NETRESEC Network Security Blog - Tag : X.509


Examining an x509 Covert Channel

Jason Reaves gave a talk titled “Malware C2 over x509 certificate exchange” at BSides Springfield 2017, where he demonstrated that the SSL handshake can be abused by malware as a covert command-and-control (C2) channel.

Jason Reaves presenting at BSides Springfield 2017

He got the idea while analyzing the Vawtrak malware after discovering that it read multiple fields in the X.509 certificate provided by the server before proceeding. Jason initially thought these fields were used as a C2 channel, but then realized that Vawtrak performed a variant of certificate pinning in order to discover SSL man-in-the-middle attempts.

Nevertheless, Jason decided to actually implement a proof-of-concept (PoC) that uses the X.509 certificate as a C2 channel. Jason’s code is now available on GitHub along with a PCAP file demonstrating this covert C2 channel. Of course I couldn’t resist having a little look at this PCAP file in NetworkMiner.

The first thing I noticed was that the proof-of-concept PCAP ran the SSL session on TCP 4433, which prevented NetworkMiner from parsing the traffic as SSL. However, I was able to parse the SSL traffic with NetworkMiner Professional just fine thanks to the port-independent-protocol-identification feature (a.k.a Dynamic Port Detection), which made the Pro-version parse TCP 4433 as SSL/TLS.

X.509 certificates extracted from PCAP with NetworkMiner
Image: X.509 certificates extracted from PCAP with NetworkMiner

A “normal” x509 certificate size is usually around 1kB, so certificates that are 11kB should be considered as anomalies. Also, opening one of these .cer files reveals an extremely large value in the Subject Key Identifier field.

X.509 certificate with MZ header in the Subject Key Identifier field

Not only is this field very large, it also starts with the familiar “4D 5A” MZ header sequence.

NetworkMiner additionally parses details from the certificates that it extracts from PCAP files, so the Subject Key Identifier field is actually accessible from within NetworkMiner, as shown in the screenshot below.

Parameters tab in NetworkMiner showing X.509 certificate details

You can also see that NetworkMiner validates the certificate using the local trusted root certificates. Not surprisingly, this certificates is not trusted (certificate valid = FALSE). It would be most unlikely that anyone would manage to include arbitrary data like this in a signed certificate.


Extracting the MZ Binary from the Covert X.509 Channel

Even though NetworkMiner excels at pulling out files from PCAPs, this is definitively an occasion where manual handling is required. Jason’s PoC implementation actually uses a whopping 79 individual certificates in order to transfer this Mimikatz binary, which is 785 kB.

Here’s a tshark oneliner you can use to extract the Mimikatz binary from Jason's example PCAP file.

tshark -r mimikatz_sent.pcap -Y 'ssl.handshake.certificate_length gt 2000' -T fields -e x509ce.SubjectKeyIdentifier -d tcp.port==4433,ssl | tr -d ':\n' | xxd -r -p > mimikatz.exe

Detecting x509 Anomalies

Even though covert channels using x509 certificates isn’t a “thing” (yet?) it’s still a good idea to think about how this type of covert signaling can be detected. Just looking for large Subject Key Identifier fields is probably too specific, since there are other fields and extensions in X.509 that could also be used to transmit data. A better approach would be to alert on certificates larger than, let’s say, 3kB. Multiple certificates can also be chained together in a single TLS handshake certificate record, so it would also make sense to look for handshake records larger than 8kB (rough estimate).

Bro IDS logo

This type of anomaly-centric intrusion detection is typically best done using the Bro IDS, which provides easy programmatic access to the X.509 certificate and SSL handshake.

There will be false positives when alerting on large certificates in this manner, which is why I recommend to also check if the certificates have been signed by a trusted root or not. A certificate that is signed by a trusted root is very unlikely to contain malicious data.

