EventSentry v3.4: New Security Features, Software Version Checker, Better Performance & more!

We’re again excited to announce the availability of EventSentry v3.4, the latest release of our hybrid SIEM monitoring suite.

EventSentry v3.4 delivers a number of new features to

  • Protect yourself against ransomware attacks
  • Detect lateral movement on a network with collector thresholds
  • Identify outdated software on your network
  • View detailed bandwidth utilization (requires NetFlow)
  • Monitor attached UPS devices
  • Integrate with open source solutions (Graylog, ELK, Nagios Log Server & others)

and more. We’ve also been focusing on making the data EventSentry collects more actionable and subsequently more helpful, and as result you will see additional contextual data provided with some alerts & reports, and one new search page in EventSentry.

All in all, this upcoming release has a lot of improvements in store to help you do your job better by ensuring that your network is as reliable, secure and fast as possible.

Audit Subcategories with audit success enabled, grouped by host

Ransomware

While high-profile Ransomware attacks have slowed down somewhat in recent weeks, businesses – especially small businesses – are still hit with Ransomware infections every day. Even though EventSentry is not positioned as a AV or a AntiMalware software, it does include a variety of functionality which can detect Ransomware outbreaks.

What sets EventSentry apart from AV and most AntiMalware solutions is that it looks for pattern exhibited by the Ransomware – regardless of the variant. What’s new in version v3.4 is the ability to detect changes to the MBR and bootsector as well as the ability to calculate the entropy of (changed) files.

MBR/BootSector Monitoring & Backup
Some more recent Ransomware variants modify the MBR and/or boot sector and trigger a reboot to initiate an offline encryption process. EventSentry v3.4 can now monitor the MBR and detect changes in near real-time to alert the admin when suspicious activity is occurring.

By utilizing EventSentry’s advanced filtering engine it is also possible to potentially stop the encryption process, e.g. by hibernating the infected host. EventSentry even backs up the MBR and boot sector, making it possible to repair an infected system (with a boot disk) without having to perform a full restore from backup.

MBR & Bootloader Backup

File Entropy
Entropy describes the randomness of a file, essentially a metric that can help detect compressed and encrypted files.

Since most Ransomware encrypts large amounts of files, EventSentry can utilize the entropy of a file, combined with event log thresholds, to make a determination that a Ransomware infection is in progress and take corrective measures.

Lateral Movement Detection with Thresholds

Lateral Network Movement
Lateral movement through a network

EventSentry has always included agent-side thresholds in order to throttle the alert volume or detect repeated events. Because these thresholds were executed on the agents, event patterns which involved more than one host could not be detected that way.

By adding a threshold component to collector – which analyzes and processes all events in real time – we can leverage this feature to new heights and detect network-wide event-based patterns – in real time!

Collector-side thresholds are configured exactly like agent-side thresholds with one the key difference – the threshold limit applies to all aggregated events sent to the collector. Collector-side thresholds also introduce the “Group By” setting that makes the lateral movement detection possible – the ability to count unique instances of an event property, and not just the total number of events.

 

 

Some of the event-based threat patterns you can detect:

  • The same user logging on to multiple hosts within a specific time frame
  • A process spreading (trickling) across multiple hosts within a specific time frame
  • A user running too many processes – either on a single or multiple hosts
  • Authentication failures of a user on too many hosts
  • Too many unique logon types used by a user account

Any event property and insertion string can be used to craft thresholds – the sky is the limit.

Software Version Checker

Earlier versions of EventSentry include a substantial hardware, software and patch inventory, making it extremely easy to find out which software packages are installed on your network, but also get alerted when software is installed or removed from a server/workstation.

In v3.4 we are taking this to the next level by providing the latest version available from the publisher for a growing list of 100+ software packages so that you can effortlessly identify outdated software on your network. You can now create reports listing any software on your network which is outdated, a dashboard tile is also available. The Web Reports refresh the version info list every 2 hours to ensure all reports are accurate.

If an application you are using on your network is not currently included then simply email us the name of the software as it is detected by EventSentry (and ideally the URL where we can obtain the current version) and we will add it to our list.

