AA23-025A: Protecting Against Malicious Use of Remote Monitoring and Management Software

Cybersecurity
Original release date: January 25, 2023 Summary The Cybersecurity and
Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), National Security Agency (NSA), and
Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) (hereafter
referred to as the “authoring organizations”) are releasing this joint
Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) to warn network defenders about malicious use of
legitimate remote monitoring and management (RMM) software. In October 2022,
CISA identified a widespread cyber campaign involving the malicious use of
legitimate RMM software. Specifically, cyber criminal actors sent phishing
emails that led to the download of legitimate RMM software—ScreenConnect (now
ConnectWise Control) and AnyDesk—which the actors used in a refund scam to
steal money from victim bank accounts. Although this campaign appears
financially motivated, the authoring organizations assess it could lead to
additional types of malicious activity. For example, the actors could sell
victim account access to other cyber criminal or advanced persistent threat
(APT) actors. This campaign highlights the threat of malicious cyber activity
associated with legitimate RMM software: after gaining access to the target
network via phishing or other techniques, malicious cyber actors—from
cybercriminals to nation-state sponsored APTs—are known to use legitimate RMM
software as a backdoor for persistence and/or command and control (C2). Using
portable executables of RMM software provides a way for actors to establish
local user access without the need for administrative privilege and full
software installation—effectively bypassing common software controls and risk
management assumptions. The authoring organizations strongly encourage network
defenders to review the Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) and Mitigations
sections in this CSA and apply the recommendations to protect against
malicious use of legitimate RMM software. Download the PDF version of this
report: pdf, 608 kb . For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see AA23-025.stix
(STIX, 19 kb). Technical Details Overview In October 2022, CISA used trusted
third-party reporting, to conduct retrospective analysis of EINSTEIN —a
federal civilian executive branch (FCEB)-wide intrusion detection system (IDS)
operated and monitored by CISA—and identified suspected malicious activity on
two FCEB networks: In mid-June 2022, malicious actors sent a phishing email
containing a phone number to an FCEB employee’s government email address. The
employee called the number, which led them to visit the malicious domain,
myhelpcare[.]online. In mid-September 2022, there was bi-directional traffic
between an FCEB network and myhelpcare[.]cc. Based on further EINSTEIN
analysis and incident response support, CISA identified related activity on
many other FCEB networks. The authoring organizations assess this activity is
part of a widespread, financially motivated phishing campaign and is related
to malicious typosquatting activity reported by Silent Push in the blog post
Silent Push uncovers a large trojan operation featuring Amazon, Microsoft,
Geek Squad, McAfee, Norton, and Paypal domains . Malicious Cyber Activity The
authoring organizations assess that since at least June 2022, cyber criminal
actors have sent help desk-themed phishing emails to FCEB federal staff’s
personal, and government email addresses. The emails either contain a link to
a “first-stage” malicious domain or prompt the recipients to call the
cybercriminals, who then try to convince the recipients to visit the first-
stage malicious domain. See figure 1 for an example phishing email obtained
from an FCEB network. The recipient visiting the first-stage malicious domain
triggers the download of an executable. The executable then connects to a
“second-stage” malicious domain, from which it downloads additional RMM
software. CISA noted that the actors did not install downloaded RMM clients on
the compromised host. Instead, the actors downloaded AnyDesk and ScreenConnect
as self-contained, portable executables configured to connect to the actor’s
RMM server. Note: Portable executables launch within the user’s context
without installation. Because portable executables do not require
administrator privileges, they can allow execution of unapproved software even
if a risk management control may be in place to audit or block the same
software’s installation on the network. Threat actors can leverage a portable
executable with local user rights to attack other vulnerable machines within
the local intranet or establish long term persistent access as a local user
service. CISA has observed that multiple first-stage domain names follow
naming patterns used for IT help/support themed social-engineering, e.g.,
hservice[.]live , gscare[.]live , nhelpcare[.]info , deskcareme[.]live ,
nhelpcare[.]cc) . According to Silent Push, some of these malicious domains
impersonate known brands such as, Norton, GeekSupport, Geek Squad, Amazon,
Microsoft, McAfee, and PayPal.[1 ] CISA has also observed that the first-stage
malicious domain linked in the initial phishing email periodically redirects
to other sites for additional redirects and downloads of RMM software. Use of
Remote Monitoring and Management Tools In this campaign, after downloading the
RMM software, the actors used the software to initiate a refund scam. They
first connected to the recipient’s system and enticed the recipient to log
into their bank account while remaining connected to the system. The actors
then used their access through the RMM software to modify the recipient’s bank
account summary. The falsely modified bank account summary showed the
recipient was mistakenly refunded an excess amount of money. The actors then
instructed the recipient to “refund” this excess amount to the scam operator.