Posted by Erik Hjelmvik on Tuesday, 06 February 2018 12:13:00 (UTC/GMT)

Tags: #malware #C2 #SSL #TLS #certificate #NetworkMiner #PCAP #X.509 #PIPI #IDS #tshark

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Hunting AdwindRAT with SSL Heuristics

An increasing number of malware families employ SSL/TLS encryption in order to evade detection by Network Intrusion Detection Systems (NIDS). In this blog post I’m gonna have a look at Adwind, which is a cross-platform Remote Access Trojan (RAT) that has been using SSL to conceal it’s traffic for several years. AdwindRAT typically connects SSL sessions to seemingly random TCP ports on the C2 servers. Hence, a heuristic that could potentially be used to hunt for Adwind RAT malware is to look for SSL traffic going to TCP ports that normally don’t use SSL. However, relying on ONLY that heuristic would generate way too many false positives.

Brad Duncan did an interesting writeup about Adwind RAT back in 2015, where he wrote:

I saw the same certificate information used last week, and it continues this week.
  • commonName = assylias
  • organizationName = assylias.Inc
  • countryName = FR
Currently, this may be the best way to identify Adwind-based post-infection traffic. Look for SSL traffic on a non-standard TCP port using that particular certificate.

Unfortunately, Adwind RAT has evolved to use other CN’s in their new certificates, so looking for “assylias.Inc” will not cut it anymore. However, looking for SSL traffic on non-standard TCP ports still holds on the latest Adwind RAT samples that we’ve analyzed.

The PT Research Attack Detection Team (ADT) sent an email with IDS signatures for detecting AdwindRAT to the Emerging-Sigs mailing list a few days ago, where they wrote:

“We offer one of the ways to detect malicious AdwindRAT software inside the encrypted traffic. Recently, the detection of this malicious program in network traffic is significantly reduced due to encryption. As a result of the research, a stable structure of data fragments was created.”

Not only is it awesome that they were able to detect static patterns in the encrypted data, they also provided 25 PCAP files containing AdwindRAT traffic. I loaded these PCAP files into NetworkMiner Professional in order to have a look at the X.509 certificates. NetworkMiner Professional supports Port-Independent Protocol Identification (PIPI), which means that it will automatically identify the C2 sessions as SSL, regardless of which port that is used. It will also automatically extract the X.509 certificates along with any other parameters that can be extracted from the SSL handshake before the session goes encrypted.

X.509 certificates extracted from AdwindRAT PCAP by NetworkMiner Image: Files extracted from ADT’s PCAP files that mach “Oracle” and “cer”.

In this recent campaign the attackers used X.509 certificates claiming to be from Oracle. The majory of the extracted certificates were exactly 1237 bytes long, so maybe they’re all identical? This is what the first extracted X.509 certificate looks like:

Self-signed Oracle America, Inc. X.509 certificate

The cert claims to be valid for a whopping 100 years!

Self-signed Oracle America, Inc. X.509 certificate

Self-signed, not trusted.

However, after opening a few of the other certificates it's clear that each C2 server is using a unique X.509 certificate. This can be quickly confirmed by opening the parameters tab in NetworkMiner Pro and showing only the Certificate Hash or Subject Key Identifier values.

NetworkMiner Parameters tab showing Certificate Hash values Image: Certificate Hash values found in Adwind RAT’s SSL traffic

I also noted that the CN of the certificates isn’t constant either; these samples use CN’s such as “Oracle America”, “Oracle Tanzania”, “Oracle Arusha Inc.”, “Oracle Leonardo” and “Oracle Heaven”.

The CN field is normally used to specify which domain(s) the certificate is valid for, together with any additinoal Subject Alternative Name field. However, Adwind RAT’s certificates don’t contain any domain name in the CN field and they don’t have an Alternative Name record. This might very well change in future versions of this piece of malware though, but I don’t expect the malware authors to generate a certificate with a CN matching the domain name used by each C2 server. I can therefore use this assumption in order to better hunt for Adwind RAT traffic.

But how do I know what public domain name the C2 server has? One solution is to use passive DNS, i.e. to capture all DNS traffic in order to do passive lookups locally. Another solution is to leverage the fact that the Adwind RAT clients use the Server Name Indication (SNI) when connecting to the C2 servers.

