This blog is part one of a two-part series focused on how Microsoft DART helps patrons with human-operated ransomware. For more guidance on human-operated ransomware and how to defend against these extortion-based attacks, can be attributed to our human-operated ransomware docs page.

Microsoft’s Detection and Response Team( DART) has helped patrons of all sizes, across many industries and regions, investigate and remediate human-operated ransomware for over five years. This blog aims to explain the process and execution is set out in our customer participations to provide perspective on the unique issues and challenges considering human-operated ransomware. We will also discuss how DART leverages Microsoft answers such as Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, Microsoft Defender for Identity, and Microsoft Cloud App Security( MCAS) within client environments while collaborating with cross-functional threat intelligence squads across Microsoft who similarly track human-operated ransomware activities and behaviors.

Human-operated ransomware is not a malicious software problem–it’s a human felon trouble. The solutions used to address commodity difficulties aren’t enough to prevent a threat that more closely resembles a nation-state threat actor. It incapacitates or uninstalls your antivirus software before encrypting files. They situate and corrupt or delete backups before sending a ransom demand. These actions are commonly done with legitimate programs that you might already have in your environment and are not considered malicious. In criminal hands, these tools are used maliciously to carry out attacks.

Responding to the increasing threat of ransomware requires a combination of modern enterprise configuration, up-to-date security products, and the vigilance of developed security staff to detect and respond to the threats before data is lost.

Key paces in DART’s approach to conducting ransomware incident investigations

To maximize DART’s efforts to restore business continuity while simultaneously analyzing the details of the incident, a careful and thorough investigation is coordinated with remediation measures to ensure that the root cause is determined. These tries take place as we facilitate and advise customers with the job of getting the organization up and running again in a secure manner.

Every effort is made to determine how the adversary gained access to the customer’s assets so that vulnerabilities can be remediated. Otherwise, it is highly likely that the same type of attack will take place again in the future. In some examples, the threat actor takes steps to “cover their tracks” and destroy indication, so it is possible that the entire chain of events may not be evident.

The following are three key stairs in our ransomware investigations 😛 TAGEND

Graphic illustrates the steps, goals, and initial questions in DART’s ransomware investigation assistance.

Figure 1. Key steps in DART’s ransomware investigations.

1. Assess the current situation

This is critical to understanding the scope of the incident and for determining the best people to assist and to scheme and scope the investigation and remediation chores. Asking these initial questions is crucial in helping us ascertain the situation being dealt with 😛 TAGEND

What initially constructed you aware of the ransomware attack?

If the initial menace was identified by IT personnel( like discover backups being deleted, antivirus( AV) alarm, endpoint detecting and response( EDR) alerting, suspicious system varies ), it is often possible to take quick decisive measures to thwart the attack, typically by disabling all inbound and outbound internet communication. This may temporarily affect business operations, but that would typically be much less impactful than an opponent deploying ransomware.

If the threat was identified by a user call to the IT helpdesk, there may be enough advance admonishing to take defensive measures to prevent or minimise the effects of the attack. If the threat was identified by an external entity( like law enforcement or a international financial institutions ), it will probably that the damage is already done, and you will see evidence in your environment that the threat actor has already gained administrative control of your network. This can range from ransomware notes, locked screens, or ransom demands.

What date/ period did you first learn of the incident?

Establishing the initial activity date and time is important because it helps narrow the scope of the initial triage for “quick wins.” Additional questions may include 😛 TAGEND

What updates were missing on that date? This is important to understand what vulnerabilities may have been exploited by the adversary. What reports were used on that date? What new accounts have been created since that date?

What logs( such as AV, EDR, and VPN) are available, and is there any indication that the actor is currently accessing systems?

Logs are an indicator of suspected compromise. Follow-up questions may include 😛 TAGEND

Are logs being aggregated in a SIEM( like Microsoft Azure Sentinel, Splunk, ArcSight) and current? What is the retention period of this data? Are there any suspected compromised systems that are experiencing unusual activity? Are there any suspected compromised reports that appear to be actively used by the adversary? Is there any evidence of active command and oversight matters( C2s) in EDR, Firewall, VPN, Proxy, and other logs?

As part of assessing the current situation, DART may require a domain controller( DC) that was not ransomed, a recent backup of a DC, or a recent DC taken offline for upkeep/ upgrades. We likewise ask our customers whether multifactor authentication( MFA) was required for everyone in the company and if Microsoft Azure Active Directory was used.

2. Identify line-of-business( LOB) apps that are unavailable due to the incident

This step is critical in figuring out the quickest way to get systems back online while receive the evidence required.

Does the application require an identity?

How is authentication performed? How are credentials such as credentials or secrets stored and overseen?

Are tested backups of its implementation, configuration, and data available?

Are the contents and unity of backups regularly corroborated use a restore exert? This is particularly important after configuration handling modifies or version upgrades.

