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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

“DeathStalker” hackers are (probably) older and extra prolific than we thought

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In 2018, researchers from safety agency Kaspersky Lab started monitoring “DeathStalker,” their title for a hacker-for-hire group that was using easy however efficient malware to do espionage on legislation companies and corporations within the monetary business. Now, the researchers have linked the group to 2 different items of malware together with one which dates again to at the very least 2012.

DeathStalker got here to Kaspersky’s consideration for its use of malware {that a} fellow researcher dubbed “Powersing”. The malware bought its title for a 900-line PowerShell script that attackers went to nice lengths to obfuscate from antivirus software program.

Assaults began with spear-phishing emails with attachments that seemed to be paperwork however—by means of a sleight of hand involving LNK information—had been truly malicious scripts. To maintain targets from getting suspicious, Powersing displayed a decoy doc as quickly as targets clicked on the attachment.

Moreover the LNK trick, Powersing additionally tried to throw off AV with its use of “lifeless drop resolvers.” In impact, these had been social media posts that the malware used to covertly piece collectively essential info it wanted, equivalent to what Web servers to entry and what keys it ought to use to decrypt its contents. The Tweet beneath is simply one of many lifeless drop resolvers it used.

Kaspersky Lab

The primary string contained the AES key to decrypt code that will then discover an integer encoded into the second string. The code would then divide the integer by an attacker-controlled fixed to reach on the IP tackle the place the contaminated pc was to report.

The Web by no means forgets

“Counting on well-known public companies permits cybercriminals to mix preliminary backdoor communications into reputable community visitors,” Kaspersky Lab researchers Ivan Kwiatkowski, Pierre Delcher, and Maher Yamout wrote in a submit printed on Monday. They continued:

It additionally limits what defenders can do to hinder their operations, as these platforms can’t usually be blocklisted on the firm degree, and getting content material taken down from them is usually a troublesome and prolonged course of. Nonetheless, this comes at a value: the web by no means forgets, and it’s additionally troublesome for cybercriminals to take away traces of their operations. Due to the info listed or archived by search engines like google, we estimate that Powersing was first used round August 2017.

The researcher who coined the Powersing title speculated that the malware could also be linked to a special malware household referred to as Janicab, that dates again to at the very least 2012. The Kaspersky Lab researchers analyzed a Janicab sampled printed in 2015 by AV supplier F-Safe.

They discovered that Janicab additionally used the identical LNK and decoy-document sleights of hand to entry a pc’s command app. In addition they observed that Janicab established connections to an unlisted YouTube video that used the identical integer math to acquire control-server info. Different similarities: each items of malware periodically despatched screenshots captured from desktop, they each enabled the execution of attacker-created scripts, and each used exactly the identical checklist MAC addresses to detect digital machines that safety researchers may use in reverse engineering.

Enter Evilnum

The Kaspersky Lab researchers went on to take a look at a newer malware household referred to as Evilnum, which AV supplier Eset detailed final month, which reported yet one more LNK-based an infection chain. Kaspersky Lab discovered that it used the identical lifeless drop resolver and the integer math methods to acquire control-server places. Different similarities had been variables with comparable or similar names, overlapping targets.

Monday’s submit summarized the similarities this manner:

  • All three are distributed by means of LNK information contained in archives delivered by means of spear-phishing
  • They acquire C&C info from lifeless drop resolvers utilizing common expressions and hardcoded sentences
  • IP addresses are obtained within the type of integers which can be then divided by a hardcoded fixed earlier than being transformed
  • Minor code overlaps between the three malware households may point out that they’ve been developed by the identical crew, or inside a gaggle that shares software program improvement practices
  • The three malware households all have screenshot seize capabilities. Whereas not authentic in itself, this isn’t normally a part of the event priorities of such teams and could possibly be indicative of a shared design specification
  • Lastly, whereas we don’t have loads of details about Janicab’s victimology, Powersing and Evilnum each go after enterprise intelligence, albeit in several business verticals. Each units of actions are in line with the speculation that they’re run by a mercenary outfit

The similarities are not at all a smoking gun, the researchers mentioned, however collectively they offer the researchers “medium confidence” that Powersing, Janicab, and Evilnum are operated by the identical group.

“On this weblog submit, we described a contemporary an infection chain that’s nonetheless actively used and developed by a risk actor in the present day,” the researchers conclude. “It doesn’t include any modern methods or refined strategies, and sure elements of the chain may very well seem needlessly convoluted. But if the speculation is right that the identical group operates Janicab and Powersing, it signifies that they’ve been leveraging the identical methodologies since 2012. Within the infosec world, it doesn’t get extra ‘tried and true’ than this.”

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