Malware distributor Storm-0324 facilitates ransomware access

The threat actor that Microsoft tracks as Storm-0324 is a financially motivated group known to gain initial access using email-based initial infection vectors and then hand off access to compromised networks to other threat actors. These handoffs frequently lead to ransomware deployment. Beginning in July 2023, Storm-0324 was observed distributing payloads using an open-source tool to send phishing lures through Microsoft Teams chats. This activity is not related to the Midnight Blizzard social engineering campaigns over Teams that we observed beginning in May 2023. Because Storm-0324 hands off access to other threat actors, identifying and remediating Storm-0324 activity can prevent more dangerous follow-on attacks like ransomware.

Storm-0324 (DEV-0324), which overlaps with threat groups tracked by other researchers as TA543 and Sagrid, acts as a distributor in the cybercriminal economy, providing a service to distribute the payloads of other attackers through phishing and exploit kit vectors.  Storm-0324's tactics focus on highly evasive infection chains with payment and invoice lures. The actor is known to distribute the JSSLoader malware, which facilitates access for the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) actor Sangria Tempest (ELBRUS, Carbon Spider, FIN7). Previous distribution activity associated with Storm-0324 included the Gozi infostealer and the Nymaim downloader and locker.

In this blog, we provide a comprehensive analysis of Storm-0324 activity, covering their established tools, tactics, and procedures (TTPs) as observed in past campaigns as well as their more recent attacks. To defend against this threat actor, Microsoft customers can use Microsoft 365 Defender to detect Storm-0324 activity and significantly limit the impact of these attacks on networks. Additionally, by using the principle of least privilege, building credential hygiene, and following the other recommendations we provide in this blog, administrators can limit the destructive impact of ransomware even if the attackers can gain initial access.

Historical malware distribution activity

Storm-0324 manages a malware distribution chain and has used exploit kit and email-based vectors to deliver malware payloads. The actor's email chains are highly evasive, making use of traffic distribution systems (TDS) like BlackTDS and Keitaro, which provide identification and filtering capabilities to tailor user traffic. This filtering capability allows attackers to evade detection by certain IP ranges that might be security solutions, like malware sandboxes, while also successfully redirecting victims to their malicious download site.

Storm-0324's email themes typically reference invoices and payments, mimicking services such as DocuSign, Quickbooks, and others. Users are ultimately redirected to a SharePoint-hosted compressed file containing JavaScript that downloads the malicious DLL payload. Storm-0324 has used many file formats to launch the malicious JavaScript including Microsoft Office documents, Windows Script File (WSF), and VBScript, among others.

Storm-0324 has distributed a range of first-stage payloads since at least 2016, including:

  • Nymaim, a first-stage downloader and locker
  • Gozi version 3, an infostealer
  • Trickbot, a modular malware platform
  • Gootkit, a banking trojan
  • Dridex, a banking trojan
  • Sage ransomware
  • GandCrab ransomware
  • IcedID, a modular information-stealing malware

Since 2019, however, Storm-0324 has primarily distributed JSSLoader, handing off access to ransomware actor Sangria Tempest.

Ongoing Storm-0324 and Sangria Tempest JSSLoader email-based infection chain

Diagram showing the Storm-0324 attack chain from the delivery of phishing email to the deployment of the JSSLoader DLL, after which access is handed off to Sangria Tempest
Figure 1. Storm-0324 JSSLoader infection chain based on mid-2023 activity

Since as early as 2019, Storm-0324 has handed off access to the cybercrime group Sangria Tempest after delivering the group's first-stage malware payload, JSSLoader. Storm-0324's delivery chain begins with phishing emails referencing invoices or payments and containing a link to a SharePoint site that hosts a ZIP archive. Microsoft continues to work across its platforms to identify abuse, take down malicious activity, and implement new proactive protections to discourage malicious actors from using our services.

Screenshot of invoice-themed lure email
Figure 2. Example Storm-0324 email

The ZIP archive contains a file with embedded JavaScript code. Storm-0324 has used a variety of files to host the JavaScript code, including WSF and Ekipa publisher files exploiting the CVE-2023-21715 local security feature bypass vulnerability.

When the JavaScript launches, it drops a JSSLoader variant DLL. The JSSLoader malware is then followed by additional Sangria Tempest tooling.

In some cases, Storm-0324 uses protected documents for additional social engineering. By adding the security code or password in the initial communications to the user, the lure document may acquire an additional level of believability for the user. The password also serves as an effective anti-analysis measure because it requires user interaction after launch.

