From DarkGate to AsyncRAT: Malware Detected and Shared As Unit 42 Timely Threat Intelligence

Clock Icon 9 min read

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)

Executive Summary

This article summarizes the malware families (and groups pushing malware) seen by Unit 42 and shared with the broader threat hunting community through our social channels. Some malware – such as IcedID and DarkGate – came up repeatedly. We also included a number of posts about the cybercrime group TA577 – who have distributed multiple malware families but here favor Pikabot. In other cases, we posted about newer malware such as JinxLoader.

By sharing timely threat intelligence via social media channels, we report on malware infections and other threat intelligence of note in an expedited manner. These posts summarize the infection chain, offer helpful screenshots of active traffic and point towards indicators of compromise (IoCs). In 2023, our 93 timely threat intelligence posts in total generated 1.6 million-plus impressions, showing the value of getting IoCs out to the community quickly.

This article reviews all our timely threat intelligence released from October through December 2023. Summarizing these threat intelligence posts provides an opportunity to spot trends that are less visible in single posts. We’ve included a table in the Indicators of Compromise section that lists all the posts in full by date posted, name, links to social media channels and IoCs on GitHub.

Many of these posts contain screenshots of infection traffic filtered in Wireshark, links to the network IoCs and comments linking to packet captures (pcaps) of the associated activity, so this article also provides readers an opportunity to practice and improve their Wireshark skills.

The IoCs shared in the social posts are all considered malicious by Palo Alto Networks products. These verdicts are used, for example, by cloud-delivered security services such as Advanced WildFire and Advanced URL Filtering for the Next-Generation Firewall. If you think you might have been compromised or have an urgent matter, contact the Unit 42 Incident Response team.

To see our timely threat intelligence posts as we publish them, follow Unit 42 on X and LinkedIn.

Related Unit 42 Topics Wireshark, Malware, Trojan
Malware Families Mentioned DarkGate, Pikabot, IcedID, AsyncRAT, JinxLoader

Timely Threat Intelligence

In addition to the in-depth articles published on this site, Unit 42 also shares timely threat intelligence – IoCs, TTPs and other observations about active campaigns – through our social channels.

Unit 42 shared the first public post about JinxLoader. This information led at least one other vendor, ProofPoint’s Emerging Threats (ET) Labs team, to create a new signature triggering on traffic patterns generated by this malware.

Besides recapping all social media posts published from October to December, we’ve included a table at the end of this review that includes links to the original posts as well as to all of the IoCs on our GitHub. These original posts include the images from the threat intelligence shared, which range from screen captures of malware and artifacts to the associated traffic filtered in Wireshark. Here we’ll only include the infection chain (as applicable), but head over to X (formerly Twitter) or LinkedIn to review the rest.

A note: The infection date is not always the same as the date when shared on social channels. The table in the IoCs section includes the posting date. The infection date itself is included in all of the infection chain images. Don’t get confused if you’re comparing the infection date to the posting date and they don’t match up!

Timely Threat Intelligence: October


We reported on two instances of DarkGate in October. The first instance was DarkGate malware distributed through Microsoft Teams. The attacker posed as the target organization's CEO and sent victims a Teams invite. The message sent contains a password-protected .zip archive. See the entire infection chain below in Figure 1.

2023-10-12 (Thursday) DarkGate from Teams message. Diagram of the distribution of the malware. Teams chat invite and message > password-protected zip archive from Teams chat > extracted Windows shortcut > PowerShell commands from shortcut > HTTP traffic > Autolt3.exe runs .au3 file > HTTP traffic for encoded binary > encoded binary converted to DarkGate EXE > DarkGate HTTP C2 traffic
Figure 1. DarkGate infection chain from Microsoft Teams message.

The second instance saw DarkGate malware distributed through fake invoice or billing emails with PDF attachments that spoof DocuSign. Figure 2 illustrates how the process worked. An attentive reader will be able to spot the differences between these two infection chains.

2023-10-25 (Wed) DarkGate from email. billing/invoice-themed email > attached PDF > link from PDF > downloaded .cab > extracted URL from shortcut file > web traffic for zip-ed.msi file > .msi installs Autoit3.exe and .au3 file > .au3 file contains XOR-encoded EXE > infection generates DarkGate HTTP C2 traffic
Figure 2. DarkGate infection chain from email.


We also reported on two instances of Pikabot in October. The first was a Pikabot infection leading to Cobalt Strike HTTPS C2 traffic using zzerxc[.]com on 179.60.149[.]244:443. Figure 3 shows the full series of events.

Pikabot infection with Cobalt Strike. Thread-hijacked email > link from email > password-protected zip archive > extracted Windows shortcut > URL for Pikabot DLL > Pikabot installer DLL > HTTPS C2 traffic from Pikabot > Follow-up activity: Cobalt Strike
Figure 3. Pikabot infection chain.

The second instance saw the cybercrime threat actor TA577 pushing a Pikabot infection with HTTPS Cobalt Strike traffic on 45.155.249[.]171:443 using ponturded[.]com. We’ll definitely see more TA577 activity in this roundup – the infection chain below in Figure 4 will differ from other TA577 activity.

