PacketWhisper: Stealthily exfiltrate data and defeat attribution
PacketWhisper – Stealthily Transfer Data & Defeat Attribution Using DNS Queries & Text-Based Steganography, without the need for attacker-controlled Name Servers or domains; Evade DLP/MLS Devices; Defeat Data- & DNS Name Server Whitelisting Controls. Convert any file type (e.g. executables, Office, Zip, images) into a list of Fully Qualified Domain Names (FQDNs), use DNS queries to transfer data. Simple yet extremely effective.
Why is this different from every other DNS exfiltration technique?
Traditional DNS exfiltration relies on one of the following: DNS tunnelling; Hiding data in DNS query fields; or Encoded/encrypted payloads that are broken up and used as subdomains in the DNS query. All of these methods require that the attacker control a domain and/or an associated DNS Name Server to receive the data, which leads to attribution. Those approaches are also vulnerable to DNS Name Server blacklisting (common) and whitelisting (increasingly common). Another problem is that DFIR analysts are familiar with these methods, and SIEM systems will often detect and alert on seeing them.
PacketWhisper overcomes these limitations.
What if data could be transferred using the target’s own whitelisted DNS servers, without the communicating systems ever directly connecting to each other or to a common endpoint? Even if the network boundary employed data whitelisting to block data exfiltration?
How It Works
To make it all happen, PacketWhisper combines DNS queries with text-based steganography. Leveraging the Cloakify Toolset, it transforms the payload into a list of FQDN strings. PacketWhisper then uses the list of FQDNs to create sequential DNS queries, transferring the payload across (or within) network boundaries, with the data hidden in plain sight, and without the two systems ever directly connecting to a each other or to a common endpoint. The ciphers used by PacketWhisper provide multiple levels of deception to avoid generating alerts as well as to mislead analysis attempts.
To receive the data, you capture the network traffic containing the DNS queries, using whatever method is most convenient for you. (See “Capturing The PCAP File” below for examples of capture points.) You then load the captured PCAP file into PacketWhisper (running on whatever system is convenient), which extracts the payload from the file and Decloakifies it into its original form.
DNS is an attractive protocol to use because, even though it’s a relatively slow means of transferring data, DNS is almost always allowed across network boundaries, even on the most sensitive networks.
Important note: We’re using DNS queries to transfer the data, not successful DNS lookups. PacketWhisper never needs to successfully resolve any of its DNS queries. In fact PacketWhisper doesn’t even look at the DNS responses. This expands our use cases, and underscores the fact that we never need to control a domain we’re querying for, never need to control a DNS Name Server handling DNS requests.
So using PacketWhisper, we transform a payload that looks like this:
Into a list of FQDNs like this:
Which PacketWhisper turns into DNS queries that show up in network traffic like this:
Which you capture as a PCAP file anywhere along the DNS resolution path, and then load that PCAP into your local copy of PacketWhisper to recover the payload:
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