Software Version Check Report

64-bit Web Reports for Windows

The EventSentry web reports are now available as a 64-bit application, and upgrading to v3.4 will automatically upgrade the existing v3.x 32-bit web reports to 64-bit on 64-bit when installed/upgraded on a 64-bit version of Windows. The new 64-bit web reports will allow you to run larger reports that would not run due to limits with the address space associated with 32-bit applications.

UPS & Battery Monitoring

Any UPS directly attached to a server/workstations that is detected by Windows can now be monitored by EventSentry. The status of the UPS will show up on the host inventory page, and alerts will be generated when a host is on battery power and back on AC power. EventSentry can also initiate a shutdown when the remaining run-time or charge level falls below a certain limit.

UPS Alert

Batteries in laptops are also detected and listed on the host inventory page (battery capacity and current charge level), but generated alerts are informational only.

UPS Inventory & Monitoring

User Activity Tracking

While EventSentry provides its users with a wealth of information from multiple angles, it can be tedious to piece together data from multiple reports that is associated with a specific user. Data which can be linked to a user is scattered among process tracking, file access tracking, compliance logons and other pages.

User activity tracking

The new “User Activity” page, which is located in the “Dashboard” menu, solves this problem by displaying data from the following pages on a single page:

  • Logons
  • Processes
  • File Access
  • Active Directory Changes
  • Tasks
  • Events

The user activity page makes seeing all activity by a user as easy as never before!

Integration with third-party log management solutions

A few months ago, one of our users approached with the need to integrate EventSentry into an existing log management system which was already in place at the location where EventSentry was to be deployed. While reviewing the request we recognized that even though we position EventSentry as a one-stop log management solution with a compelling and robust web-based reporting component, an integration with other products can be helpful in some cases.

  • Supplement EventSentry’s built-in reporting with additional reporting
  • Integrate EventSentry with an existing log management solution located in a different business unit
  • Integrate EventSentry’s sophisticated real-time agent and deployment infrastructure with a different log management back-end

In version 3.3 and earlier, EventSentry can be integrated with 3rd party products using the HTTP, process and Syslog action. The HTTP & process action are intended to be used with ticketing systems where only a low volume of alerts are submitted while the Syslog action obviously supports submitting a high volume of events. The Syslog format was however limited to the traditional RFC 3164 format, making an integration with other log management systems difficult.

Starting with version 3.4, EventSentry now supports the following formats in the Syslog action

  1. RFC 3164 (legacy)
  2. Snare
  3. RFC 5424
  4. GELF (Graylog)
  5. Nagios Log Server
  6. Common Event Format (CEF)
  7. JSON (customizable)

If a log management server you need to integrate with is not listed above but supports the JSON format, then you can craft your own JSON packet with the JSON format, also introduced in v3.4.

Disk Space Alerts

Part of the effort to make EventSentry’s alerts more actionable is reflected in our improved disk space alerts which now list the 15 largest files and folders of the volume where disk space is low. The supplemental data will in many cases be enough to immediately identify the culprit so that corrective action can be taken immediately, without the need to run disk space analyzers on the volume.

Diskspace Alert with embedded file/folder size info

Audit Policy Status

Since the introduction of the compliance tracking components, EventSentry has been recording all audit (and many other!) changes performed in Windows as part of the “Policy Changes” feature. It wasn’t however possible to see the current status of all audit categories and subcategories at a glance. Reviewing the current audit status of all monitored hosts can be important however, if only to verify that group policies are configured correctly.

Hosts with disabled audit subcategories
Hosts with disabled audit subcategories

In v3.4 we now have the new “Status” page available under “Compliance -> Audit Policy” which delivers information such as:

  • Compare/review audit settings of a particular sub category (e.g. “Registry”) among all monitored hosts
  • View all disabled audit settings across all or select hosts
  • (Re)view audit settings based on computer types (e.g. domain controllers, servers, workstations)

NetFlow Bandwidth

Our NetFlow component can now provide bandwidth visualization based on the collected NetFlow data. The information can either be accessed on the NetFlow page or as a dashboard tile. Even though bandwidth data can already be determined using SNMP, the data gathered by NetFlow should be preferred since it contains additional data not available via SNMP, such as:

  • Packets sent/received
  • Bytes sent/received
  • Bytes per packet
  • % Utilization

Bytes per packet as well as packets sent received can be used to detect anomalies, e.g. when a host sends a large amount of network packets, or network packets with large/small content.

