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The Chronicles of the Hellsing APT: the Empire Strikes Back

Secure List feed for B2B - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 22:30

Introduction

One of the most active APT groups in Asia, and especially around the South China Sea area is "Naikon". Naikon plays a key part in our story, but the focus of this report is on another threat actor entirely; one who came to our attention when they hit back at a Naikon attack.

Naikon is known for its custom backdoor, called RARSTONE, which our colleagues at Trend Micro have described in detail. The name Naikon comes from a custom user agent string, "NOKIAN95/WEB", located within the backdoor:

NOKIAN string in Naikon backdoor

The Naikon group is mostly active in countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore, and Nepal, hitting a variety of targets in a very opportunistic way. What was perhaps one of the biggest operations of the Naikon group was launched in March 2014, in the wake of the MH370 tragedy that took place on March 8th. By March 11th, the Naikon group was actively hitting most of the nations involved in the search for MH370. The targets were extremely wide-ranging but included institutions with access to information related to the disappearance of MH370, such as:

  • Office of the President
  • Armed Forces
  • Office of the Cabinet Secretary
  • National Security Council(s)
  • Office of the Solicitor General
  • National Intelligence Coordinating Agency
  • Civil Aviation Authority
  • Department of Justice
  • National Police
  • Presidential Management Staff

The Naikon group used mostly spear-phished documents for the attacks, with CVE-2012-0158 exploits that dropped the group's signature backdoor.

While many of these attacks were successful, at least one of the targets didn't seem to like being hit, and instead of opening the documents, decided on a very different course of action.

The empire strikes back

Here's a question - what should you do when you receiving a suspicious document from somebody you don't know, or know very little? Choose one:

  • Open the document
  • Don't open the document
  • Open the document on a Mac (everybody knows Mac's don't get viruses)
  • Open the document in a virtual machine with Linux

Based on our experience, most people would say 2, 3 or 4. Very few would open the document and even fewer would actually decide to test the attacker and verify its story.

But this is exactly what happened when one of the Naikon spear-phishing targets received a suspicious email. Instead of opening the document or choosing to open it on an exotic platform, they decided to check the story with the sender:

Naikon target asks for confirmation of the email

In the email above, we can see the target questioning the authenticity of the Naikon spear-phishing. They ask the sender if it was their intention to email this document.

The attacker was, of course, not confused in the slightest, and being very familiar with the internal structure of the target's government agency, replied claiming that they work for the secretariat division and were instructed to send it by the organization's management:

Naikon attacker replies to the target

The reply is written in poor English and indicates that the attacker is probably not as proficient in the language as the intended victim. Seeing the reply, the target obviously decided not to open the document. Moreover, they decided to go a bit further and try to learn more about the attacker.

Not long after the first exchange, the following email was sent to the attacker by the target:

The attachment is a RAR archive with password, which allows it to safely bypass malware scanners associated with the free email account used by the attackers. Inside the archive we find two decode PDF files and one SCR file:

Much to our surprise, the "SCR" file turned out to be a backdoor prepared especially for the Naikon fraudsters.

The file "Directory of ... Mar 31, 2014.scr" (md5: 198fc1af5cd278091f36645a77c18ffa) drops a blank document containing the error message and a backdoor module (md5: 588f41b1f34b29529bc117346355113f). The backdoor connects to the command server located at philippinenews[.]mooo[.]com.

The backdoor can perform the following actions:

  • download files
  • upload files
  • update itself
  • uninstall itself

We were amazed to see this course of action and decided to investigate the "Empire Strikes Back"-door further; naming the actor "Hellsing" (explained later).

The malware used by the intended victim appears to have the following geographical distribution, according to KSN data:

  • Malaysia – government networks
  • Philippines – government networks
  • Indonesia – government networks
  • USA - diplomatic agencies
  • India (old versions of malware)

In addition, we've observed the targeting of ASEAN-related entities.

Victims of Hellsing attacks

The actor targets its intended victims using spear-phishing emails with archives containing malware, similar to the one it used against the Naikon group. Some of the attachment names we observed include:

  • 2013 Mid-Year IAG Meeting Admin Circular FINAL.7z
  • HSG FOLG ITEMS FOR USE OF NEWLY PROMOTED YNC FEDERICO P AMORADA 798085 PN CLN.zip
  • Home Office Directory as of May 2012.Please find attached here the latest DFA directory and key position officials for your referenece.scr
  • LOI Nr 135-12 re 2nd Quarter.Scr
  • Letter from Paquito Ochoa to Albert Del Rosario,the Current Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.7z
  • Letter to SND_Office Call and Visit to Commander, United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) VER 4.0.zip
  • PAF-ACES Fellowship Program.scr
  • RAND Analytic Architecture for Capabilities Based Planning, Mission System Analysis, and Transformation.scr
  • Update Attachments_Interaction of Military Personnel with the President _2012_06_28.rar
  • Update SND Meeting with the President re Hasahasa Shoal Incident.scr
  • Washington DC Directory November 2012-EMBASSY OF THE PHILIPPINES.zip
  • ZPE-791-2012&ZPE-792-2012.rar
  • zpe-791-2012.PDF.scr

We've observed RAR, ZIP and 7ZIP archives in the attacks - the 7ZIP archives with passwords were probably introduced as a way to bypass the recent security features on Gmail, which block password-protected archives with executables inside.