TLS Server Name (aka SNI) and Subject CN values don’t match for AdwindRAT Image: TLS Server Name (aka SNI) and Subject CN values don’t match for AdwindRAT

TLS Server Name (SNI) with matching Subject CN from Google Image: TLS Server Name (SNI) with matching Subject CN from Google.

My conclusion is therefore that Brad’s recommendations from 2015 are still pretty okay, even for the latest wave of Adwind RAT traffic. However, instead of looking for a fix CN string I’d prefer to use the following heuristics to hunt for this type of C2 traffic:

  • SSL traffic to non-standard SSL port
  • Self signed X.509 certificate
  • The SNI domain name in the Client Hello message does not match the CN or Subject Alternative Name of the certificate.

These heuristics will match more than just Adwind RAT traffic though. You’ll find that the exact same heuristics will also help identify other pieces of SSL-enabled malware as well as Tor traffic.

Posted by Erik Hjelmvik on Monday, 04 September 2017 19:01:00 (UTC/GMT)

Tags: #NetworkMiner #SSL #TLS #port #PCAP #PIPI #X.509 #certificate #extract

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NetworkMiner 2.1 Released

NetworkMiner 2.1 Logo

We are releasing a new version of NetworkMiner today. The latest and greatest version of NetworkMiner is now 2.1.

Yay! /throws confetti in the air


Better Email Parsing

I have spent some time during 2016 talking to digital forensics experts at various law enforcement agencies. I learned that from time to time criminals still fail to use encryption when reading their email. This new release of NetworkMiner therefore comes with parsers for POP3 and IMAP as well as an improved SMTP parser. These are the de facto protocols used for sending and receiving emails, and have been so since way back in the 90’s.

Messages tab in NetworkMiner 2.1 showing extracted emails
Messages tab in NetworkMiner 2.1 showing extracted emails

Not only does NetworkMiner show the contents of emails within the tool, it also extracts all attachments to disk and even saves each email as an .eml file that can be opened in an external email reader in order to view it as the suspect would.

Extracted email Get_free_s.eml opened in Mozilla Thunderbird
Extracted email ”Get_free_s.eml” opened in Mozilla Thunderbird

Encapsulation Protocols

There are several protocols that can be used to provide logical separation of network traffic, in order to avoid using multiple physical networks to keep various network segments, security domains or users apart. Some of these techniques for logical separation rely on tagging or labeling, while others are tunneling the encapsulated traffic. Nevertheless, it’s all pretty much the same thing; an encapsulation protocol is used in order to wrap protocol X inside protocol Y, usually while adding some metadata in the process.

NetworkMiner has been able to parse the classic encapsulation protocols 802.1Q, GRE and PPPoE since 2011, but we now see an increased use of protocols that provide logical separation for virtualization and cloud computing environments. We have therefore added parsers in NetworkMiner 2.1 for VXLAN and OpenFlow, which are the two most widely used protocols for logical separation of traffic in virtualized environments. We have also added decapsulation of MPLS and EoMPLS (Ethernet-over-MPLS) to NetworkMiner 2.1.

Encapsulation examples for MPLS GRE and VXLAN

The new release additionally comes with support for the SOCKS protocol, which is an old school encapsulation protocol used by administrators as well as hackers in order to bypass firewalls or provide anonymous Internet access. The SOCKS parser in NetworkMiner can even be used to read network traffic from Tor in cleartext before it enters the Tor network. However, in order to capture Tor’s SOCKS traffic you’ll have to sniff traffic from the Tor client’s localhost interface on TCP port 9150.

PacketCache Logo

PacketCache

NetworkMiner 2.1 can read packets directly from a local PacketCache service by clicking ”File > Read from PacketCache”. This eliminates the need to run a PowerShell script in order to dump a PCAP file with packets recently captured by PacketCache.

HTTP Partial Content / Range Requests

Byte serving is a feature in HTTP that makes it possible to retrieve only a segment of a file, rather than the complete file, by using the “Range” HTTP header. This feature is often used by BITS in order to download updates for Windows. But we have also seen malware use byte serving, for example malware droppers that attempt to download malicious payloads in a stealthy manner. See Ursnif and Dridex for examples of malware that utilize this technique.