Although this specific activity appears to be financially motivated and
targets individuals, the access could lead to additional malicious activity
against the recipient’s organization—from both other cybercriminals and APT
actors. Network defenders should be aware that: Although the cybercriminal
actors in this campaign used ScreenConnect and AnyDesk, threat actors can
maliciously leverage any legitimate RMM software. Because threat actors can
download legitimate RMM software as self-contained, portable executables, they
can bypass both administrative privilege requirements and software management
control policies. The use of RMM software generally does not trigger antivirus
or antimalware defenses. Malicious cyber actors are known to leverage
legitimate RMM and remote desktop software as backdoors for persistence and
for C2.[2 ],[3 ],[4 ],[5 ],[6 ],[7 ],[8 ] RMM software allows cyber threat
actors to avoid using custom malware. Threat actors often target legitimate
users of RMM software. Targets can include managed service providers (MSPs)
and IT help desks, who regularly use legitimate RMM software for technical and
security end-user support, network management, endpoint monitoring, and to
interact remotely with hosts for IT-support functions. These threat actors can
exploit trust relationships in MSP networks and gain access to a large number
of the victim MSP’s customers. MSP compromises can introduce significant
risk—such as ransomware and cyber espionage —to the MSP’s customers. The
authoring organizations strongly encourage network defenders to apply the
recommendations in the Mitigations section of this CSA to protect against
malicious use of legitimate RMM software. INDICATORS OF COMPROMISE See table 1
for IOCs associated with the campaign detailed in this CSA. Table 1: Malicious
Domains and IP addresses observed by CISA Domain Description Date(s) Observed
win03[.]xyz Suspected first-stage malware domain June 1, 2022 July 19, 2022
myhelpcare[.]online Suspected first-stage malware domain June 14, 2022
win01[.]xyz Suspected first-stage malware domain August 3, 2022 August 18,
2022 myhelpcare[.]cc Suspected first-stage malware domain September 14, 2022
247secure[.]us Second-stage malicious domain October 19, 2022 November 10,
2022 Additional resources to detect possible exploitation or compromise:
Silent Push: Silent Push uncovers a large trojan operation featuring Amazon,
Microsoft, Geek Squad, McAfee, Norton, and Paypal domains . Mitigations The
authoring organizations encourage network defenders to: Implement best
practices to block phishing emails. See CISA’s Phishing Infographic for more
information. Audit remote access tools on your network to identify currently
used and/or authorized RMM software. Review logs for execution of RMM software
to detect abnormal use of programs running as a portable executable. Use
security software to detect instances of RMM software only being loaded in
memory. Implement application controls to manage and control execution of
software, including allowlisting RMM programs. See NSA Cybersecurity
Information sheet Enforce Signed Software Execution Policies . Application
controls should prevent both installation and execution of portable versions
of unauthorized RMM software. Require authorized RMM solutions only be used
from within your network over approved remote access solutions, such as
virtual private networks (VPNs) or virtual desktop interfaces (VDIs). Block
both inbound and outbound connections on common RMM ports and protocols at the
network perimeter. Implement a user training program and phishing exercises to
raise awareness among users about the risks of visiting suspicious websites,
clicking on suspicious links, and opening suspicious attachments. Reinforce
the appropriate user response to phishing and spearphishing emails. RESOURCES
See CISA Insights Mitigations and Hardening Guidance for MSPs and Small- and
Mid-sized Businesses for guidance on hardening MSP and customer
infrastructure. U.S. Defense Industrial Base (DIB) Sector organizations may
consider signing up for the NSA Cybersecurity Collaboration Center’s DIB
Cybersecurity Service Offerings, including Protective Domain Name System
(PDNS) services, vulnerability scanning, and threat intelligence collaboration
for eligible organizations. For more information on how to enroll in these
services, email dib_defense@cyber.nsa.gov . CISA offers several Vulnerability
Scanning to help organizations reduce their exposure to threats by taking a
proactive approach to mitigating attack vectors. See cisa.gov/cyber-hygiene-
services . Consider participating in CISA’s Automated Indicator Sharing (AIS)
to receive real-time exchange of machine-readable cyber threat indicators and
defensive measures. AIS is offered at no cost to participants as part of
