Skip to content

T1189 Drive-by Compromise

Adversaries may gain access to a system through a user visiting a website over the normal course of browsing. With this technique, the user’s web browser is typically targeted for exploitation, but adversaries may also use compromised websites for non-exploitation behavior such as acquiring Application Access Token.

Multiple ways of delivering exploit code to a browser exist, including:

  • A legitimate website is compromised where adversaries have injected some form of malicious code such as JavaScript, iFrames, and cross-site scripting.
  • Malicious ads are paid for and served through legitimate ad providers.
  • Built-in web application interfaces are leveraged for the insertion of any other kind of object that can be used to display web content or contain a script that executes on the visiting client (e.g. forum posts, comments, and other user controllable web content).

Often the website used by an adversary is one visited by a specific community, such as government, a particular industry, or region, where the goal is to compromise a specific user or set of users based on a shared interest. This kind of targeted campaign is often referred to a strategic web compromise or watering hole attack. There are several known examples of this occurring.1

Typical drive-by compromise process:

  1. A user visits a website that is used to host the adversary controlled content.
  2. Scripts automatically execute, typically searching versions of the browser and plugins for a potentially vulnerable version.
    • The user may be required to assist in this process by enabling scripting or active website components and ignoring warning dialog boxes.
  3. Upon finding a vulnerable version, exploit code is delivered to the browser.
  4. If exploitation is successful, then it will give the adversary code execution on the user’s system unless other protections are in place.
    • In some cases a second visit to the website after the initial scan is required before exploit code is delivered.

Unlike Exploit Public-Facing Application, the focus of this technique is to exploit software on a client endpoint upon visiting a website. This will commonly give an adversary access to systems on the internal network instead of external systems that may be in a DMZ.

Adversaries may also use compromised websites to deliver a user to a malicious application designed to Steal Application Access Tokens, like OAuth tokens, to gain access to protected applications and information. These malicious applications have been delivered through popups on legitimate websites.2

Item Value
ID T1189
Sub-techniques
Tactics TA0001
Platforms Linux, SaaS, Windows, macOS
Permissions required User
Version 1.4
Created 18 April 2018
Last Modified 08 March 2022