Screenshot of Storm-0324 password protected lure document
Figure 3. Storm-0324 password-protected lure document

New Teams-based phishing activity

In July 2023, Storm-0324 began using phishing lures sent over Teams with malicious links leading to a malicious SharePoint-hosted file. For this activity, Storm-0324 most likely relies on a publicly available tool called TeamsPhisher. TeamsPhisher is a Python-language program that enables Teams tenant users to attach files to messages sent to external tenants, which can be abused by attackers to deliver phishing attachments. These Teams-based phishing lures by threat actors are identified by the Teams platform as “EXTERNAL” users if external access is enabled in the organization.

Microsoft takes these phishing campaigns very seriously and has rolled out several improvements to better defend against these threats. In accordance with Microsoft policies, we have suspended identified accounts and tenants associated with inauthentic or fraudulent behavior. We have also rolled out enhancements to the Accept/Block experience in one-on-one chats within Teams, to emphasize the externality of a user and their email address so Teams users can better exercise caution by not interacting with unknown or malicious senders . We rolled out new restrictions on the creation of domains within tenants and improved notifications to tenant admins when new domains are created within their tenant.  In addition to these specific enhancements, our development teams will continue to introduce additional preventative and detective measures to further protect customers from phishing attacks.

Recommendations

To harden networks against Storm-0324 attacks, defenders are advised to implement the following:

Microsoft customers can turn on attack surface reduction rules to prevent common attack techniques:

Detection details

Microsoft 365 Defender

Microsoft Defender Antivirus

Microsoft Defender Antivirus detects threat components as the following malware:

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint

Alerts with the following titles in the security center can indicate threat activity on your :

  • Ransomware-linked Storm-0324 threat activity group detected

Hunting queries

Microsoft 365 Defender

Possible TeamsPhisher downloads The following query looks for downloaded files that were potentially facilitated by use of the TeamsPhisher tool. Defenders should customize the SharePoint domain name (‘mysharepointname') in the query.

let allowedSharepointDomain = pack_array(
'mysharepointname' //customize Sharepoint domain name and add more domains as needed for your query
);
//
let executable = pack_array(
'exe',
'dll',
'xll',
'msi',
'application'
);
let script = pack_array(
'ps1',
'py',
'vbs',
'bat'
);
let compressed = pack_array(
'rar',
'7z',
'zip',
'tar',
'gz'
);
//
let startTime = ago(1d);
let endTime = now();
DeviceFileEvents
| where Timestamp between (startTime..endTime)
| where ActionType =~ 'FileCreated'
| where InitiatingProcessFileName has 'teams.exe'
    or InitiatingProcessParentFileName has 'teams.exe'
| where InitiatingProcessFileName !has 'update.exe'
    and InitiatingProcessParentFileName !has 'update.exe'
| where FileOriginUrl has 'sharepoint'
    and FileOriginReferrerUrl has_any ('sharepoint', 'teams.microsoft')
| extend fileExt = tolower(tostring(split(FileName,'.')[-1]))
| where fileExt in (executable)
    or fileExt in (script)
    or fileExt in (compressed)
| extend fileGroup = iff( fileExt in (executable),'executable','')
| extend fileGroup = iff( fileExt in (script),'script',fileGroup)
| extend fileGroup = iff( fileExt in (compressed),'compressed',fileGroup)
//
| extend sharePoint_domain = tostring(split(FileOriginUrl,'/')[2])
| where not (sharePoint_domain has_any (allowedSharepointDomain))
| project-reorder Timestamp, DeviceId, DeviceName, sharePoint_domain, FileName, FolderPath, SHA256, FileOriginUrl, FileOriginReferrerUrl

Microsoft Sentinel

Microsoft Sentinel customers can use the TI Mapping analytics (a series of analytics all prefixed with ‘TI map') to automatically match the malicious domain indicators mentioned in this blog post with data in their workspace. If the TI Map analytics are not currently deployed, customers can install the solution from the Microsoft Sentinel Content Hub to have the analytics rule deployed in their Sentinel workspace. More details on the Content Hub can be found here:  https://learn.microsoft.com/azure/sentinel/sentinel-solutions-deploy.

Microsoft Sentinel also has a range of detection and threat hunting content that customers can use to detect the post exploitation activity detailed in this blog in addition to Microsoft 365 Defender detections list above.

References

Further reading

Microsoft customers can refer to the report on this activity in Microsoft Defender and Microsoft 365 Defender for detections, assessment of impact, mitigation and actions, and hunting guidance.

For the latest security research from the Microsoft Threat Intelligence community, check out the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Blog: https://aka.ms/threatintelblog.

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This article was originally published by Microsoft's Secure Blog. You can find the original article here.