CISA’s mission to work with our public and private sector partners to identify
and help mitigate cyber threats through information sharing and provide
technical assistance, upon request, that helps prevent, detect, and respond to
incidents. PURPOSE This advisory was developed by CISA, NSA, and MS-ISAC in
furtherance of their respective cybersecurity missions, including their
responsibilities to develop and issue cybersecurity specifications and
mitigations. DISCLAIMER The information in this report is being provided “as
is” for informational purposes only. CISA, NSA, and MS-ISAC do not endorse any
commercial product or service, including any subjects of analysis. Any
reference to specific commercial products, processes, or services by service
mark, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not constitute or imply
endorsement, recommendation, or favoring. References [1] Silent Push uncovers
a large trojan operation featuring Amazon, Microsoft, Geek Squad, McAfee,
Norton, and Paypal domains. — Silent Push Threat Intelligence [2] Impacket and
Exfiltration Tool Used to Steal Sensitive Information from Defense Industrial
Base Organization | CISA [3] Iranian Government-Sponsored Actors Conduct Cyber
Operations Against Global Government and Commercial Networks | CISA [4]
Karakurt Data Extortion Group | CISA [5] Compromise of U.S. Water Treatment
Facility | CISA [6] North Korean Advanced Persistent Threat Focus: Kimsuky |
CISA [7] Continued Threat Actor Exploitation Post Pulse Secure VPN Patching |
CISA [8] FBI Warns Public to Beware of Tech Support Scammers Targeting
Financial Accounts Using Remote Desktop Software — FBI Revisions January 25,
2023: Initial Version This product is provided subject to this Notification
and this Privacy & Use policy.Original release date: January 25, 2023 Summary The Cybersecurity and
Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), National Security Agency (NSA), and
Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) (hereafter
referred to as the “authoring organizations”) are releasing this joint
Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) to warn network defenders about malicious use of
legitimate remote monitoring and management (RMM) software. In October 2022,
CISA identified a widespread cyber campaign involving the malicious use of
legitimate RMM software. Specifically, cyber criminal actors sent phishing
emails that led to the download of legitimate RMM software—ScreenConnect (now
ConnectWise Control) and AnyDesk—which the actors used in a refund scam to
steal money from victim bank accounts. Although this campaign appears
financially motivated, the authoring organizations assess it could lead to
additional types of malicious activity. For example, the actors could sell
victim account access to other cyber criminal or advanced persistent threat
(APT) actors. This campaign highlights the threat of malicious cyber activity
associated with legitimate RMM software: after gaining access to the target
network via phishing or other techniques, malicious cyber actors—from
cybercriminals to nation-state sponsored APTs—are known to use legitimate RMM
software as a backdoor for persistence and/or command and control (C2). Using
portable executables of RMM software provides a way for actors to establish
local user access without the need for administrative privilege and full
software installation—effectively bypassing common software controls and risk
management assumptions. The authoring organizations strongly encourage network
defenders to review the Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) and Mitigations
sections in this CSA and apply the recommendations to protect against
malicious use of legitimate RMM software. Download the PDF version of this
report: pdf, 608 kb . For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see AA23-025.stix
(STIX, 19 kb). Technical Details Overview In October 2022, CISA used trusted
third-party reporting, to conduct retrospective analysis of EINSTEIN —a
federal civilian executive branch (FCEB)-wide intrusion detection system (IDS)
operated and monitored by CISA—and identified suspected malicious activity on
two FCEB networks: In mid-June 2022, malicious actors sent a phishing email
containing a phone number to an FCEB employee’s government email address. The
employee called the number, which led them to visit the malicious domain,
myhelpcare[.]online. In mid-September 2022, there was bi-directional traffic
between an FCEB network and myhelpcare[.]cc. Based on further EINSTEIN
analysis and incident response support, CISA identified related activity on
many other FCEB networks. The authoring organizations assess this activity is
part of a widespread, financially motivated phishing campaign and is related