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
G0138 Andariel Andariel has used watering hole attacks, often with zero-day exploits, to gain initial access to victims within a specific IP range.2324
G0073 APT19 APT19 performed a watering hole attack on forbes.com in 2014 to compromise targets.38
G0007 APT28 APT28 has compromised targets via strategic web compromise utilizing custom exploit kits.42
G0050 APT32 APT32 has infected victims by tricking them into visiting compromised watering hole websites.4344
G0067 APT37 APT37 has used strategic web compromises, particularly of South Korean websites, to distribute malware. The group has also used torrent file-sharing sites to more indiscriminately disseminate malware to victims. As part of their compromises, the group has used a Javascript based profiler called RICECURRY to profile a victim’s web browser and deliver malicious code accordingly.491050
G0082 APT38 APT38 has conducted watering holes schemes to gain initial access to victims.5556
G0001 Axiom Axiom has used watering hole attacks to gain access.37
S0606 Bad Rabbit Bad Rabbit spread through watering holes on popular sites by injecting JavaScript into the HTML body or a .js file.89
G0060 BRONZE BUTLER BRONZE BUTLER compromised three Japanese websites using a Flash exploit to perform watering hole attacks.57
S0482 Bundlore Bundlore has been spread through malicious advertisements on websites.7
G0070 Dark Caracal Dark Caracal leveraged a watering hole to serve up malicious code.20
G0012 Darkhotel Darkhotel used embedded iframes on hotel login portals to redirect selected victims to download malware.58
G0035 Dragonfly Dragonfly has compromised targets via strategic web compromise (SWC) utilizing a custom exploit kit.282930
G0066 Elderwood Elderwood has delivered zero-day exploits and malware to victims by injecting malicious code into specific public Web pages visited by targets within a particular sector.252627
S0531 Grandoreiro Grandoreiro has used compromised websites and Google Ads to bait victims into downloading its installer.1213
S0215 KARAE KARAE was distributed through torrent file-sharing websites to South Korean victims, using a YouTube video downloader application as a lure.10
G0032 Lazarus Group Lazarus Group delivered RATANKBA and other malicious code to victims via a compromised legitimate website.3940
G0077 Leafminer Leafminer has infected victims using watering holes.31
G0065 Leviathan Leviathan has infected victims using watering holes.22
S0451 LoudMiner LoudMiner is typically bundled with pirated copies of Virtual Studio Technology (VST) for Windows and macOS.11
G0095 Machete Machete has distributed Machete through a fake blog website.45
G0059 Magic Hound Magic Hound has conducted watering-hole attacks through media and magazine websites.35
G0040 Patchwork Patchwork has used watering holes to deliver files with exploits to initial victims.5152
G0068 PLATINUM PLATINUM has sometimes used drive-by attacks against vulnerable browser plugins.36
S0216 POORAIM POORAIM has been delivered through compromised sites acting as watering holes.10
G0056 PROMETHIUM PROMETHIUM has used watering hole attacks to deliver malicious versions of legitimate installers.21
S0496 REvil REvil has infected victim machines through compromised websites and exploit kits.14151617
G0048 RTM RTM has distributed its malware via the RIG and SUNDOWN exploit kits, as well as online advertising network Yandex.Direct.5354
G0027 Threat Group-3390 Threat Group-3390 has extensively used strategic web compromises to target victims.3233
G0134 Transparent Tribe Transparent Tribe has used websites with malicious hyperlinks and iframes to infect targeted victims with Crimson, njRAT, and other malicious tools.464748
G0010 Turla Turla has infected victims using watering holes.1819
G0124 Windigo Windigo has distributed Windows malware via drive-by downloads.34
G0112 Windshift Windshift has used compromised websites to register custom URL schemes on a remote system.41

Mitigations

ID Mitigation Description
M1048 Application Isolation and Sandboxing Browser sandboxes can be used to mitigate some of the impact of exploitation, but sandbox escapes may still exist.56
M1050 Exploit Protection Security applications that look for behavior used during exploitation such as Windows Defender Exploit Guard (WDEG) and the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) can be used to mitigate some exploitation behavior. 3 Control flow integrity checking is another way to potentially identify and stop a software exploit from occurring. 4 Many of these protections depend on the architecture and target application binary for compatibility.
M1021 Restrict Web-Based Content For malicious code served up through ads, adblockers can help prevent that code from executing in the first place.
M1051 Update Software Ensure all browsers and plugins kept updated can help prevent the exploit phase of this technique. Use modern browsers with security features turned on.

Detection

ID Data Source Data Component
DS0015 Application Log Application Log Content
DS0022 File File Creation
DS0029 Network Traffic Network Connection Creation
DS0009 Process Process Creation

References


  1. Adair, S., Moran, N. (2012, May 15). Cyber Espionage & Strategic Web Compromises – Trusted Websites Serving Dangerous Results. Retrieved March 13, 2018. 

  2. Lassalle, D., et al. (2017, November 6). OceanLotus Blossoms: Mass Digital Surveillance and Attacks Targeting ASEAN, Asian Nations, the Media, Human Rights Groups, and Civil Society. Retrieved November 6, 2017. 

  3. Nunez, N. (2017, August 9). Moving Beyond EMET II – Windows Defender Exploit Guard. Retrieved March 12, 2018. 

  4. Wikipedia. (2018, January 11). Control-flow integrity. Retrieved March 12, 2018. 

  5. Cowan, C. (2017, March 23). Strengthening the Microsoft Edge Sandbox. Retrieved March 12, 2018. 

  6. Goodin, D. (2017, March 17). Virtual machine escape fetches $105,000 at Pwn2Own hacking contest - updated. Retrieved March 12, 2018. 