NetworkMiner has previously only reassembled the individual segments of a partial content download. But as of version 2.1 NetworkMiner has the ability to piece together the respective parts into a complete file.

SSL/TLS and X.509 Certificates

NetworkMiner has been able to extract X.509 certificates to disk for many years now, simply by opening a PCAP file with SSL traffic. However, in the 2.1 release we’ve added support for parsing out the SSL details also from FTP’s “AUTH TLS” (a.k.a explicit TLS or explicit SSL) and STARTTLS in SMTP.

NetworkMiner now also extracts details from the SSL handshake and X.509 certificate to the Parameters tab, such as the requested SNI hostname and the Subject CN from the certificate.

SSL and certificate information extracted by NetworkMiner from PCAP
SSL handshake details and certificate info passively extracted from captured HTTPS session to mega.co.nz

NetworkMiner Professional

The new features mentioned so far are all part of the free open source version of NetworkMiner. But we have also added a few additional features to the Professional edition of NetworkMiner as part of the 2.1 release.

The “Browsers” tab of NetworkMiner Professional has been extended with a feature for tracking online ads and web trackers. We are using EasyList and EasyPrivacy from easylist.to in order to provide an up-to-date tracking of ads and trackers. HTTP requests related to ads are colored red, while web tracker requests are blue. These colors also apply to the Files tab and can be modified in the Settings menu (Tools > Settings).

NetworkMiner Professional 2.1 showing Advertisments (red) and Trackers (blue)
NetworkMiner Professional 2.1 showing advertisments (red) and Internet trackers (blue).

The reason why NetworkMiner Pro now tracks ads and trackers is because these types of requests can make up almost half of the HTTP requests that a normal user makes while surfing the web today. Doing forensics on network traffic from a suspect criminal can be a very time consuming task, we therefore hope that being able to differentiate between what traffic that is initiated by the user rather than being triggered by an online advertisement service or internet tracker can save time for investigators.

The RIPE database previously contained a bug that prevented NetworkMiner Professional from properly leveraging netname info from RIPE. This bug has now been fixed, so that the Host Details can be enriched with details from RIPE for IP addresses in Europe. To enable the RIPE database you’ll first have to download the raw data by clicking Tools > Download RIPE DB.

Host Details with RIPE netname Host Details enriched with RIPE description and netname

We have also extended the exported details about the hosts in the CSV and XML files from NetworkMiner Professional and the command line tool NetworkMinerCLI. The exported information now contains details such as IP Time-to-Live and open ports.

Upgrading to version 2.1

Users who have purchased a license for NetworkMiner Professional 2.0 can download a free update to version 2.1 from our customer portal.

Those who instead prefer to use the free and open source version can grab the latest version of NetworkMiner from the official NetworkMiner page.

Credits

There are several persons I would like to thank for contributing with feature requests and bug reports that have been used to improve NetworkMiner. I would like to thank Dietrich Hasselhorn, Christian Reusch, Jasper Bongertz, Eddi Blenkers and Daniel Spiekermann for their feedback that have helped improve the SMB, SMB2 and HTTP parsers as well as implementing various encapsulation protocols. I would also like to thank several investigators at the Swedish, German and Dutch police as well as EUROPOL for the valuable feedback provided by them.

Posted by Erik Hjelmvik on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 14:30:00 (UTC/GMT)

Tags: #NetworkMiner #SMTP #IMAP #X.509 #PCAP

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book

Recommended Books

» The Practice of Network Security Monitoring, Richard Bejtlich (2013)

» Applied Network Security Monitoring, Chris Sanders and Jason Smith (2013)

» Network Forensics, Sherri Davidoff and Jonathan Ham (2012)

» The Tao of Network Security Monitoring, Richard Bejtlich (2004)

» Practical Packet Analysis, Chris Sanders (2017)

» Windows Forensic Analysis, Harlan Carvey (2009)

» TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1, Kevin Fall and Richard Stevens (2011)

» Industrial Network Security, Eric D. Knapp and Joel Langill (2014)