NetFlow Bandwidth

Defeating Ransomware with EventSentry – Remediation

Since Ransomware is still all the rage – literally – I decided to write a 4th article with a potentially better method to stop an ongoing infection. In part 1, part 2 and part 3 we focused mostly on detecting an ongoing Ransomware infection and utilized the “nuclear” option to prevent it from spreading: stopping the “server” service which would prevent any client from accessing files on the affected server.

While these methods are certainly effective, there are other more targeted steps you can take instead of or in addition to shutting down the server service, provided that all hosts susceptible to a Ransomware infection are monitored by EventSentry.

When EventSentry detects an ongoing Ransomware infection, it can usually determine the infected user by extracting the domain user name from the 4663 event. Simply disabling the user is insufficient however, since a disabled user can continue to access the network (and wreak havoc) as long as he or she doesn’t log off. Any subsequent log on attempt would of course fail, but that provides little comfort when the user’s computer continues to plow through hundreds or thousands of documents, relentlessly encrypting everything in its path.

As such, the only reliable way to stop the ongoing infection, given only the user name, is to log off the user. While logging a user off remotely is possible using the query session and logoff.exe commands, I prefer to completely shut down the offending computer in order to reduce the risk of any future malicious activity. Logging the user off remotely may still be preferable in a terminal server environment (let me know if you want me to cover this in a future article).

Knowing the user name is of course great, but how do we find out which computer he or she is logged on to? If you have EventSentry deployed across your entire network – including workstations – then you can get this info by querying the console logon reports in the EventSentry web reports. If you are not so lucky to have EventSentry deployed in your entire environment (we offer significant discounts for large quantities of workstation licenses – you can request a quote here) then we can still obtain this information from the “net session” command in Windows.

Net Session Output
Net Session Output

We’ve created a little script named antiransom_shutdown.vbs which, given a user name, will report back from which remote IP this user most recently accessed the local server and optionally shut it down. Here are some usage examples:

Find out from which computer boris.johnson most recently accessed this server:
cscript.exe C:\Scripts\antiransom_shutdown.vbs boris.johnson

Find out from which computer boris.johnson most recently accessed this server AND shut the remote host down (if found):
cscript.exe C:\Scripts\antiransom_shutdown.vbs boris.johnson shutdown

The script uses only built-in Windows commands, as such there is no need to install anything else on the server where it’s run.

When executed with the “shutdown” parameter, the script will issue a shutdown command to the remote host, which will display a (customizable) warning message to the user indicating that the computer is being shutdown because of a potential infection. The timeout is 5 seconds by default but can be customized in the script. It’s recommended to keep the timeout short (5-10 seconds) in order to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible while still giving the user a few moments to know what is happening.

The overall setup of the Ransomware detection is still the same, we’re setting up a threshold filter to detect a higher than usual frequency of certain 4663 events and trigger an action in response. Only this time we don’t shut down the server service, but instead trigger this script. To properly execute the action, configure it as shown in the screenshot below. The executable is cscript.exe (the interpreter for .vbs files) and the command line parameters are the name of the script, $STR2 and “shutdown”.

Remote workstation shut down
Remote workstation shut down

So what’s the better and safer approach to freeze an ongoing Ransomware infection? Shutting down the server service is the most reliable approach – since it doesn’t require the workstation to be reachable and will almost certainly succeed. Remotely shutting down a workstation has minimal impact on operations but may not always succeed. See below for the pros and cons of each approach:

File Sharing Shutdown
Pros: 100% effective
Cons: Potentially larger disruption than necessary, false positive unnecessarily disrupts business

Remote Workstation Shutdown
Pros: Only disables infected user/workstation, even if false positive
Cons: Requires workstation to be reachable

This ends up being one of those “it depends” situations where you will have to decide what’s the best approach based on your environment. I would personally go with the remote workstation shutdown option in large networks where the vast majority of workstations are desktops reachable (and not firewalled) from the file server. In smaller, more distributed networks with a lot of laptops, I would go with the file service shutdown “nuclear” option.