2023.10.17 (Thurs). email --> link for zip download --> downloaded zip --> extracted .js file --> retrieves and runs Pikabot installer DLL --> Pikabot C2 --> Cobalt Strike
Figure 4. Pikabot infection chain.

IcedID (Bokbot)

Our only report in October of banking Trojan IcedID saw a forked variant infection with BackConnect, Anubis VNC, CobaltStrike and ConnectWise ScreenConnect. We also saw "hands on the keyboard" approximately 95 minutes after initial infection! Figure 5 lays out how this variant worked.

2023-10-18 (Wed) IcedID forked variant with BackConnect, Anubis VNC, Cobalt Strike and ScreenConnect. URL and redirects > ZIP > VBS file > DLL > HTTP traffic > persistent DLL > HTTPS C2 traffic from IcedID forked variant > Follow-up activity
Figure 5. IcedID forked variant infection chain.

WS_FTP Server Critical Vulnerability

We observed multiple attempts to exploit the WS_FTP Server Critical Vulnerability, where threat actors attempted to deliver a Meterpreter payload via the URL 103[.]163.187.12:8080/cz3eKnhcaD0Fik7Eexo66A. Figure 6 includes not only the infection chain but the command line used.

"WS_ FTP Exploitation - RCE under the w3wp.exe process > Obfuscated PowerShell Loads shellcode > Certutil Command > Meterpreter Payload - FaNXrikucf.exe. Certutil command line is included. "
Figure 6. Infection chain exploiting WS_FTP.


A 404 TDS URL chain led to an infection by an AsyncRAT variant. Figure 7 shows the simple infection chain.

2023-10-23 (Mon): 404 TDS URL chain leads to Async RAT variant. Initial URL > 404 TDS redirect URL > .js file download URL > downloaded .js file > victim double-clicks .js file > Async RAT variant infection
Figure 7. AsyncRAT variant infection chain.

Citrix NetScaler

October 2023 saw several indicators of criminals exploiting the Citrix remote-code execution vulnerability CVE-2023-3519. Monitoring this vulnerability in the wild led to a timely snapshot of associated activity. Figure 8 displays the information in a simple column graph. We saw the most detections of this exploit – over 300 – from jscloud[.]biz.

Column chart of count of in the wild instances of injected domains
Figure 8. Snapshot of data from Oct. 17, 2023 showing instances of Citrix RCE vulnerability CVE-2023-3519 in the wild.

Timely Threat Intelligence: November


Our first timely threat intelligence post in November saw an IcedID (aka Bokbot) infection from an .msi file. Along with the regular HTTPS C2 traffic, we saw IcedID BackConnect activity on 159.89.124[.]188:443. Note the activity highlighted in red in Figure 9.

IcedID (BokBot) activity. Unknown source > Microsoft Installer (MSI) package > IcedID installer DLL > HTTP traffic for fake gzip binary > license.dat and persistent IcedID DLL created from fake gzip binary > IcedID HTTP C2 activity and BackConnect traffic.
Figure 9. IcedID infection chain stemming from unknown source.

Cybercrime group TA577 once more distributed an IcedID (aka Bokbot) variant via a disk image downloaded from an emailed link. Figure 10 illustrates this process. As we continue to review TA577 activity, trends will begin to emerge for analysts to be mindful of.

infection chain: email > victim clicks link from email > downloads disk image > victim, double clicks disk image to mount and open it > victim double clicks the windows shortcut, which runs hidden DLL for IcedID variant > HTTPS C2 post-infection traffic
Figure 10. Infection chain where cybercrime group TA577 distributes an IcedID variant.


At least two instances of DarkGate reared their heads in November. In our first sighting, a probable email led the victim to a password-protected .zip file. See it in full with Figure 11.

2023-11-20 (Monday) - DarkGate from Probable Email: link for password-protected .zip file > password-protected .zip file > Windows shortcut file > web traffic for initial DarkGate files > copy of Autoit3 EXE runs DarkGate .au3 file > DarkGate C2 traffic
Figure 11. DarkGate infection chain stemming from probable email.

The second November appearance of DarkGate also came from an unknown source distributing a password-protected .zip. Comparing and contrasting to the DarkGate activity seen elsewhere in this post shows the variations attackers implement.

Unknown source>password-protected zip archive>extracted Windows shortcuts>HTTP traffic for HTA file>host runs HTA file in background>HTTP for Lightspeed EXE and malicious DLL>Lightspeed EXE sideloads malicious DLL>DLL drops, runs EXE and AU3 file>DarkGate
Figure 12. DarkGate infection chain from unknown source. 


A 10-hour infection run led to our list of IoCs from the Pikabot sighting found in November, once more spearheaded by TA577. This infection was from an email and led to a persistent Pikabot DLL. See Figure 13 for the details.

2023-11-02 (Thurs) TA577 PikaBot Actvity. Email>Link from email>Downloaded ZIP>Extracted JS file>URL for PikaBot installer DLL>PikaBot installer DLL is run>Persistent PikaBot DLL>HTTPS C2 traffic from PikaBot
Figure 13. Infection chain of Pikabot distributed by TA577.