  7. Sushko, O. (2019, April 17). macOS Bundlore: Mac Virus Bypassing macOS Security Features. Retrieved June 30, 2020. 

  8. M.Léveille, M-E.. (2017, October 24). Bad Rabbit: Not‑Petya is back with improved ransomware. Retrieved January 28, 2021. 

  9. Mamedov, O. Sinitsyn, F. Ivanov, A.. (2017, October 24). Bad Rabbit ransomware. Retrieved January 28, 2021. 

  10. FireEye. (2018, February 20). APT37 (Reaper): The Overlooked North Korean Actor. Retrieved March 1, 2018. 

  11. Malik, M. (2019, June 20). LoudMiner: Cross-platform mining in cracked VST software. Retrieved May 18, 2020. 

  12. GReAT. (2020, July 14). The Tetrade: Brazilian banking malware goes global. Retrieved November 9, 2020. 

  13. Abramov, D. (2020, April 13). Grandoreiro Malware Now Targeting Banks in Spain. Retrieved November 12, 2020. 

  14. Counter Threat Unit Research Team. (2019, September 24). REvil/Sodinokibi Ransomware. Retrieved August 4, 2020. 

  15. McAfee. (2019, October 2). McAfee ATR Analyzes Sodinokibi aka REvil Ransomware-as-a-Service – What The Code Tells Us. Retrieved August 4, 2020. 

  16. Ozarslan, S. (2020, January 15). A Brief History of Sodinokibi. Retrieved August 5, 2020. 

  17. Secureworks . (2019, September 24). REvil: The GandCrab Connection. Retrieved August 4, 2020. 

  18. Faou, M. (2020, May). From Agent.btz to ComRAT v4: A ten-year journey. Retrieved June 15, 2020. 

  19. Secureworks CTU. (n.d.). IRON HUNTER. Retrieved February 22, 2022. 

  20. Blaich, A., et al. (2018, January 18). Dark Caracal: Cyber-espionage at a Global Scale. Retrieved April 11, 2018. 

  21. Tudorica, R. et al. (2020, June 30). StrongPity APT - Revealing Trojanized Tools, Working Hours and Infrastructure. Retrieved July 20, 2020. 

  22. CISA. (2021, July 19). (AA21-200A) Joint Cybersecurity Advisory – Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures of Indicted APT40 Actors Associated with China’s MSS Hainan State Security Department.. Retrieved August 12, 2021. 

  23. AhnLab. (2018, June 23). Targeted attacks by Andariel Threat Group, a subgroup of the Lazarus. Retrieved September 29, 2021. 

  24. Chen, Joseph. (2018, July 16). New Andariel Reconnaissance Tactics Uncovered. Retrieved September 29, 2021. 

  25. O’Gorman, G., and McDonald, G.. (2012, September 6). The Elderwood Project. Retrieved February 15, 2018. 

  26. Clayton, M.. (2012, September 14). Stealing US business secrets: Experts ID two huge cyber ‘gangs’ in China. Retrieved February 15, 2018. 

  27. Paganini, P. (2012, September 9). Elderwood project, who is behind Op. Aurora and ongoing attacks?. Retrieved February 13, 2018. 

  28. Secureworks. (2019, July 24). Resurgent Iron Liberty Targeting Energy Sector. Retrieved August 12, 2020. 

  29. US-CERT. (2018, March 16). Alert (TA18-074A): Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sectors. Retrieved June 6, 2018. 

  30. Slowik, J. (2021, October). THE BAFFLING BERSERK BEAR: A DECADE’S ACTIVITY TARGETING CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE. Retrieved December 6, 2021. 

  31. Symantec Security Response. (2018, July 25). Leafminer: New Espionage Campaigns Targeting Middle Eastern Regions. Retrieved August 28, 2018. 

  32. Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit Threat Intelligence. (2015, August 5). Threat Group-3390 Targets Organizations for Cyberespionage. Retrieved August 18, 2018. 

  33. Legezo, D. (2018, June 13). LuckyMouse hits national data center to organize country-level waterholing campaign. Retrieved August 18, 2018. 