A hybrid approach may also be an option for those opting for the remote workstation shutdown method: trigger a remote workstation shutdown during business hours when IT staff is available on short notice, but configure the file service shutdown after business hours when it’s safer and affects fewer people. All this can be configured in EventSentry by creating two filters which are identical except for the action and the day/time settings.

Prerequisites
It’s important to point out that the EventSentry agent by default runs under the LocalSystem account, a built-in user account which does not have sufficient privileges on a remote host to issue the shutdown command. You can elevate the permissions of the EventSentry agent and work-around this limitation in 2 ways:

  1. Change the service account (fast): Changing the service account the EventSentry service uses to a domain account with administrative permissions will allow the agent to remotely shut down a remote host. This will have to be done on every file server which may issue shut down commands (you can use AutoAdministrator to update multiple file servers if necessary).
  2. Give the “Force shutdown from a remote system” user right: It’s not necessary to issue domain-wide admin rights to the EventSentry agent, the key right the agent needs is just the “Force shutdown from a remote system” user right. The quickest way to deploy this setting is of course through group policy:

    a) Open the “Group Policy Management Editor”
    b) Edit an existing policy (e.g. “Default Domain Policy”) or create a new group policy
    c) Navigate to “Computer Configuration\Policies\Windows Settings\Security Settings\Local Policies\User Rights Assignment”
    d) Double-click the “Force shutdown from a remote system” user right and add both “Administrators” and the computer accounts of the file servers to the list. Alternatively you can also create a group, add the file servers to the group, and add that group to the policy (keep in mind that you will need to restart the file servers if you go with the group method).

    Once the group policy setting has propagated to the workstations, the remote shut down initiated from the file server(s) should succeed.

    Change the "Force shutdown from a remote system" user right
    Change the “Force shutdown from a remote system” user right

 

Good luck protecting your network against Ransomware infections, also remember to verify your backups – no protection is 100% effective.

Defeating Ransomware with EventSentry & Auditing (Part 3/3)

There seems to be a new variant of ransomware popping up somewhere every few months (Locky being the most recent one), with every new variation targeting more users / computers / networks and circumventing protections put in place by the defenders for their previous counterparts. The whole thing has turned into a cat and mouse game, with an increasing number of software companies and SysAdmins attempting to come up with effective countermeasures.

I’ve already proposed two ways to counteract ransomware on file servers with EventSentry in part 1 and part 2, both of which take a little bit of time to implement (although I’d argue less than it would take to restore all of your files from backups). The last part of the series, remediation, offers a way to remotely log off an infected user. In this post I’m proposing a third, and better, method with the following improvements:

In the first article we configured file integrity monitoring on a volume, and if the number of file modifications occurring during a certain time interval exceeded a preset threshold, the ransomware would be stopped in its tracks. In the seconds article we used bait (canary) files to accomplish the same thing.

In this third installment we’ll keep track of the number of file modifications made by a user to detect if an infection is underway. To effectively defeat ransomware, we have to be able to distinguish between legitimate user activity and an infection. To date we know this:

  • Users add/change/remove files, but the number of changes made by a user in a short amount of time (say 15 min) is generally small
  • Ransomware always runs in the context of a user, and as such an infection will usually come from one user (unless things go really awry and multiple users are infected). The approach here will work equally well, regardless of the number of infections.

Thus, to detect an infection, EventSentry will be counting the number of file modifications (event 4663) with its advanced threshold capabilities. If the threshold is exceeded, EventSentry will trigger an action of your choice (e.g. disable the user, remove a file share, stop the server service, …) to limit the damage of the ransomware.

Here is what you need:

  • Object Access / File System Auditing enabled
  • Auditing enabled on the files which are to be protected
  • EventSentry installed on the server which needs to be protected

This  KB article explains how to configure EventSentry and enable auditing (preferably through group policy) on one or more directories. I recommend referencing the KB article when you’re ready to configure everything. Pretty much everything in the KB article applies here, although we will make a small change to the threshold settings of the filter (last paragraph of section (4)).

