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5 Surprising Cyberattacks AI Stopped This Year

See how these novel, sophisticated, or creative threats used techniques such as living off the land to evade detection from traditional defensive measures — but were busted by AI.

Darktrace Experts, Staff

June 29, 2022

5 Min Read
Digital AI strategy illustration of virtual circuit-board-looking chess pieces king, queen, and knight.
Source: Chan2545 via Adobe Stock

We're now halfway through 2022, and already we have seen a range of cyberattacks, familiar and unfamiliar, disrupting organizations. However, we have also seen uplifting stories of successful threat detection efforts, as well.

In this article, we will look at five novel, sophisticated, or creative threats that used techniques such as "living off the land" to evade detection by traditional defensive measures. These threats were all discovered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which can spot subtle deviations in device and user behavior and autonomously enforce "normal," stopping a threat in its tracks.

1. Leading Laboratory Interrupts Dark Web Insider Threat With AI

Cyberattacks against the healthcare sector hit record highs last year, and for these organizations cyber threats can have severe real-world consequences. One of Darktrace's healthcare clients is a company specializing in the research, development, and manufacturing of innovative in vitro diagnostic tests for disease, conditions, and infections.

In March, this company was targeted by a malicious insider threat. An employee was looking to exploit their access within the organization to sell proprietary intellectual property, perhaps even medical supplies, on the Dark Web. The employee was detected using Tor on a company device to connect to a Dark Web pharmaceutical market forum.

Malicious or compromised insiders can be difficult to identify because their privileged access and knowledge of company workings allow them to evade detection by traditional security tools. In order to protect intellectual property from insider threat, organizations need to augment security teams with AI-powered technology to stop malicious activity in real time.

In this case, given that no other company device had visited the Tor network in the past, Darktrace's AI flagged the activity to the security team, who were then able to investigate the employee and discover their malicious intentions.

2. Babuk Double-Extortion Ransomware Neutralized at a Technology Manufacturer

Babuk is a double-extortion ransomware strain that has successfully attacked high-value organizations around the world since 2021. In February 2022, however, it targeted a multinational technology manufacturer that had deployed AI cybersecurity. The targeted company facilitates the adoption of smart medical devices as well as electric and autonomous vehicles. This means uptime is important, and ransomware poses a significant risk.

The first sign of a threat came in the early hours of the morning, when the AI detected a company device performing network scanning and making unusual connections to other internal devices. Based on its understanding of the device's usual "pattern of life," the AI identified this out-of-the-ordinary behavior as malicious and calculated a response.

The AI was able to stop this attack without interfering with normal business operations in the company's office or on the manufacturing floor. It blocked only the malicious connections, while allowing the rest of the compromised device's operations to continue.

Once the attack had been stopped, a post-compromise analysis conducted by the AI revealed that the compromised device had indeed been attempting to distribute files with "babyk" extensions. These attacks often strike out of hours, so defenders of critical infrastructure should consider using artificial intelligence to allow their organizations to self-defend against advanced threats.

3. HR-Spoofing Attack Targets Employees at Private Equity Firm

Phishing and spoofing emails continue to be the favorite initial entry point for cyberattackers. Earlier this year, a private equity firm looking to bolster its email security efforts trialed an AI email security solution and detected a targeted spoofing attack almost immediately.

The attackers had tailored their email to imitate the company's internal HR communications, titling it "Q3 Commission 2021 and Agenda" and designing it to look like a SharePoint Microsoft document. To a company employee, this email would not have looked at all out of place in their inbox.

Further investigation showed the email to be part of a wider trend of targeted phishing campaigns that use fake Microsoft branding to trick employees. The exact motivations of this attack are unknown because it was stopped in its earliest stages, but attacks like it are often launched with the aim of causing operational disruption or conducting IP and financial theft.

4. Ransomware Attack Against a Financial Services Provider Halted

In March 2022, a South African financial services firm decided to try out Darktrace's technology and immediately uncovered an in-progress ransomware attack attempting to encrypt its most valuable data.

The first sign of compromise was a company mail server making unusual HTTP connections to an external endpoint and communicating with a malicious server via the Internet. Its understanding of the business and this particular mail server's normal behavior allowed the AI to identify the threatening activity.

The compromised server was then seen attempting to perform network reconnaissance and lateral movement to increase its presence within the organization. Further investigation revealed that attackers had obtained the credentials of 11 employees, including several C-level executives. With the attack spreading fast, more and more company devices began attempting to communicate with the malicious external server.

The AI quickly interrupted further attempts at communication with the malicious server but allowed normal business operations to continue. With the attack safely contained, Darktrace helped the company's security team to conduct a full investigation and ensure that the attack had been completely neutralized.

5. AI Stops Log4j Exploit at a Global Financial Services Provider

The Log4Shell vulnerability that went public at the end of 2021 is one of the most serious and widespread exploits on record. It is thought by some to have affected hundreds of millions of devices and, as a zero-day, it has evaded lots of traditional security tools.

Fortunately, AI security has been able to mitigate the effects of Log4Shell for many of the organizations it protects. One of these, a global financial services provider with assets of over $5 billion, was targeted in March 2022.

The attackers used a Log4j vulnerability to gain access to one of the company's virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) servers, from which they attempted to scan the surrounding network and spread throughout the enterprise. The server began downloading a shell script from a suspicious external endpoint, prompting an immediate alert from the company's AI-driven security measures.

Convinced of the severity of the threat by the alert, the company's security team promptly deployed AI technology to take precise action against the threat and maintain the regular business activities on the VDI server.

Fast action from this AI-driven response technology blocked the malicious connections and prevented the threat from progressing further, very likely saving the company from a ransomware attack.

About the Author(s)

Darktrace Experts


Darktrace is the creator of Autonomous Response technology. Its self-learning AI is modeled on the human immune system and used by over 3,000 organizations to protect against threats to the cloud, email, IoT, networks, and industrial systems.

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