8bo6t.appsync.api.us.east.1.avsvmcloud.com" contains an encoded STAGE2 flag. The attack took place on September 29 at around 04:00 UTC, according to the timestamp that was also encoded into the avsvmcloud subdomain.

paloaltonetworks SUNBURST STAGE2 detected by SunburstDomainDecoder

Image: Parsing passive DNS data from Dancho Danchev with SunburstDomainDecoder v1.9 and filtering on GUID “22334A7227544B1E”.

Palo Alto's CEO Nikesh Arora has confirmed that they were hit by SUNBURST (or "SolarStorm" as they call it), but they don’t provide much details. Here’s what Nikesh wrote on December 17:

Recently, we experienced an attempt to download Cobalt Strike on one of our IT SolarWinds servers. [...]

We thought this was an isolated incident, however, on Dec. 13, we became aware that the SolarWinds software supply chain was compromised and it became clear that the incident we prevented was an attempted SolarStorm attack.

Our SUNBURST STAGE2 Victim Table has now been updated to include Palo Alto along side the other targeted victims.

Posted by Erik Hjelmvik on Monday, 11 January 2021 10:30:00 (UTC/GMT)

Tags: #SUNBURST #SolarWinds #22334A7227544B1E #SolarStorm #avsvmcloud #STAGE2 #DNS #DNS

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Finding Targeted SUNBURST Victims with pDNS

Our SunburstDomainDecoder tool can now be used to identify SUNBURST victims that have been explicitly targeted by the attackers. The only input needed is passive DNS (pDNS) data for avsvmcloud.com subdomains.

Companies and organizations that have installed trojanized a SolarWinds Orion update containing the SUBURST backdoor will send DNS queries for seemingly random subdomains of avsvmcloud.com. Some of these DNS queries actually contain the victim's internal AD domain encoded into the subdomain, as explained in our blog post Reassembling Victim Domain Fragments from SUNBURST DNS.

Three Stages of SUNBURST Backdoor Operation

Most SUNBURST victims were luckily not targeted by the attackers. This means that the backdoor never made it past "STAGE1" of the infection process. Nevertheless, the attackers did choose to proceed to "STAGE2" with some victims. As explained in FireEye's blog post SUNBURST Additional Technical Details, the "C2 coordinator" can proceed to the next stage by responding with a DNS A record pointing to an IP address within any of these three ranges:

  • 18.130.0.0/16
  • 99.79.0.0/16
  • 184.72.0.0/15

According to FireEye's "Diagram of actor operations and usage of SUNBURST", the decision to proceed to the next stage is based upon whether or not the victim's internal AD domain is "interesting to attack".

Note: "STAGE2" is referred to as "associated mode" in FireEye's blog post.

SUNBURST backdoors that have entered STAGE2 will allow CNAME records in DNS responses to be used as new C2 domains.

Sunburst stages 1 to 3 (passive, associated and active)

We have discovered that the SUNBURST backdoor actually uses a single bit in the queried avsvmcloud.com subdomain in order to flag that it has entered STAGE2 and is accepting new C2 domains in CNAME records. This bit is called flag, ext or dnssec in the malicious SUNBURST implant and can be extracted from DNS queries that have an encoded timestamp, such as those indicating which security products that are installed.

Detecting STAGE2 DNS Requests

Our SunburstDomainDecoder tool has now been updated to include a "STAGE2" tag in the output for DNS queries containing this stage 2 flag. This means that organizations like national CERTs, who perform incident response coordination and victim notification, can now use SunburstDomainDecoder in order to identify and notify targeted SUNBURST victims that have entered STAGE2.

Here's the output we get when feeding SunburstDomainDecoder with Bambenek's uniq-hostnames.txt passive DNS data and only displaying lines containing "STAGE2":

SunburstDomainDecoder.exe < uniq-hostnames.txt | findstr STAGE2
22334A7227544B1E 2020-09-29T04:00:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 5qbtj04rcbp3tiq8bo6t
FC07EB59E028D3EE 2020-06-13T09:00:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 6a57jk2ba1d9keg15cbg
1D71011E992C3D68 2020-06-11T22:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 7sbvaemscs0mc925tb99
F90BDDB47E495629 2020-06-13T08:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 gq1h856599gqh538acqn
DB7DE5B93573A3F7 2020-06-20T02:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 ihvpgv9psvq02ffo77et
3C327147876E6EA4 2020-07-22T17:00:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 k5kcubuassl3alrf7gm3
3C327147876E6EA4 2020-07-23T18:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 mhdosoksaccf9sni9icp
1D71011E992C3D68 central.pima.gov,STAGE2
DB7DE5B93573A3F7 coxnet.cox.com,STAGE2,WindowsDefender
F90BDDB47E495629 central.pima.gov,STAGE2

Most of these subdomains are listed in FireEye's Indicator_Release_NBIs.csv file as having CNAME pointers to other SUNBURST C2 domains like: freescanonline[.]com, deftsecurity[.]com and thedoccloud[.]com. But the first domain, with GUID 22334A7227544B1E, was actually not part of FireEye's IOC data.

