Covert Channels and Poor Decisions: The Tale of DNSMessenger
The Domain Name System (DNS) is one of the most commonly used Internet application protocols on corporate networks. It is responsible for providing name resolution so that network resources can be accessed by name, rather than requiring users to memorize IP addresses. While many organizations implement strict egress filtering as it pertains to web traffic, firewall rules, etc. many have less stringent controls in place to protect against DNS based threats. Attackers have recognized this and commonly encapsulate different network protocols within DNS to evade security devices.
Typically this use of DNS is related to the exfiltration of information. Talos recently analyzed an interesting malware sample that made use of DNS TXT record queries and responses to create a bidirectional Command and Control (C2) channel. This allows the attacker to use DNS communications to submit new commands to be run on infected machines and return the results of the command execution to the attacker. This is an extremely uncommon and evasive way of administering a RAT. The use of multiple stages of Powershell with various stages being completely fileless indicates an attacker who has taken significant measures to avoid detection.
Ironically, the author of the malware called SourceFire out in the malware code itself shortly after we released Cisco Umbrella, a security product specifically designed to protect organizations from DNS and web based threats as described here.