Cobalt Strike

What Is Cobalt Strike?

Cobalt Strike is an adversary simulation software designed to test IT infrastructure for resilience against advanced cyberattacks. The technology emulates realistic threats in live attacks, enabling organizations to assess their vulnerabilities and better protect themselves. However, Cobalt Strike can also introduce risk: due to its various attack capabilities, threat actors can exploit the technology to launch cyberattacks and infiltrate organizations’ networks.

How Cobalt Strike Works

The following operations are included with Cobalt Strike:

Covert Communication

Cobalt Strike can be customized to use specific ports, protocols, HTTP headers, and encryption methods, allowing its traffic to blend in with regular traffic or mimic a particular application. This is due to its malleable command and control (C2), which allows the technology to move covertly undetected.

Attack Packages

Cobalt Strike provides social engineering attacks that grant network access and can create and spread various types of malware upon infiltration.

Beacon Configuration

A remote agent known as a beacon is deployed with Cobalt Strike, and it can execute malicious code and provide a more significant foothold on a network. 

Post-Exploitation Modules

A wide range of post-exploitation modules can gather information, escalate privileges, and maintain persistence within a system. Cobalt Strike’s default modules can be customized or replaced with fully custom-built modules.

Custom Scripts

Cobalt Strike creates custom scripts in various languages, including PowerShell, Python, C#, Bash, Java, VBA, and Ruby, which can help extend its capabilities.

What Is a Cobalt Strike Beacon?

Cobalt Strike can generate remote agents known as beacons that can be deployed to achieve remote code execution (RCE) on the target system once initial access has been gained. Beacons are configured to conduct further malicious activities with custom settings and are deployed as either “staged” or “stageless” payloads.

Staged payloads are delivered in multiple stages to evade detection by initializing a small footprint on the target host. The first stage establishes a connection between the target device and the attackers’, then waits for instructions to import the full second-stage payload or other malicious activities later. On the other hand, stageless payloads are delivered in a single step, meaning that the entire Beacon payload is delivered to the target system in a single piece of code.

Dangers of Cobalt Strike

Cobalt Strike’s malleability allows threat actors to modify the behavior of its components to mimic legitimate network traffic and evade detection by security software. Threat actors take advantage of Cobalt Strike’s capabilities to carry out malicious activities, including:

  • Gaining unauthorized network access
  • Conducting phishing attacks
  • Deploying malware
  • Escalating system privileges
  • Performing lateral movement
  • Credential dumping
  • Keylogging
  • Extracting data 

How to Protect Against a Cobalt Strike Attack

Several security strategies can be implemented to detect and defend against a Cobalt Strike attack.
MDR solutions offer proactive threat hunting, continuous monitoring, and improved incident response capabilities. Organizations can identify suspicious traffic by implementing an MDR solution to monitor network activity and proactively defend against cyber threats.

Assess SSL/TLS Certificates

Transport Later Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) are vital in creating a secure online connection. By assessing and verifying these certificates, organizations can ensure that TLS and SSL components are correctly installed, preventing threat actors from leveraging Cobalt Strike to exploit website vulnerabilities.
EDR prevents cyberattacks by securing individual endpoints, containing any threats before they can negatively impact a network. With EDR, threat actors taking advantage of Cobalt Strike capabilities to infiltrate systems are identified and mitigated.
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