3. Explain the compromise recovery( CR) process

This is a follow-up engagement that may be necessary if DART determines that the control airliner( typically Active Directory) has been compromised.

DART’s investigation ever has a goal of providing output that feeds immediately into the CR process. CR is the process by which we withdraw existing nefarious attacker control from an environment and tactically increase security posture within a given time period. CR takes place post-security breach. To learn more about CR, read the Microsoft Compromise Recovery Security Practice team’s blog CRSP: The emergency team fighting cyber attacks beside customers.

Once we have collected the responses to the questions above, we can build a list of duties and designate proprietors. A key factor in a successful incident response engagement is thorough, detailed documentation of each work item( such as the owner, status, findings, date, and period ), building the compilation of findings at the end of the engagement a straightforward process.

How Projectile leverages Microsoft security solutions to combat human-operated ransomware

DART leverages cross-functional squads, such as internal threat intelligence squads, who trail adversary the operations and behaviors, customer support, and product developing squads behind Microsoft products and services. DART likewise collaborates with other incident response vendors the customer may have engaged and will share findings whenever possible.

DART relies heavily on data for all investigations. The squad utilizes existing deployments of Microsoft answers, such as Defender for Endpoint, Defender for Identity, and MCAS within customer environments along with custom forensic data collection for additional analysis. If these sensors are not deployed, DART also requests that the customer deploy these to gain deeper visibility into the environment, correlate against threat intelligence sources, and enable our analysts to scale in hasten and agility.

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is Microsoft’s enterprise endpoint security platform designed to help enterprise network security analysts prevent, detect, investigate, and respond to advanced threats. As shall be included in the image below, Defender for Endpoint can detect strikes employing advanced behavioral analytics and machine learning. DART analysts use Defender for Endpoint for attacker behavioral analytics.

Screengrab from the Microsoft Defender Security Center that shows a pass-the-ticket attack alert.

Figure 2. Sample alert in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint for a pass-the-ticket attack.

DART analysts can also perform advanced hunting queries to pivot off indicators of compromise( IOCs) or search for known behavior if a threat performer group is identified.

Screengrab from the Microsoft Defender Security Center that shows advanced hunting, a query-based threat hunting tool.

Figure 3. Advanced hunting queries to locate known attacker behavior.

In Defender for Endpoint, customers have access to a real-time expert-level monitoring and analysis service by Microsoft Threat Experts for ongoing suspected performer activity. Clients can also collaborate with experts on demand for additional insights into alerts and incidents.

Screengrab from the Microsoft Defender Security Center that shows sample ransomware alerts.

Figure 4. Defender for Endpoint proves detailed ransomware activity.

Microsoft Defender for Identity

DART leverages Microsoft Defender for Identity to investigate known compromised reports and to find potentially compromised reports in their own organizations. Defender for Identity sends alerts for known malicious activity that performers often use such as DCSync attacks, remote code execution attempts, and pass-the-hash attacks. Defender for Identity enables our team to pinpoint nefarious activity and reports to narrow down our investigation.

Screengrab of alerts in Microsoft Defender for Identity showing malicious activity related to ransomware attacks.

Figure 5. Defender for Identity sends alerts for known malicious activity related to ransomware attacks.

Microsoft Cloud App Security

MCAS lets DART analysts to see unusual behavior across cloud apps to identify ransomware, compromised customers, or rogue applications. MCAS is Microsoft’s cloud access security broker( CASB) solution that allows for monitoring of cloud services and data access in cloud services by users.

Screengrab of the Microsoft Cloud App Security dashboard showing open alerts and a sample list of users to investigate.

Figure 6. The Microsoft Cloud App Security dashboard allows DART analysis to detect unusual behavior across cloud apps.

Microsoft Secure Score

The Microsoft 365 Defender stack provides live remediation recommendations to reduce the attack surface. Microsoft Secure Score is a measurement of an organization’s security posture, with a higher number indicating more improvement actions taken. Refer to our documentation to find out more about how their own organizations can leverage this feature to prioritize remediation actions that are based on their environment.

Understand your business hazards

Beyond the immediate risk of encrypted files, understanding the disruption to business operations, data theft, extortion, follow-on assaults, regulatory and compliance reporting, and damage to reputation fall outside technical controls. Microsoft DART recommends each organization weigh these risks in order to establish the appropriate way to respond based on the organization’s policies, risk appetite, and applicable regulatory requirements.

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, Microsoft Defender for Identity, and MCAS all project seamlessly together to provide customers with enhanced visibility of the attacker’s actions within and investigate onslaughts. Given our vast experience and expertise in investigations of countless human-operated ransomware events over the past few years, we have shared what we consider best practices.

Learn more

Want to learn more about DART? Read our past blog posts.

To learn more about Microsoft Security answers, visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Likewise, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the most recent developments and updates on cybersecurity.

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