to malicious typosquatting activity reported by Silent Push in the blog post
Silent Push uncovers a large trojan operation featuring Amazon, Microsoft,
Geek Squad, McAfee, Norton, and Paypal domains . Malicious Cyber Activity The
authoring organizations assess that since at least June 2022, cyber criminal
actors have sent help desk-themed phishing emails to FCEB federal staff’s
personal, and government email addresses. The emails either contain a link to
a “first-stage” malicious domain or prompt the recipients to call the
cybercriminals, who then try to convince the recipients to visit the first-
stage malicious domain. See figure 1 for an example phishing email obtained
from an FCEB network. The recipient visiting the first-stage malicious domain
triggers the download of an executable. The executable then connects to a
“second-stage” malicious domain, from which it downloads additional RMM
software. CISA noted that the actors did not install downloaded RMM clients on
the compromised host. Instead, the actors downloaded AnyDesk and ScreenConnect
as self-contained, portable executables configured to connect to the actor’s
RMM server. Note: Portable executables launch within the user’s context
without installation. Because portable executables do not require
administrator privileges, they can allow execution of unapproved software even
if a risk management control may be in place to audit or block the same
software’s installation on the network. Threat actors can leverage a portable
executable with local user rights to attack other vulnerable machines within
the local intranet or establish long term persistent access as a local user
service. CISA has observed that multiple first-stage domain names follow
naming patterns used for IT help/support themed social-engineering, e.g.,
hservice[.]live , gscare[.]live , nhelpcare[.]info , deskcareme[.]live ,
nhelpcare[.]cc) . According to Silent Push, some of these malicious domains
impersonate known brands such as, Norton, GeekSupport, Geek Squad, Amazon,
Microsoft, McAfee, and PayPal.[1 ] CISA has also observed that the first-stage
malicious domain linked in the initial phishing email periodically redirects
to other sites for additional redirects and downloads of RMM software. Use of
Remote Monitoring and Management Tools In this campaign, after downloading the
RMM software, the actors used the software to initiate a refund scam. They
first connected to the recipient’s system and enticed the recipient to log
into their bank account while remaining connected to the system. The actors
then used their access through the RMM software to modify the recipient’s bank
account summary. The falsely modified bank account summary showed the
recipient was mistakenly refunded an excess amount of money. The actors then
instructed the recipient to “refund” this excess amount to the scam operator.
Although this specific activity appears to be financially motivated and
targets individuals, the access could lead to additional malicious activity
against the recipient’s organization—from both other cybercriminals and APT
actors. Network defenders should be aware that: Although the cybercriminal
actors in this campaign used ScreenConnect and AnyDesk, threat actors can
maliciously leverage any legitimate RMM software. Because threat actors can
download legitimate RMM software as self-contained, portable executables, they
can bypass both administrative privilege requirements and software management
control policies. The use of RMM software generally does not trigger antivirus
or antimalware defenses. Malicious cyber actors are known to leverage
legitimate RMM and remote desktop software as backdoors for persistence and
for C2.[2 ],[3 ],[4 ],[5 ],[6 ],[7 ],[8 ] RMM software allows cyber threat
actors to avoid using custom malware. Threat actors often target legitimate
users of RMM software. Targets can include managed service providers (MSPs)
and IT help desks, who regularly use legitimate RMM software for technical and
security end-user support, network management, endpoint monitoring, and to
interact remotely with hosts for IT-support functions. These threat actors can
exploit trust relationships in MSP networks and gain access to a large number
of the victim MSP’s customers. MSP compromises can introduce significant
risk—such as ransomware and cyber espionage —to the MSP’s customers. The
authoring organizations strongly encourage network defenders to apply the
recommendations in the Mitigations section of this CSA to protect against
malicious use of legitimate RMM software. INDICATORS OF COMPROMISE See table 1
for IOCs associated with the campaign detailed in this CSA. Table 1: Malicious
Domains and IP addresses observed by CISA Domain Description Date(s) Observed
win03[.]xyz Suspected first-stage malware domain June 1, 2022 July 19, 2022
