How New Chat Platforms Can Be Abused by Cybercriminals

Chat platform APIs abuse View How Cybercriminals Can Abuse Chat Platform APIs as C&C Infrastructures

Chat platforms such as Discord, Slack, and Telegram have become quite popular as office communication tools, with all three of the aforementioned examples, in particular, enjoying healthy patronage from businesses and organizations all over the world. One big reason for this is that these chat platforms allow their users to integrate their apps onto the platforms themselves through the use of their APIs. This factor, when applied to a work environment, cuts down on the time spent switching from app to app, thus resulting in a streamlined workflow and in increased efficiency. But one thing must be asked, especially with regard to that kind of feature: Can it be abused by cybercriminals? After all, we have seen many instances where legitimate services and applications are used to facilitate malicious cybercriminal efforts in one way or another, with IRC being one of the bigger examples, used by many cybercriminals in the past as command-and-control (C&C) infrastructure for botnets.

Turning Chat Platform APIs Into Command & Control Infrastructure

Our research has focused on analyzing whether these chat platforms APIs can be turned into C&Cs and to see whether there is existing malware that exploits that. Through extensive monitoring, research, and creation of proof-of-concept code, we have been able to demonstrate that each chat platform’s API functionality can successfully be abused – turning the chat platforms into C&C servers that cybercriminals can use to make contact with infected or compromised systems.

API-abusing Malware Samples Found

Our extensive monitoring of the chat platforms has also revealed that cybercriminals are already abusing these chat platforms for malicious purposes. In Discord, we have found many instances of malware being hosted, including file injectors and even bitcoin miners. Telegram, meanwhile, has been found to be abused by certain variants of KillDisk as well as TeleCrypt, a strain of ransomware. As for Slack, we have not yet found any sign of malicious activity in the chat platform itself at the time of this writing.

What makes this particular security issue something for businesses to take note of is that there is currently no way to secure chat platforms from it without killing their functionality. Blocking the APIs of these chat platforms means rendering them useless, while monitoring network traffic for suspicious Discord/Slack/Telegram connections is practically futile as there is no discernible difference between those initiated by malware and those initiated by the user.

With this conundrum in mind, should businesses avoid these chat platforms entirely? The answer lies in businesses’ current state of security. If the network/endpoint security of a business using a chat platform is up to date, and the employees within that business keep to safe usage practices, then perhaps the potential risk may be worth the convenience and efficiency. 

Best Practices for Users

  • Keep communications and credentials confidential. Do not reveal or share them with anyone else.
  • Never click on suspicious links, even those sent from your contacts.
  • Never download any suspicious files, even those sent from your contacts.
  • Comply rigorously with safe surfing or system usage habits.
  • Never use your chat service account for anything other than work purposes.
  • Chat traffic should be considered as no more “fully legitimate” than web traffic - you need to decide how to monitor it, limit it, or drop it completely.

Best Practices for Businesses

  • Enforce strict guidelines and safe usage habits among employees.
  • Inform employees and officers on typical cybercriminal scams, such as phishing scams and spam.
  • Ensure that IT personnel are briefed and educated about the threats that may arise from usage of chat platforms, and have them monitor for suspicious network activity.
  • Assess if the use of a chat platform is really that critical to day-to-day operations. If not, discontinue use immediately.

The complete technical details of our research can be found in our latest paper How Cybercriminals Can Abuse Chat Program APIs as Command-and-Control Infrastructures.


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