Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

6/17/2020
04:05 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Lazarus Group May Have Been Behind 2019 Attacks on European Targets

Telemetry hints that the North Korean actor was behind major cyber-espionage campaign focused on military and aerospace companies, ESET says.

North Korea's Lazarus Group may have been behind a major cyber-espionage campaign that targeted high-profile military and aerospace companies in Europe between September and December last year, a new analysis of the attacks suggests.

Researchers from ESET conducted a joint investigation of the campaign with two of its victims. The research unearthed new information on how the attacks unfolded, the malware used in the campaign, and the tactics that the threat group used to avoid detection.

Among the discoveries is that the attackers used social engineering in the form of bogus job offers via LinkedIn to get individuals at the targeted organizations to initially download malware onto their systems. They then used that foothold to deploy a range of custom malware, and open source tools for gathering data from the victim network. They also used legitimate tools, OS functions, and so-called living-off-the-land techniques to move about on compromised networks and to remain undetected on them as long as possible.

According to ESET, the primary motivation of Open In(ter)ception — as the vendor is calling the campaign — appears to have been cyber espionage. But in at least one instance, the threat actors attempted to monetize their access to a victim network via a business email compromise (BEC) attack, ESET said.

Available telemetry on malware and the obfuscation measures that were used in the attacks point to the Lazarus Group. However, there is no evidence to conclusively tie the attacks to the group, the security vendor noted.

"Our investigation uncovered a highly targeted operation notable for its compelling, LinkedIn-based social engineering scheme, custom modular malware and cunning detection evasion tricks," ESET said in its report.

North Korea's cyber capabilities have been a matter of growing concern within the security community in recent years. Many believe that Pyongyang is using an army of cyber agents to steal military, business, and economic secrets from other countries. North Korean cyber groups, like Lazarus — best known for its attacks on Sony — are also believed to have been entrusted with the responsibility of raising funds for the sanction-ridden nation via ransomware and other financially motivated attacks. For example, security researchers have linked Lazarus to an attack on the Bank of Bangladesh in 2016 that netted the group some $81 million. In response to such activity, the US State Department last year slapped sanctions on the Lazarus Group and two groups associated with it, Bluenoroff and Andarie.

Large Cyber Army
In an interview with Business Insider this week, Daniel Russel, vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute, described North Korea as having a 7,000-person hacker army. Many of them operate out of Russia, China, and to some extent India because North Korea's own Internet has been air-gapped from the rest of the world. This has made it especially hard for cyber investigators to attribute attacks to North Korea and raised the risk of China or Russia getting blamed for them instead, Russel is quoted as saying.

In its report this week, ESET said its investigation showed the actors behind Operation In(ter)ception created fake LinkedIn profiles portraying them as HR personnel at well-known US military and aerospace firms such as General Dynamics and Collins Aerospace. The operatives sent seemingly attractive, but fake, job offers to specific individuals — those with technical and business responsibilities — at the targeted companies.

In some cases, the attackers would embed links to malware download sites directly in their LinkedIn messages. On other occasions, they would try and trick targeted individuals into downloading malware hidden in attachments sent via email accounts corresponding to their LinkedIn personas, ESET said.

The security vendor's investigation uncovered several tools the attackers used. These included a custom downloader, a custom backdoor in the form of a dynamic-link library, and custom loaders for executing malware. The attackers also used a modified version of the publicly available PowerShdll tool for running PowerShell without actually accessing powershell(.)exe. As part of their attack chain, the threat actors abused legitimate preinstalled Windows utilities such as WMIC, certutil, rundll32, and regsvr32 to download, decode, and execute their malware.

The attackers employed multiple tactics to try and hide their malicious activity. For instance, they renamed their files and folders with the names of legitimate software from companies such as Nvidia, Intel, Skype, Mozilla, and OneDrive. The attackers also abused multiple Windows utilities and renamed the utilities to make them harder to find. In addition, ESET said, the attackers digitally signed their custom malware downloader and backdoor using a valid certificate belonging to a US-based company.

Related Content:

 
 
 
 
 
 
Learn from industry experts in a setting that is conducive to interaction and conversation about how to prepare for that "really bad day" in cybersecurity. Click for more information and to register

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/10/2020
Researcher Finds New Office Macro Attacks for MacOS
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  8/7/2020
Healthcare Industry Sees Respite From Attacks in First Half of 2020
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  8/13/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: It's a technique known as breaking out of the sandbox kids.
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-20383
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
ABBYY network license server in ABBYY FineReader 15 before Release 4 (aka 15.0.112.2130) allows escalation of privileges by local users via manipulations involving files and using symbolic links.
CVE-2020-24348
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
njs through 0.4.3, used in NGINX, has an out-of-bounds read in njs_json_stringify_iterator in njs_json.c.
CVE-2020-24349
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
njs through 0.4.3, used in NGINX, allows control-flow hijack in njs_value_property in njs_value.c. NOTE: the vendor considers the issue to be "fluff" in the NGINX use case because there is no remote attack surface.
CVE-2020-7360
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
An Uncontrolled Search Path Element (CWE-427) vulnerability in SmartControl version 4.3.15 and versions released before April 15, 2020 may allow an authenticated user to escalate privileges by placing a specially crafted DLL file in the search path. This issue was fixed in version 1.0.7, which was r...
CVE-2020-24342
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
Lua through 5.4.0 allows a stack redzone cross in luaO_pushvfstring because a protection mechanism wrongly calls luaD_callnoyield twice in a row.