Windows Folder Auditing
Windows Folder Auditing

Once auditing is setup, Windows will log event 4663 for every write access which is performed by a user. An example event looks like this:

Windows Event 4663
Windows Event 4663

The default behavior of a filter threshold in EventSentry is to simply count every filter match towards the threshold. In our case, every 4663 event encountered would count towards the threshold. You can think of there being one bucket for all 4663 events, with the bucket being emptied whenever the threshold period expires, say every 5 minutes. If the bucket fills up we can trigger an alert.

This doesn’t work so well on a file server, where potentially hundreds of users are constantly modifying files. It would take some time to come up with a good baseline (how many file modifications are considered “normal”) that we could use as a threshold, and there would still be a chance for a false positive. For example, a lot of 4663 events could be generated during a busy day at the office, thus causing the threshold to reach its limit.

A better way is to assign each user their own “personal” threshold which we can then monitor. Think of it like each user having their own bucket. If a user writes to a file, EventSentry adds the 4663 event only to that user’s bucket. Subsequently, an alert is only triggered when a user’s bucket is full. Any insertion string of an event can be used to create a new bucket.

We can do this by utilizing the insertion string capabilities of the filter threshold feature. Setting this up is surprisingly easy – all we have to do is change the Threshold Options to “Event”, click the “Insertion Strings” button and select the correct insertion string. What is the correct insertion string? The short answer is #1.

The long answer lies in the “Event Message Browser”, which you can either find through the Tools – Utilities menu in the EventSentry Management Console or in the EventSentry SysAdmin Tools. Once in there, click on “Security”, then “Microsoft-Windows-Security-Auditing”, then 4663. You will see that the number next to the field identifying the calling user (“Security ID”) is %1.

Event 4663 Definition
Event 4663 Definition

Enough with the theory, here is what you need to implement it (assuming EventSentry is already installed on the servers hosting the file share(s)):

  1. Enable global auditing globally and audit the file share(s). See section 2 & 3 of KB 279.
  2. Determine what action you want to take when a ransomware infection has been detected. See either section 1 of KB 279 or “Dive! Stopping the Server Service” from the previous blog post.
  3. Create a package & filter looking for 4663 events. See section 4 of KB 279 and review the additional threshold settings below.

Customizing the threshold
Once you have the package & threshold filter for 4663 events in place, we need to modify the threshold settings as explained above. Edit the filter, click the threshold tab and make sure your filter looks like the one shown below:

Threshold Settings
Threshold Settings

The only variable setting is the actual threshold, since it depends on how fast the particular variant of ransomware would be modifying files. A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • The interval shouldn’t be too long, otherwise it will take too long before the infection is detected.
  • Make sure the actual event log filter is only looking at 4663 events, no other event ids.

With the above example, any user modifying any file (on a given server) more than 30 times in 3 minutes will trigger any action associated with the filter, e.g. shutting down the server service. Note that the action listed in the General tab will be triggered as soon as the threshold is met. If 30 4663 events for a single user are generated within 45 seconds, the action will be triggered after 45 seconds, it won’t wait 3 minutes.

Bonus – Disabling a user
One advantage of intercepting 4663 events is that we can extract information from them and pass them to commands. While shutting down the Server service is pretty much essential, there are a few other things you can do once you have data from the events, e.g. the username, available. You can now do things like:

  • Disabling the user
  • Removing the user from the share permissions
  • Revoking access to select folders for the user

There are a couple of caveats when (trying to) disable a user however:

  1. The user account (usually the computer account) under which the EventSentry service runs under (usually LocalSystem) needs to be part of the Account Operators group so that it has permission to disable a user
  2. Disabling a user is usually not enough though, since Windows won’t automatically disconnect the user or revoke access. As such, any ransom/crypto process already running will continue to run – even if the user has been disabled.

Disabling a user account from the command line is surprisingly simple (leave Powershell in the drawer). To disable the user john.doe, simply run this command:

net user john.doe /domain /active:no

Note that since “net user” doesn’t support a domain prefix (MYDOMAIN\john.doe won’t work), we need to make sure that we pass only the username (which is insertion string %2) and the /domain switch to ensure the user is disabled on the domain controller. Of course you would need to omit the /domain switch if the users connecting to the share are local users. The action itself would look like the screenshot below, where $STR2 will be substituted by EventSentry with the actual user listed in the event 4663:

Action to disable a user
Action to disable a user

 

That’s it, now just push the configuration and you should be much better prepared to take any ransomware attacks heading your users way.

