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Table of contents
1.
Introduction
2.
What is C2?
3.
Different C2 Attack Tactics
3.1.
Backdoors
3.2.
Remote Access Trojans
3.3.
Beaconing
3.4.
Botnets
3.5.
Tunneling and Proxy Servers
3.6.
Peer-to-Peer Networks
4.
Different Types of C & C Architectures
4.1.
Random C2 Attack
4.2.
Centralized C2 Attack
4.3.
P2P Attack
5.
Monitoring C2 Attacks
5.1.
Detecting Beacons
5.2.
Monitoring Outbound Traffic
5.3.
Maintain HTTP Logs 
6.
Examples of C2 Attacks
7.
Frequently Asked Questions
7.1.
What are Trojans?
7.2.
What is WebRTC protocol?
7.3.
What is DNS tunneling?
8.
Conclusion
Last Updated: Mar 27, 2024
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c2 in Cyber Security

Author Abhinav Anand
0 upvote
Leveraging ChatGPT - GenAI as a Microsoft Data Expert
Speaker
Prerita Agarwal
Data Specialist @
23 Jul, 2024 @ 01:30 PM

Introduction

Ever since the Internet came, the number of cyber-attacks has also increased. Cybersecurity is one way of protecting networks and other digital systems from cyber attacks. Attackers can use different methods to gain unauthorized access to your networks and databases. One such method is C2, which stands for command and control infrastructure.

c2 in cyber security

This article will discuss C2 in cyber security and how malicious individuals may use it to maintain persistent communication with the compromised system.

Let us start with understanding what is C2 in Cyber Security: 

What is C2?

C2 stands for command and control infrastructure, and it is also called C & C. It is a robust framework of tools and techniques commonly used for successfully carrying out cyber attacks and establishing remote control over the victim devices and networks through hidden communication channels. These communication channels are used for sending instructions to the compromised system without being detected by the firewall, for extracting sensitive information by installing tools such as keyloggers, enrolling victim devices to botnets, and making backdoors for bypassing authorization systems. Backdoors are simply exposed ports that makes the victim device accessible from outside the local network.

Some commercially available C2 frameworks are,

  • Cobalt Strike
     
  • Brute Ratel
     
  • Voodoo
     
  • Nighthawk
     

In the next section, we will take a look at the different C2 attack tactics.

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Different C2 Attack Tactics

The C2 infrastructure has many methods for successfully executing cyber attacks, and some of these methods or techniques are listed below:-

c2 attack tactics

Backdoors

Attackers create hidden entry points in the victim systems called backdoors by exposing ports to provide a secret way for more attackers to gain unauthorized control over the compromised system. 

backdoor

Remote Access Trojans

Trojans are malicious software disguised as regular applications so that the end users naively install them. Once a trojan program is installed or executed, it can establish communication channels between the command servers and the compromised network, allowing the attacker to remotely access sensitive resources and information.

Beaconing

Beaconing is the process in which the infected device pings the attacker's C2 command server for instructions. It is usually done at random intervals to avoid being detected by cybersecurity software.

Botnets

A botnet is a large network of infected computers remotely controlled by a single C2 command server. They are used for performing illicit activities such as distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, data theft, and more.

Tunneling and Proxy Servers

Tunneling in C2 means using hidden communication channels for sending and receiving payloads to and from the infected devices and the command servers. Additionally, the attackers may use proxy servers to hide their origin and make their IP addresses hard to track.

Peer-to-Peer Networks

In C2, peer-to-peer networks are used for interconnecting infected devices to form a large botnet without needing a central command server. It makes it harder for law enforcement agencies to shut them down, as they can only stop one node at a time due to the absence of a central commanding server.

In the next section, you will learn about the different types of C2 architectures.

Different Types of C & C Architectures

Some commonly used C2 architectures are explained below.

Random C2 Attack

This approach ensures that Cyber security professionals do not discover or track the C2 command server. In order to achieve this, instructions are sent to the botnet through random sources on the internet, such as links in social media comments, spam emails, content delivery networks, etc. The twotter project is a commonly used C2 framework that can establish the entire command infrastructure by only using direct messages on Twitter.

Centralized C2 Attack

This approach uses the client-server architecture for establishing the C2 command infrastructure. The compromised system polls a central command server for receiving instructions. However, it is very simple to deal with since the commanding server can be tracked very easily, and the entire botnet can be disabled by shutting the central server down. Attackers rely on proxy servers to mask their IP addresses to avoid detection.

P2P Attack

This C2 architecture doesn’t require a central commanding server. It is completely decentralized. Each node in the botnet can share messages using peer-to-peer connections. Disabling a P2P botnet is extremely difficult, as each node has to be shut down instead of a single central server.

Now, let us take a look at some ways to monitor C2 cyber attacks.

Monitoring C2 Attacks

Cyber-attacks are improving technically, and they use various advanced techniques to conceal their presence in affected networks. Detecting C2 infrastructure in your systems is crucial to avoid data theft.

You can use the following techniques to detect C2 attacks on your network or devices:-

Detecting Beacons

Beacons are used for contacting attacker command servers, and most intrusion detection systems easily detect them. However, they are masked by attackers using advanced encryption techniques, and in order to detect them, packet dumps have to be inspected manually using tools like Wireshark.

Monitoring Outbound Traffic

Outbound traffic is neglected when it comes to monitoring, and C2 methods take advantage of this lack of awareness. You should carefully set up outgoing firewall rules to ensure the attackers cannot establish communication channels. Outgoing DNS requests should only be allowed to your organization’s servers to reduce the risk of DNS tunneling.

Maintain HTTP Logs 

The payloads of both incoming and outgoing HTTP requests should be closely monitored to ensure there are no signs of C2 traffic. Close analysis should be performed to distinguish between legitimate traffic and C2 traffic.

Now, we will take a look at some famous C2 attacks that affected different organizations around the world.

Examples of C2 Attacks

The following are some real-world examples of command and control attacks:-

  • New York Times: The NYT was targeted by Chinese hackers in 2013 because of being strongly critical of some Chinese politicians. The attackers gained access to the personal computers of 53 NYT employees by circumventing the NYT network firewall.
     
  • US Missile Systems: The defense science board for Pentagon released a study stating that Chinese hackers managed to access US missile systems. They specifically targeted military contractors in charge of designing and manufacturing military hardware. The attackers stole blueprints worth 15 years of research.
     
  • Twitter: The hacking organization Wild Neutron carried out a sophisticated C&C against Twitter in early 2013, and they managed to gain access to account credentials and personal information of more than 200 thousand users.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Trojans?

Trojans are a type of malware that appears legitimate but contains some hidden malicious functionality. They are designed to trick innocent users into installing or executing them to perform harmful activities.

What is WebRTC protocol?

WebRTC stands for web real-time communication, and it is an open-source protocol that allows you to enable peer-to-peer real-time communication capabilities directly within the browser. It is built on open web standards and various networking protocols, such as Realtime transport protocol(RTP).

What is DNS tunneling?

A domain name system is usually used to translate domain names into IP addresses, but in the C2 infrastructure, it is used to establish remote connections or backdoors. The compromised system requests for translating some specific domain names from a DNS server controlled by the attacker, and the DNS sends back an encoded payload for facilitating botnets or other harmful instructions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, C2 is a collection of tools and techniques attackers use to establish control over compromised systems remotely.

In this article, you learned about the C2 infrastructure and some ways to deal with them.

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