The DarkGate malware, also known as MehCrypter, is a pernicious threat with a wide range of capabilities. First publicly reported in 2018, DarkGate is a Windows-based malware designed to steal credentials and enable remote access to victim endpoints. It has been primarily distributed through email malspam campaigns. Still, a new attack vector surfaced in late August 2023, when researchers discovered campaigns using external Teams messages to deliver the DarkGate Loader.
How Does The Darkgate Malware Works?
The malware typically starts with a phishing attempt. The attackers send a malicious ZIP file with a deceptive naming scheme, such as “Confidential Significant Company Changes.zip“. The unsuspecting user downloads the ZIP file, which contains different malicious shortcut files (LNK files) disguised as PDF documents. When clicked, these shortcuts trigger a malicious command line that fetches and runs a harmful script from a remote IP address.
The attackers’ intent is to remain undetected, so they use a known, legitimate scripting language, AutoIt. Early versions of DarkGate already featured this scripting language. The command line attempts to run an AutoIt script that downloads and deposits additional malicious files onto the victim’s machine.
Recognizing this threat, cybersecurity teams collect Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) and isolate affected machines. Even though cybersecurity tools block the malicious IP, extra precautions should be taken to ensure that no persistence mechanisms, which could give the attackers a backdoor into the system, are present on the endpoints.
How To Stay Safe From Darkgate Malware?
As a preventive measure, it’s suggested to prohibit the download of files from external accounts in platforms like Microsoft Teams. Remember that vigilance is imperative for individuals and organizations when dealing with unfamiliar or suspicious files, even if they appear to be sent from known individuals or accounts.
DarkGate poses significant risks to both individuals and businesses. If a system is compromised, DarkGate enables the download and execution of other malware, potentially resulting in data breaches, operational disruptions, and financial losses. It’s worth noting that DarkGate can also harvest sensitive data from web browsers, conduct cryptocurrency mining, and function as a downloader of additional payloads such as Remcos RAT.
Mitigation strategies include having a sound patch management system, maintaining updated antivirus software with real-time scanning capabilities, education and regular employee training about phishing scams, and implementing strong email filtering systems. While these steps can significantly reduce the risks of many forms of malware, including DarkGate, no solution is entirely foolproof.
In addition to applying sound cybersecurity practices at an individual and organizational level, consider engaging with managed detection and response services to provide an extra layer of protection, detection, and response to threats like DarkGate. Continuous threat hunting on customer networks is an effective way to stay ahead of evolving malicious attacks and ensure digital environment security.