About a month ago, Mohammed Aldoub AKA Voulnet shared a very interesting idea about exfiltrating data via TLS cipher suites (many thanks Mohammed!) on Twitter. This had me thinking about detection and JA3 hashes came to mind with hopes of it shedding light on abnormal behaviour on endpoints.

I used the following to simulate the attack:

  1. I used the following repo to pull off the exfil technique (thanks adeemm!): github repo.
  2. Spun up a digital ocean instance to simulate an attacker’s infrastructure.
  3. Ran a Windows 10 VM to simulate the victim.
  4. Setup and ran a Security Onion VM to do analysis and detection on the network traffic.


Victim Machine

Once the setup was ready. I started the simulation by running the exfiltration tool on the victim. I pointed the tool towards:

  1. The file I wanted to exfil (secrets.txt)
  2. Digital ocean instance (the IP address in the image)
  3. Port 443, because the server is listening on that port (more on that shortly)


Attacking Server

On our attacking server, we are already running the server part of the tool and setting it to listen on port 443.

We see the tool receiving connections:


And we can see the exfiltrated files arrived in .bin files:



Using security onion, I extracted the packets which contain the TLS client hello packet.

Security Onion:




The source is the victim machine and the destination is our attacking server, note the cipher suites they are holding the data we are exfiltrating.

Comparing a legitimate TLS client hello (left) to one which is exfiltrating data (right) we see some fields missing. The evil client hellos are missing data:

missing fields

I will not focus on client hellos missing data in this specific analysis because I wish to find a detection method which covers all exfiltration tools which leverage the technique in question. I am unsure if it is possible, but I fear that the script can be modified to include the missing fields or mimic them.

Detection Attempt 1: NIDS

By default, the Suricata running on Security Onion had no rules for this use case. I am no NIDS ninja but I tried to make a rule and failed miserably. That is because I was not able to target the cipher suites in the client hello packets. I am not sure if it is possible…

I did make a super simple rule to make things easier when I moved forward with my analysis and that was to make a rule to detect all TLS client hellos, very noisy and impractical I know, I wanted to at least see all TLS client hellos. I will add the rule down below in hopes that it might help someone one day:

alert tls $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET any (msg:"TLS CLIENT HELLO Detected"; ssl_state:client_hello; sid:9000001; rev:2; metadata:deployment Perimeter, former_category EXFILTRATION, signature_severity Major, updated_at 2021_12_04, created_at 2021_12_04;)

Resource: Adding suricata rules to security onion

Detection Attempt 2: JA3 Hashes

The use case is as follows:

  • One victim IP
  • One attacker IP
  • Multiple JA3 hashes

And I created a visualization on Security Onion’s Kibana which shows unique JA3 hashes counts for each destination IP address. This visualization becomes useful after filtering for a specific source IP address which will be the victim.


Success? In this simulated controlled environment? yes.


  1. If we see multiple packets originating from an endpoint, each with a unique JA3 hash and the destination is the same, then we should alert on it.
  2. More research is needed


  1. Is it possible to detect malformed cipher suites?
    • This will make detection easier


  1. This technique can be made even stealthier by incorporating other techniques to stay under the radar.