  34. Bilodeau, O., Bureau, M., Calvet, J., Dorais-Joncas, A., Léveillé, M., Vanheuverzwijn, B. (2014, March 18). Operation Windigo – the vivisection of a large Linux server‑side credential‑stealing malware campaign. Retrieved February 10, 2021. 

  35. ClearSky Research Team. (2020, August 1). The Kittens Are Back in Town 3 - Charming Kitten Campaign Evolved and Deploying Spear-Phishing link by WhatsApp. Retrieved April 21, 2021. 

  36. Windows Defender Advanced Threat Hunting Team. (2016, April 29). PLATINUM: Targeted attacks in South and Southeast Asia. Retrieved February 15, 2018. 

  37. Esler, J., Lee, M., and Williams, C.. (2014, October 14). Threat Spotlight: Group 72. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 

  38. Grunzweig, J., Lee, B. (2016, January 22). New Attacks Linked to C0d0so0 Group. Retrieved August 2, 2018. 

  39. Trend Micro. (2017, February 27). RATANKBA: Delving into Large-scale Watering Holes against Enterprises. Retrieved May 22, 2018. 

  40. Weidemann, A. (2021, January 25). New campaign targeting security researchers. Retrieved December 20, 2021. 

  41. Wardle, Patrick. (2018, December 20). Middle East Cyber-Espionage analyzing WindShift’s implant: OSX.WindTail (part 1). Retrieved October 3, 2019. 

  42. Secureworks CTU. (2017, March 30). IRON TWILIGHT Supports Active Measures. Retrieved February 28, 2022. 

  43. Foltýn, T. (2018, March 13). OceanLotus ships new backdoor using old tricks. Retrieved May 22, 2018. 

  44. Adair, S. and Lancaster, T. (2020, November 6). OceanLotus: Extending Cyber Espionage Operations Through Fake Websites. Retrieved November 20, 2020. 

  45. Kaspersky Global Research and Analysis Team. (2014, August 20). El Machete. Retrieved September 13, 2019. 

  46. Huss, D. (2016, March 1). Operation Transparent Tribe. Retrieved June 8, 2016. 

  47. Falcone, R. and Conant S. (2016, March 25). ProjectM: Link Found Between Pakistani Actor and Operation Transparent Tribe. Retrieved September 2, 2021. 

  48. Malhotra, A. et al. (2021, May 13). Transparent Tribe APT expands its Windows malware arsenal. Retrieved September 2, 2021. 

  49. Raiu, C., and Ivanov, A. (2016, June 17). Operation Daybreak. Retrieved February 15, 2018. 

  50. Cash, D., Grunzweig, J., Meltzer, M., Adair, S., Lancaster, T. (2021, August 17). North Korean APT InkySquid Infects Victims Using Browser Exploits. Retrieved September 30, 2021. 

  51. Hamada, J.. (2016, July 25). Patchwork cyberespionage group expands targets from governments to wide range of industries. Retrieved August 17, 2016. 

  52. Meltzer, M, et al. (2018, June 07). Patchwork APT Group Targets US Think Tanks. Retrieved July 16, 2018. 

  53. Faou, M. and Boutin, J. (2017, February). Read The Manual: A Guide to the RTM Banking Trojan. Retrieved March 9, 2017. 

  54. ESET Research. (2019, April 30). Buhtrap backdoor and Buran ransomware distributed via major advertising platform. Retrieved May 11, 2020. 

  55. FireEye. (2018, October 03). APT38: Un-usual Suspects. Retrieved November 6, 2018. 

  56. DHS/CISA. (2020, August 26). FASTCash 2.0: North Korea’s BeagleBoyz Robbing Banks. Retrieved September 29, 2021. 

  57. DiMaggio, J. (2016, April 28). Tick cyberespionage group zeros in on Japan. Retrieved July 16, 2018. 

  58. Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team. (2014, November). The Darkhotel APT A Story of Unusual Hospitality. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 

Back to top