Oh, and check those backups, would you?

 

 

Trapping CryptoLocker/CryptoWall with Honey (Part 2/3)


! Updates !
There has been a follow-up post to this article with even better approaches to defeating ransomware. I highly recommend that you jump directly to the most recent article which offers the best & easiest approach for protecting against Ransomware:

Defeating Ransomware with EventSentry & Auditing (Part 3)


When I wrote my first, original post about CryptoLocker (“CryptoLocker Defense for Sysadmins”), I didn’t intend there to be a part 2 or even a part 3. But alas, due to the “popularity” of CryptoLocker and the recent release of CryptoWall 4.0 I decided to write a much-needed sequel to my first blog post. Part #2 differs from the first part with a different (and more simple) detection “algorithm” combined with a more reliable way to stop the “Server” service when CryptoLocker is indeed detected.

The capitol of São Tomé and PríncipeSurprisingly (or not surprisingly), almost 2 years after I wrote my first article, CryptoLocker and its descendants like CryptoWall are still around, thriving, and keeping Sysadmins around the world busy. A recent report stated that CryptoWall 3.0 cost victims a combined $325 million, although it fails to mention whether this is an annual or lifetime figure. This is the same as the GDP of the small African country of São Tomé and Príncipe (population of about 200,000) in 2014.

Now there is something to think about – the criminals behind the various ransomware software collected as much money as a country with 200,000 people. Alright, this is all very interesting but doesn’t help us protect ourselves from ransomware so let’s focus.

In part #1 we used EventSentry’s file monitoring feature to index and inventory all files on a susceptible file share, a very accurate and resilient way to detect any sort of software which would modify large numbers of files in a short time period. While this approach works well, it does require more time to setup and may not work in real-time when monitoring extremely large directories. Consequently we’ll be using a different approach here, and we will look at yet another approach in part #3.

EventSentry’s file checksum monitoring feature was originally intended to monitor only key Operating System folders such as the System32 directory, but increased customer demand prompted us to tweak the feature over time to allow real-time monitoring of even very large folders (as is the case for file servers) as well. But enough of the past, let’s tackle Crypto*.

What’s New?
New versions of software (especially free) are usually exciting, but I’m guessing that the latest “improvements” rolled into the various types of ransomware, including CryptoWall, are only exciting for security researches and the people behind the ransomware. There are three major new features included (for free) in the latest version of CryptoWall:

  • Files are not only encrypted, but file names are now also mangled, making it almost impossible to link the encrypted file(s) with their originals.
  • Shadow copies are being deleted if possible, so that past versions of files are no longer accessible
  • The encryption process seems to be less linear and less complete, resulting in some folders being left alone and thus making detection more difficult.

HoneyThe Theory
If you’ve been working in the IT (security) field for a while then you’ll have probably heard of honeypots before. Honeypots are usually systems emulating a production server with the purpose of detecting an attacker and potentially triggering counter-measures or alerts.

We’ll apply the concept of honeypots to detect CryptoLocker, but instead of emulating entire systems we’ll plant on or more fake files throughout on one or more file shares with the assumption that any CryptoLocker infection will attempt to change and encrypt those files. Once detected, we can trigger a counter measure such as stopping the server service. The three biggest risk factors with this approach are:

  • Accidental modification by a user
  • CryptoLocker detects (and skips) the honeypot files
  • The bait files get modified too late

But not to worry – we can mitigate all of the risks.

Accidental Modification
Since any unsuspecting user with write access may accidentally modify or delete our bait file, it’s possible that some users curiosity may result in some sort of a accidental DoS attack. Making the file read-only defeats the purpose of detecting CryptoLocker of course, since CryptoLocker itself won’t be able to modify it. I was able to come up with two possible solutions for this problem:

1. Give the file a boring name which discourages users from opening it (e.g. meeting_notes_cl1.docx)
2. Put clear instructions into the file in large font, instructing users not to modify or delete the file. I’d recommend against mentioning any words like CryptoLocker, Virus, etc since CryptoLocker may be parsing the contents of the file.