Even more STAGE2 domains and GUID values can be found by analyzing other passive DNS resources, such as this passive DNS dump on pastebin by Rohit Bansal.

curl -s https://pastebin.com/raw/6EDgCKxd | SunburstDomainDecoder.exe | findstr STAGE2
E258332529826721 2020-07-18T05:00:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 1dbecfd99ku6fi2e5fjb
2039AFE13E5307A1 2020-05-30T14:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 4n4vte5gmor7j9lpegsf
22334A7227544B1E 2020-09-29T04:00:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 5qbtj04rcbp3tiq8bo6t
FC07EB59E028D3EE 2020-06-13T09:00:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 6a57jk2ba1d9keg15cbg
1D71011E992C3D68 2020-06-11T22:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 7sbvaemscs0mc925tb99
1D71011E992C3D68 2020-06-11T22:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 7sbvaemscs0mc925tb99
F90BDDB47E495629 2020-06-13T08:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 gq1h856599gqh538acqn
F90BDDB47E495629 2020-06-13T08:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 gq1h856599gqh538acqn
DB7DE5B93573A3F7 2020-06-20T02:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 ihvpgv9psvq02ffo77et
DB7DE5B93573A3F7 2020-06-20T02:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 ihvpgv9psvq02ffo77et
3C327147876E6EA4 2020-07-23T18:30:00.0000000Z,STAGE2 mhdosoksaccf9sni9icp

After removing the domains already present in FireEye's IOC we're left with the following FQDN's that have been requested by SUNBURST backdoors in STAGE2:

  • 1dbecfd99ku6fi2e5fjb.appsync-api.us-east-1.avsvmcloud.com
  • 4n4vte5gmor7j9lpegsf.appsync-api.eu-west-1.avsvmcloud.com
  • 5qbtj04rcbp3tiq8bo6t.appsync-api.us-east-1.avsvmcloud.com

Update January 7, 2021

Paul Vixie kindly shared his SunburstDomainDecoder output on Twitter yesterday. Paul's results show that the victim with GUID FC07EB59E028D3EE, which corresponds to the "6a57jk2ba1d9keg15cbg.appsync-api.eu-west-1.avsvmcloud[.]com" CNAME entry in FireEye's IOC, was Pima County. This means that 3C327147876E6EA4 is the only GUID among the CNAME records published by FireEye that cannot yet be tied to a victim organization. Paul's data also reveals two new STAGE2 victim GUIDs (65A28A36F24D379D and 8D2267C5A00796DA).

Update January 12, 2021

With help of SunburstDomainDecoder 1.9 and passive DNS data from Dancho Danchev we've been able to verify that Palo Alto have installed the maliocous SUNBURST backdoor and that it entered into STAGE2 opreration on September 29, 2020. Palo Alto's CEO Nikesh Arora has confirmed that they were hit by SUNBURST (or "SolarStorm" as they call it).

Targeted SUNBURST Victims

Here's a summary of the STAGE2 victims and their GUID values that can be extracted from publicly available data:

GUID avsvmcloud.com Subdomain Timestamp (UTC) AD Domain
2039AFE13E5307A1 4n4vte5gmor7j9lpegsf 4n4vte5gmor7j9lpegsf.appsync-api.eu-west-1.avsvmcloud.com 2020-05-30 14:30
1D71011E992C3D68 7sbvaemscs0mc925tb99 7sbvaemscs0mc925tb99.appsync-api.us-west-2.avsvmcloud.com 2020-06-11 22:30 central.pima.gov
F90BDDB47E495629 gq1h856599gqh538acqn gq1h856599gqh538acqn.appsync-api.us-west-2.avsvmcloud.com 2020-06-13 08:30 central.pima.gov
FC07EB59E028D3EE 6a57jk2ba1d9keg15cbg 6a57jk2ba1d9keg15cbg.appsync-api.eu-west-1.avsvmcloud.com 2020-06-13 09:00 central.pima.gov
DB7DE5B93573A3F7 ihvpgv9psvq02ffo77et ihvpgv9psvq02ffo77et.appsync-api.us-east-2.avsvmcloud.com 2020-06-20 02:30 coxnet.cox.com
65A28A36F24D379D 7u32o0m6ureci8h5eo6k 7u32o0m6ureci8h5eo6k.appsync-api.us-west-2.avsvmcloud.com 2020-07-02 01:00
E258332529826721 1dbecfd99ku6fi2e5fjb 1dbecfd99ku6fi2e5fjb.appsync-api.us-east-1.avsvmcloud.com 2020-07-18 05:00
3C327147876E6EA4 k5kcubuassl3alrf7gm3 k5kcubuassl3alrf7gm3.appsync-api.eu-west-1.avsvmcloud.com 2020-07-22 17:00
3C327147876E6EA4 mhdosoksaccf9sni9icp mhdosoksaccf9sni9icp.appsync-api.eu-west-1.avsvmcloud.com 2020-07-23 18:30
8D2267C5A00796DA 4q7b8j4ea4mabhlg0669 2020-08-06 18:00
22334A7227544B1E 5qbtj04rcbp3tiq8bo6t 5qbtj04rcbp3tiq8bo6t.appsync-api.us-east-1.avsvmcloud.com 2020-09-29 04:00 paloaltonetworks*

SUNBURST STAGE2 Victim Table
Sources: John Bambenek, Joe Słowik, Rohit Bansal, Dancho Danchev , Paul Vixie, FireEye

Identifying More SUNBURST STAGE2 Victims

Companies and organizations with access to more passive DNS resources will hopefully be able to use SunburstDomainDecoder to identify additional targeted SUNBURST victims that have progressed to STAGE2.

Download SunburstDomainDecoder

Our tool SunburstDomainDecoder is released under a Creative Commons CC-BY license, and can be downloaded here: https://www.netresec.com/files/SunburstDomainDecoder.zip

You can also read more about SunburstDomainDecoder in our blog post Reassembling Victim Domain Fragments from SUNBURST DNS.

Posted by Erik Hjelmvik on Monday, 04 January 2021 21:11:00 (UTC/GMT)

Tags: #Netresec #pDNS #SUNBURST #SolarWinds #Solorigate #SunburstDomainDecoder #SolarStorm #STAGE2 #avsvmcloud #22334A7227544B1E #C2

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