How Cobalt Strike Is Being Used in Canada To Compromise Network Security

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How Cobalt Strike Is Being Turned Against Canadian Industry

Cobalt Strike Malware Stirs Concerns Across Canada

Cobalt Strike is one of the many tools used by hackers for compromising networks, harvesting sensitive data, and extorting money from victims. Cobalt Strike malware is a complex issue to address for IT professionals in Canada, as it is a tool created by a company with the genuine intentions of promoting network security. A Cobalt Strike beacon can identify critical network vulnerabilities before they grow into greater issues, but when placed in the wrong hands, could be used to compromise network security. 

The problem is that many criminals have found inventive ways of “cracking” different trail versions of Cobalt Strike and reselling it on the dark web. The result is that hackers can save development time and instead purchase a tool that can help gain access to vulnerable networks. Effectively, criminals have taken a software tool created for good, and are using it to target Canadian law enforcement agencies, hospitals, public health networks, and governmental entities.

Mjolnir Security has been tracking Cobalt Strike beacons for years but only recently saw an uptick. We plotted the activity below to start as of January 1st of 2022 to present, where we report well over 2.25 million cobalt strike beacons globally. Today, a cobalt strike beacon should be one of the many concerns for IT professionals in Canada who are responsible for maintaining safe system operations and protecting sensitive data.

What is a Cobalt Strike?

Cobalt Strike is a software tool that was originally created to help identify network vulnerabilities but has in recent years been turned against the clients it was intended to protect. The software tool is commercially available and is intended to simulate an attack on a network, which can help IT professionals spot vulnerabilities in their own networks. The creators do their best to validate their clients prior to selling but leaks still happen for the licensed versions.

However, Cobalt Strike has been abused by bad actors for their own malicious intentions, being used more frequently by criminals than IT professionals. Today, it is used as the initial tool on behalf of hackers to identify a vulnerable network, then orchestrate an attack on that network. A Cobalt Strike beacon can lead to a much more complex ransomware attack that can jeopardize your entire system.

How Does a Cobalt Strike Work?

Hackers will use automated brute force techniques or take advantage of known network vulnerabilities to install a Cobalt Strike beacon. Once this beacon is installed on a network it can send out a beacon to the criminals who are listening. Then, the Cobalt Strike beacon will pass along sensitive network data, reveal additional network vulnerabilities, install new malware, or create commands to collect, store, and deliver data and passwords to criminals.

The software offers what is called a system profiler, where the software collects as much information about the network as possible, which is then sent to hackers. Should a portion of a network be outdated or is working without the right security patches, Cobalt Strike can send the key information off to criminals that reveal key network vulnerabilities.

The Cobalt Strike software itself is also highly customizable depending on the needs of the criminal and is able to target specific users on the network for a phishing attack, or quietly transmit sensitive information while it appears as harmless web traffic. The Cobalt Strike beacon can also provide a “back door” that will provide hackers with complete access to a network without detection.

How To Detect a Cobalt Strike

The customizable nature of Cobalt Strike makes it incredibly difficult to detect. At times, networks that have used this software to improve their own network security may confuse certain traffic as completely normal, when it is actually malicious. Many hackers will take great lengths to customize and innovate Cobalt Strike software so that IT professionals do not identify it.

Many third parties who specialize in identifying malicious Cobalt Strike activity can help to facilitate deep host and network monitoring, deter future attacks, and ensure ongoing network security. Threat assessments by specialists who can identify the complexities of Cobalt Strike beacons can help determine whether or not your systems have been compromised, and act preemptively before greater issues emerge.

Address Cobalt Strike Cybersecurity Concerns With Mjolnir Security

Many corporate IT professionals are faced with the complexities of Cobalt Strike that can lead to even more problematic ransomware and financial extortion attempts. Cybersecurity in Canada is a growing concern for many businesses and institutions, including government and law enforcement agencies. The end result of leaving your network compromised to digital criminals can cost a small fortune, or harm the reputation of government employees, police officers, and politicians.

Cybercriminals continue to innovate, leveraging new and inventive tools for malicious intents. Mjolnir Security can work alongside you to address these concerns, helping to protect the users on your network along with the sensitive data it contains. Corporations, government entities, and public healthcare institutions are urged to take cybersecurity seriously and act preemptively to address the issues that come with Cobalt Strike.

Should your network be the victim of Cobalt Strike or other malicious activity, contact Mjolnir Security directly to learn more about your options and how you can prevent these issues in the future.

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Written by: Mjolnir Security

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