Example Bait File

Honeypot is not sweet enough
Since we don’t have access to CryptoLocker and its constantly evolving code, we don’t know whether it has any honeypot detection capabilities, and if it does, how it attempts to detect them. Since I’m rather safe than sorry, I’m assuming that it has some basic capabilities. It could be as simple as skipping files which are smaller than a pre-defined threshold or looking for specific file names. E.g., based on this article CryptoLocker could now skip any file named meeting_notes_cl1.docx. To maximize our chances for success:

1. Make sure the file is not too small and exhibits properties of other office documents (e.g. 1Mb in size, multiple pages)
2. Give the file a unique, meaningful name, see previous paragraph.

Once you have created the file, place it strategically on your file server among other office documents. I recommend deploying multiple honeypot files if you have multiple file shares. It may be advisable to give the files unique names (e.g. meeting_notes_cl1.docx, meeting_notes_cl2.docx, …) as well.

Too little, too late
The bait file getting modified too late is the biggest risk unfortunately. If you have a directory with 50,000 files but only one bait file, then it won’t help us to detect CryptoLocker. Since we don’t know how CryptoLocker enumerates files (alphabetical, sorted by size, …), it’s probably best to sprinkle them throughout the various vulnerable file shares, using file names which start various letters of the alphabet, e.g.:

  • a_meeting_notes_cl.docx
  • m_meeting_notes_cl.docx
  • s_meeting_notes_cl.docx
  • z_meeting_notes_cl.docx

A name pattern is not required but helpful when configuring EventSentry later, since it allows you to just specify a wildcard (e.g. *_meeting_notes_cl.docx) instead of specifying dozens of files manually.

Creating multiple bait files is particularly important for newer versions of CryptoLocker which doesn’t always parse/encrypt all directories. So it’s best to create multiple bait files and distribute them across multiple directories, e.g.:

  • marketing\m_meeting_notes_cl.docx
  • sales\a_meeting_notes_cl.docx
  • accounts_payable\z_meeting_notes_cl.docx

This way we’ll have a higher chance of detecting malicious behavior. CryptoWall is fast (of course depending on the speed of the infected host) and can often encrypt tens of thousands of files in an hour.

Implementation
We will use EventSentry’s File Checksum Monitoring feature to monitor the bait files and trigger events when one or more of these files are changed or deleted (=renamed). When they are, we will trigger a script which will stop the server service on the file server in order to avoid more damage being done. Click here to learn more about EventSentry’s architecture.

Monitoring files only for (checksum) changes is no longer sufficient since newer variants of CryptoWall not only modify but also rename (and subsequently delete) documents.

In EventSentry, create a new System Health package with the name “CryptoLocker Detection” and assign it to any server on your network that is monitoring with EventSentry and is serving files through a file share. Now, add the “File Checksum Monitoring” object to the package and ensure the following:

  • “Monitor folder(s) in real time” is checked
  • Disable (uncheck) both “Only verify checksum when ..” optimizations

Then, click the “plus” icon to add the (first) folder where a bait file exists to the list of monitored folders. There are a few things to consider when setting this up

  • The folder/directory name should be specified as it exists on the file server, UNC paths are not recommended.
  • Check the “Include Sub Directories” check box you are monitoring files in sub folders
  • Check “Detect File Deletions” and “Detect File Checksum Changes”. File size increases and decreases may also be checked but is not required.
  • Configure the “Files” section to “Only monitor files that are included below” and specify the file name either with a full (relative) path or with a wild card.
  • Select a severity of “Error” under “Log to Event Log as”

File Monitoring Configuration

Example
Your file server has a directory called C:\FileShares\Marketing with two sub directories, Ads and Images. If we were to add a bait file to both subdirectories (say specs.docx and meeting1.docx) then we would specify C:\FileShares\Marketing as the folder, and then add

  • Ads\specs.docx and
  • Images\meeting1.docx

as the files to be monitored. This is because we always specify the path relative to the main folder being monitored when specifying the file names.

Splendid, EventSentry will now log an event to the event log when any of these files change. Try it out – open the file in word, make a change & save – you should get an alert in the event log almost instantly.

