Adversaries may use an external proxy to act as an intermediary for network communications to a command and control server to avoid direct connections to their infrastructure. Many tools exist that enable traffic redirection through proxies or port redirection, including HTRAN, ZXProxy, and ZXPortMap.  Adversaries use these types of proxies to manage command and control communications, to provide resiliency in the face of connection loss, or to ride over existing trusted communications paths to avoid suspicion.
External connection proxies are used to mask the destination of C2 traffic and are typically implemented with port redirectors. Compromised systems outside of the victim environment may be used for these purposes, as well as purchased infrastructure such as cloud-based resources or virtual private servers. Proxies may be chosen based on the low likelihood that a connection to them from a compromised system would be investigated. Victim systems would communicate directly with the external proxy on the Internet and then the proxy would forward communications to the C2 server.
APT28 used other victims as proxies to relay command traffic, for instance using a compromised Georgian military email server as a hop point to NATO victims. The group has also used a tool that acts as a proxy to allow C2 even if the victim is behind a router. APT28 has also used a machine to relay and obscure communications between CHOPSTICK and their server.
MuddyWater has controlled POWERSTATS from behind a proxy network to obfuscate the C2 location. MuddyWater has used a series of compromised websites that victims connected to randomly to relay information to command and control (C2).
|M1031||Network Intrusion Prevention||
Network intrusion detection and prevention systems that use network signatures to identify traffic for specific adversary malware can be used to mitigate activity at the network level. Signatures are often for unique indicators within protocols and may be based on the specific C2 protocol used by a particular adversary or tool, and will likely be different across various malware families and versions. Adversaries will likely change tool C2 signatures over time or construct protocols in such a way as to avoid detection by common defensive tools.
|ID||Data Source||Data Component|
|DS0029||Network Traffic||Network Connection Creation|
|Network Traffic Content|
|Network Traffic Flow|
Analyze network data for uncommon data flows, such as a client sending significantly more data than it receives from an external server. Processes utilizing the network that do not normally have network communication or have never been seen before are suspicious. Analyze packet contents to detect communications that do not follow the expected protocol behavior for the port that is being used.