myhelpcare[.]online Suspected first-stage malware domain June 14, 2022
win01[.]xyz Suspected first-stage malware domain August 3, 2022 August 18,
2022 myhelpcare[.]cc Suspected first-stage malware domain September 14, 2022
247secure[.]us Second-stage malicious domain October 19, 2022 November 10,
2022 Additional resources to detect possible exploitation or compromise:
Silent Push: Silent Push uncovers a large trojan operation featuring Amazon,
Microsoft, Geek Squad, McAfee, Norton, and Paypal domains . Mitigations The
authoring organizations encourage network defenders to: Implement best
practices to block phishing emails. See CISA’s Phishing Infographic for more
information. Audit remote access tools on your network to identify currently
used and/or authorized RMM software. Review logs for execution of RMM software
to detect abnormal use of programs running as a portable executable. Use
security software to detect instances of RMM software only being loaded in
memory. Implement application controls to manage and control execution of
software, including allowlisting RMM programs. See NSA Cybersecurity
Information sheet Enforce Signed Software Execution Policies . Application
controls should prevent both installation and execution of portable versions
of unauthorized RMM software. Require authorized RMM solutions only be used
from within your network over approved remote access solutions, such as
virtual private networks (VPNs) or virtual desktop interfaces (VDIs). Block
both inbound and outbound connections on common RMM ports and protocols at the
network perimeter. Implement a user training program and phishing exercises to
raise awareness among users about the risks of visiting suspicious websites,
clicking on suspicious links, and opening suspicious attachments. Reinforce
the appropriate user response to phishing and spearphishing emails. RESOURCES
See CISA Insights Mitigations and Hardening Guidance for MSPs and Small- and
Mid-sized Businesses for guidance on hardening MSP and customer
infrastructure. U.S. Defense Industrial Base (DIB) Sector organizations may
consider signing up for the NSA Cybersecurity Collaboration Center’s DIB
Cybersecurity Service Offerings, including Protective Domain Name System
(PDNS) services, vulnerability scanning, and threat intelligence collaboration
for eligible organizations. For more information on how to enroll in these
services, email dib_defense@cyber.nsa.gov . CISA offers several Vulnerability
Scanning to help organizations reduce their exposure to threats by taking a
proactive approach to mitigating attack vectors. See cisa.gov/cyber-hygiene-
services . Consider participating in CISA’s Automated Indicator Sharing (AIS)
to receive real-time exchange of machine-readable cyber threat indicators and
defensive measures. AIS is offered at no cost to participants as part of
CISA’s mission to work with our public and private sector partners to identify
and help mitigate cyber threats through information sharing and provide
technical assistance, upon request, that helps prevent, detect, and respond to
incidents. PURPOSE This advisory was developed by CISA, NSA, and MS-ISAC in
furtherance of their respective cybersecurity missions, including their
responsibilities to develop and issue cybersecurity specifications and
mitigations. DISCLAIMER The information in this report is being provided “as
is” for informational purposes only. CISA, NSA, and MS-ISAC do not endorse any
commercial product or service, including any subjects of analysis. Any
reference to specific commercial products, processes, or services by service
mark, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not constitute or imply
endorsement, recommendation, or favoring. References [1] Silent Push uncovers
a large trojan operation featuring Amazon, Microsoft, Geek Squad, McAfee,
Norton, and Paypal domains. — Silent Push Threat Intelligence [2] Impacket and
Exfiltration Tool Used to Steal Sensitive Information from Defense Industrial
Base Organization | CISA [3] Iranian Government-Sponsored Actors Conduct Cyber
Operations Against Global Government and Commercial Networks | CISA [4]
Karakurt Data Extortion Group | CISA [5] Compromise of U.S. Water Treatment
Facility | CISA [6] North Korean Advanced Persistent Threat Focus: Kimsuky |
CISA [7] Continued Threat Actor Exploitation Post Pulse Secure VPN Patching |
CISA [8] FBI Warns Public to Beware of Tech Support Scammers Targeting
Financial Accounts Using Remote Desktop Software — FBI Revisions January 25,
2023: Initial Version This product is provided subject to this Notification
and this Privacy & Use policy. January 25 2023 11:55:00
AA23-025A: Protecting Against Malicious Use of Remote Monitoring and Management Software

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