Reportedly named for a League of Legends character, JinxLoader is written in Go. Symantec issued a protection bulletin on JinxLoader just a short while ago. In our post about it (the first public post!) we note that JinxLoader is a relatively new malware service first posted to hackforums[.]net on April 30, 2023. The eight steps of this infection chain are detailed in Figure 14.

Attack chain: email> password protected RAR archive> extracted ZIP archive>JinxLoader EXE> HTTPS traffic for XOR-encoded DLL>IP address checks>JinxLoader check-in traffic starts>Formbook/Xloader C2 traffic starts
Figure 14. Infection chain of JinxLoader distributing Formbook/Xloader.

Timely Threat Intelligence: December

Loader EXE

We started off December by spotting an EXE Loader leading to unidentified malware with C2 using encoded/encrypted TCP traffic on 91.92.120[.]119:62520. See Figure 15.

2023.12.5 Tues Infection Chain: Loader to unidentified malware. Email>attached disk image>extracted EXE>HTTPS traffic for reverse byte order DLL>encrypted or encoded TCP traffic.
Figure 15. Infection chain of loader to unidentified malware.

While one security vendor has identified the loader as “PureLoader” and the unidentified malware as a “PureLogs” stealer, we have seen little else shared publicly on this unidentified malware.


We reported on one example of DarkGate malware in December 2023. This example was distributed though a PDF file found on VirusTotal. The PDF file has a link that downloaded a malicious ZIP archive for DarkGate. Figure 16 shows a screenshot of the PDF file.

Screenshot of Adobe Acrobat. Red open button goes to URL indicated by arrow. Next, file downloads from OneDrive. Arrow points to zip file
Figure 16. DarkGate infection from PDF that links to malicious .zip archive.


Astaroth and Guildma may sound like characters from a 1970s pulp sci-fi novel with three moons and blue-skinned aliens on the cover, but they’re actually the name of malware we saw in a Portuguese-language email impersonating Brazil’s State Transport Department (Detran) as shown in Figure 17. This Detran-themed malspam tempted the end user with a link for a zip download – which is how the Guildma (aka Astaroth) malware infection would start.

Screenshot of email in Mozilla Thunderbird. The language is Portuguese. The blue CONSULTAR button links to the text in red.
Figure 17. Screenshot of email written in Portuguese that links to malicious download.


Our second-to-last report of TA577 in 2023 sees the group distributing Pikabot from an email link. Figure 18 shows the sequence. How does this differ from the previous entries about TA577?

TA557 Pikabot infection chain: Email>link from email>downloaded .zip>extracted JavaScript file>URLs for Pikabot installer DLL>Pikabot installer DLL is run>Pikabot HTTPS C2 traffic
Figure 18. Infection chain of Pikabot pushed by threat group TA577.

In the last of our threat intelligence shares for the year (barring additional incidents), we see that, once more, TA577 is spreading a Pikabot infection.

In this instance, it led to Cobalt Strike on 207.246.99[.]159:443 using masterunis[.]net as its domain. Figure 19 dissects the traffic.

Wireshark traffic. From top down: Initial zip. Pikabot DLL. Pikabot C2. Cobalt Strike traffic starts.
Figure 19. Pikabot malware traffic shown in Wireshark.


Much of our timely threat intelligence focuses on Windows malware, and we seek to post on malware families of current interest to the community.

If you’re interested in following our updates in real time, follow us on LinkedIn or X (formerly Twitter). If you track hashtags, follow #Unit42ThreatIntel to always catch the latest posts. Another option is to sign up for notifications on our GitHub repo.

As soon as you’re in the know, you’re also welcome to participate: comment, share or ask questions.

Protections and Mitigations

The IoCs shared in the social posts are all considered malicious by Palo Alto Networks products. These verdicts are used, for example, by cloud-delivered security services such as Advanced WildFire and Advanced URL Filtering for the Next-Generation Firewall. If you think you might have been compromised or have an urgent matter, contact the Unit 42 Incident Response team.

Indicators of Compromise

Date Posted Infection Links IoCs
10/03/2023 WS_FTP vulnerability Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoC available in the posts 
10/03/2023 Pikabot Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
10/12/2023 DarkGate Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
10/17/2023 Pikabot Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
10/18/2023 RCE affecting Citrix NetScaler in the wild Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
10/20/2023 IcedID  Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
10/23/2023 AsyncRAT Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
10/25/2023 DarkGate Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
11/01/2023 IcedID Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
11/03/2023 Pikabot Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
11/21/2023 DarkGate Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
11/28/2023 IcedID variant Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
11/30/2023 JinxLoader Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
11/30/2023 DarkGate Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
12/06/2023 Loader EXE leads to unidentified malware Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
12/07/2023 DarkGate Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
12/12/2023 Astaroth/Guildma Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
12/15/2023 Pikabot Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs
12/18/2023 Pikabot Twitter (X), LinkedIn IoCs

Additional Resources


Enlarged Image