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Attackers use AiTM phishing sites as entry point to further financial fraud


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Attackers use AiTM phishing sites as entry point to further financial fraud

A large-scale phishing campaign that used adversary-in-the-middle (AiTM) phishing sites stole passwords, hijacked a user’s sign-in session, and skipped the authentication process even if the user had enabled multifactor authentication (MFA). The attackers then used the stolen credentials and session cookies to access affected users’ mailboxes and perform follow-on business email compromise (BEC) campaigns against other targets. Based on our threat data, the AiTM phishing campaign attempted to target more than 10,000 organizations since September 2021.

Diagram containing icons and arrows illustrating the sequence of steps in an AiTM phishing campaign. Figure 1. Overview of AiTM phishing campaign and follow-on BEC

Phishing remains to be one of the most common techniques attackers use in their attempts to gain initial access to organizations. According to the 2021 Microsoft Digital Defense Report, reports of phishing attacks doubled in 2020, and phishing is the most common type of malicious email observed in our threat signals. MFA provides an added security layer against credential theft, and it is expected that more organizations will adopt it, especially in countries and regions where even governments are mandating it. Unfortunately, attackers are also finding new ways to circumvent this security measure. 

In AiTM phishing, attackers deploy a proxy server between a target user and the website the user wishes to visit (that is, the site the attacker wishes to impersonate). Such a setup allows the attacker to steal and intercept the target’s password and the session cookie that proves their ongoing and authenticated session with the website. Note that this is not a vulnerability in MFA; since AiTM phishing steals the session cookie, the attacker gets authenticated to a session on the user’s behalf, regardless of the sign-in method the latter uses.

Microsoft 365 Defender detects suspicious activities related to AiTM phishing attacks and their follow-on activities, such as session cookie theft and attempts to use the stolen cookie to sign into Exchange Online. However, to further protect themselves from similar attacks, organizations should also consider complementing MFA with conditional access policies, where sign-in requests are evaluated using additional identity-driven signals like user or group membership, IP location information, and device status, among others. 

While AiTM phishing isn’t new, our investigation allowed us to observe and analyze the follow-on activities stemming from the campaign—including cloud-based attack attempts—through cross-domain threat data from Microsoft 365 Defender. These observations also let us improve and enrich our solutions’ protection capabilities. This campaign thus also highlights the importance of building a comprehensive defense strategy. As the threat landscape evolves, organizations need to assume breach and understand their network and threat data to gain complete visibility and insight into complex end-to-end attack chains.

In this blog, we’ll share our technical analysis of this phishing campaign and the succeeding payment fraud attempted by the attackers. We’ll also provide guidance for defenders on protecting organizations from this threat and how Microsoft security technologies detect it.

How AiTM phishing works

Every modern web service implements a session with a user after successful authentication so that the user doesn’t have to be authenticated at every new page they visit. This session functionality is implemented through a session cookie provided by an authentication service after initial authentication. The session cookie is proof for the web server that the user has been authenticated and has an ongoing session on the website. In AiTM phishing, an attacker attempts to obtain a target user’s session cookie so they can skip the whole authentication process and act on the latter’s behalf.  

To do this, the attacker deploys a webserver that proxies HTTP packets from the user that visits the phishing site to the target server the attacker wishes to impersonate and the other way around. This way, the phishing site is visually identical to the original website (as every HTTP is proxied to and from the original website). The attacker also doesn’t need to craft their own phishing site like how it’s done in conventional phishing campaigns. The URL is the only visible difference between the phishing site and the actual one. 

Figure 2 below illustrates the AiTM phishing process:

Diagram with icons illustrates a phishing site, which is connected to a malicious proxy server, in between a user and the target website the user is trying to access. Texts and arrows describe the process of how the AiTM phishing website intercepts the authentication process. Figure 2. AiTM phishing website intercepting the authentication process

The phishing page has two different Transport Layer Security (TLS) sessions—one with the target and another with the actual website the target wants to access. These sessions mean that the phishing page practically functions as an AiTM agent, intercepting the whole authentication process and extracting valuable data from the HTTP requests such as passwords and, more importantly, session cookies. Once the attacker obtains the session cookie, they can inject it into their browser to skip the authentication process, even if the target’s MFA is enabled. 

The AiTM phishing process can currently be automated using open-source phishing toolkits and other online resources. Among the widely-used kits include Evilginx2Modlishka, and Muraena.  

Tracking an AiTM phishing campaign

Using Microsoft 365 Defender threat data, we detected multiple iterations of an AiTM phishing campaign that attempted to target more than 10,000 organizations since September 2021. These runs appear to be linked together and target Office 365 users by spoofing the Office online authentication page.

Based on our analysis, these campaign iterations use the Evilginx2 phishing kit as their AiTM infrastructure. We also uncovered similarities in their post-breach activities, including sensitive data enumeration in the target’s mailbox and payment frauds.

Initial access

In one of the runs we’ve observed, the attacker sent emails with an HTML file attachment to multiple recipients in different organizations. The email message informed the target recipients that they had a voice message.

Screenshot of a phishing email message with an HTML file attachment. Figure 3. Sample phishing email with HTML file attachment

When a recipient opened the attached HTML file, it was loaded in the user’s browser and displayed a page informing the user that the voice message was being downloaded. Note, however, that the download progress bar was hardcoded in the HTML file, so no MP3 file was being fetched.

 

MORE INFO on Source:
Microsoft

 

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