Process action to stop the server serviceDive! Stopping the Server Service
Stopping the server service may seem like a drastic step, but it’s unfortunately the most efficient way to prevent an impending CryptoLocker infection from spreading. Sure, blowing up the bridge might seem crazy at first, but if it prevents an army of Zombies (who obviously can’t swim) from entering your town, then we can probably live with the collateral damage.

You can stop a service in 2 ways with EventSentry; with the “Service / Process Control” action as well as with a custom script. Creating a “Service / Process Control” action is easier, but only works for stopping services which have no dependencies. You can probably guess where I’m going with this – the server service depends on other services (e.g. when the “File Sharing Role” is enabled) and thus cannot be stopped with the EventSentry action. Consequently we will go a different route and create a process action instead, which essentially allows you to trigger any process, script etc. Better safe than sorry.

Right-click the Actions container and click “Add” to create a new action called “Stop Server Service”, and select “Process” as the action type. Specify “net.exe” as the Filename, and “stop lanmanserver /yes” as the command line arguments. The “/yes” switch ensures that any service which depends on the “Server” service also gets stopped.

Connecting the dots
Since we now assume that a modification of one or more of our bait files only happens when a CryptoLocker outbreak is under way, the only thing missing now is to have the file change event trigger the process action and shut down the service.

EventSentry uses the concept of “Event Log Filters” to link events to actions, such as sending an email and/or triggering a process. Filters need to be part of an “Event Log Package”, and we can now either create a new package or add our filter to an existing package. For documentation purposes and to keep things orderly we will create a new event log package called “CryptoLocker Prevention”.

We do this by selecting the “Packages – Event Logs” container and clicking “Add” from the ribbon, you can also right-click that container. Give it a descriptive name and select the package, which we now need to assign to one or more hosts and/or groups. Click “Assign” in the ribbon to assign the package, you can also make the package global by clicking the respective button.

With the package all ready to go, we now need to add the filter. With the package still selected, on the ribbon click the “Add” button under “Event Log” and select “Include”. This event log filter, as is, would not apply to any event, since no event log and no severity is selected.

Event Log Filter

Anything detected by the EventSentry agent (e.g. a file checksum change, service status change, low disk space) is logged to the Application event log with the source “EventSentry”, a matching category (e.g. “File Monitoring”) and usually with a configurable or dynamic severity. In our case the file checksum change events will be logged as Errors, as configured earlier.

So let’s first configure the event properties as shown in the screenshot:

Log: Application
Event Severity: Error
Source: EventSentry
Category: File Monitoring

We also add the “Stop Server Service to the list of actions to be triggered. Since we may have other system health packages which log File Monitoring events, we want to make sure that this filter only applies to those, which we do by restricting the filter further with an event id as well as with a Content Filter.

For CryptoLocker we want to get notified about every change that happens to our bait file. Whether it’s deleted, a checksum change or a file size change. As such, we leave the event id field empty and specify the “File Monitoring” category instead.

Important Note: If you are running a German version of Windows, the category will need to be specified in German (“Dateiüberwachung”) since EventSentry is localized for German.

Our filter could still apply to unrelated file checksum changes (e.g. OS files were changed by a Windows Update), but since any file checksum change event includes the package name which triggered the event, we can filter based on that name (we called the package “CryptoLocker Detection”) to ensure that we only match file changes from CryptoLocker. In the “Content Filter” section click the “+” button to add a new content filter.

The quickest way to specify the content filter is to leave the “Wildcard match” setting in place and simply specify *CryptoLocker Detection* as the content filter. A more elegant way is to use an Insertion String match and selecting insertion string 5, which represents the package name (click “Preview” to see the insertion string numbers).

Event Log Content Filter

The setup is now complete, and you can now push the configuration to the remote host(s) which has the bait files and should be protected. If you have multiple file servers with a different directory structure, then you can easily create multiple system health packages which contain a file monitoring object, and assign them accordingly. For example, you could create packages named:

  • CryptoLocker Detection Server1
  • CryptoLocker Detection Server5

The process action doesn’t have to be duplicated, since the stopping the service is the same process for all hosts. The event log filter may need to be adjusted depending on how it was setup. A wild card like *CryptoLocker Detection* would match “CryptoLocker Detection Server5” as well, but an insertion string filter would need to be modified to something like CryptoLocker Detection* in order to match multiple more than one package.