Cobalt Strike first appeared in 2012 in response to alleged flaws in the Metasploit Framework, an existing red team (penetration testing) tool. Cobalt Strike 3.0 was released in 2015 as a stand-alone opponent emulation platform. However, researchers began observing threat actors using Cobalt Strike by 2016. Cobalt Strike’s use in hostile activities was previously connected with huge cybercriminal operations like TA3546 and APT40. Two-thirds of detected Cobalt hit efforts from 2016 to 2018 were attributable to well-resourced cybercrime organizations or APT groups, according to researchers.
Cobalt Strike lets the attacker install a ‘Beacon’ agent on the target PC which provides the attacker with a plethora of capabilities, including command execution, file transfer, keylogging, mimikatz, port scanning, and privilege escalation. Cobalt Strike includes a toolkit called Artifact Kit that is used to create shellcode loaders.
Researchers discovered a new wave of phishing attacks in September that infect job seekers in the United States and New Zealand with Cobalt Strike beacons. The malware campaign used the lure of a job in order to infect victims with leaked versions of Cobalt Strike beacons. It was observed that Cobalt Strike is not the only piece of malware used in the attacks. In certain situations, individuals were instead infected with a different type of information-stealing malware known as RedLine or an Amadey botnet executor.