Each backdoor has a command and control server inside as well as a version number and a campaign or victim identifier. Some examples include:

MD5 Date C&C Campaign identifier 2682a1246199a18967c98cb32191230c Mar 31 2014 freebsd.extrimtur[.]com 1.6.1_MOTAC 31b3cc60dbecb653ae972db9e57e14ec Mar 31 2014 freebsd.extrimtur[.]com 1.6.1_MOTAC 4dbfd37fd851daebdae7f009adec3cbd Nov 08 2013 articles.whynotad[.]com 1.5_articles.whynotad.com-nsc 015915bbfcda1b2b884db87262970a11 Feb 19 2014 guaranteed9.strangled[.]net 1.5_guaranteed9-nsc 3a40e0deb14f821516eadaed24301335 Mar 31 2014 hosts.mysaol[.]com 1.6.1_imi;simple 73396bacd33cde4c8cb699bcf11d9f56 Nov 08 2013 web01.crabdance[.]com 1.5_op_laptop 7c0be4e6aee5bc5960baa57c6a93f420 Nov 08 2013 hosts.mysaol[.]com 1.5_MMEA bff9c356e20a49bbcb12547c8d483352 Apr 02 2014 imgs09.homenet[.]org 1.6.1_It c0e85b34697c8561452a149a0b123435 Apr 02 2014 imgs09.homenet[.]org 1.6.1_It f13deac7d2c1a971f98c9365b071db92 Nov 08 2013 hosts.mysaol[.]com 1.5_MMEA f74ccb013edd82b25fd1726b17b670e5 May 12 2014 second.photo-frame[.]com 1.6.2s_Ab

The campaign identifiers could be related to the organizations targeted by the specific builds of this APT. Some possible descriptions for these initials could be:

Artifacts and overlap with other APTs

Interestingly, some of the infrastructure used by the attackers appears to overlap (although around a year apart) with a group tracked internally at Kaspersky Lab as PlayfullDragon (also known as "GREF"); while other aspects of the infrastructure overlap with a group known as Mirage or Vixen Panda.

For instance, one of the PlayfullDragon's Xslcmd backdoors described by our colleagues from FireEye (md5: 6c3be96b65a7db4662ccaae34d6e72cc) beams to cdi.indiadigest[.]in:53. One of the Hellsing samples we analysed (md5: 0cbefd8cd4b9a36c791d926f84f10b7b) connects to the C&C server at webmm[.]indiadigest[.]in. Although the hostname is not the same, the top level domain suggests some kind of connection between the groups. Several other C&C subdomains on "indiadigest[.]in" include:

  • aac.indiadigest[.]in
  • ld.indiadigest[.]in
  • longc.indiadigest[.]in

Another overlap we observed is with an APT known as Cycldek or Goblin Panda. Some of the Hellsing samples we analysed in this operation (e.g. md5: a91c9a2b1bc4020514c6c49c5ff84298) communicate with the server webb[.]huntingtomingalls[.]com, using a protocol specific to the Cycldek backdoors (binup.asp/textup.asp/online.asp).

It appears that the Hellsing developer started with the Cycldek sources and worked together with the operators from other APT groups. Nevertheless, it is sufficiently different to warrant classification as a stand-alone operation.

So, where does the Hellsing name come from? One of the samples we analysed (md5: 036e021e1b7f61cddfd294f791de7ea2) appears to have been compiled in a rush and the attacker forgot to remove the debug information. One can see the project name is Hellsing and the malware is called "msger":

Of course, Hellsing can have many different meanings, including the famous doctor from Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, according to Wikipedia, "Hellsing (ヘルシング Herushingu) is also a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Kouta Hirano. It first premiered in Young King Ours in 1997 and ended in September 2008".

The Hellsing series chronicles the efforts of the mysterious and secret Hellsing Organization, as it combats vampires, ghouls, and other supernatural foes; which makes it perhaps an appropriate name for our group.

In addition to the Hellsing/msger malware, we've identified a second generation of Trojan samples which appear to be called "xweber" by the attackers:

"Xweber" seems to be the more recent Trojan, taking into account compilation timestamps. All the "msger" samples we have seen appear to have been compiled in 2012. The "Xweber" samples are from 2013 and from 2014, indicating that at some point during 2013 the "msger" malware project was renamed and/or integrated into "Xweber".

During our investigation we've observed the Hellsing APT using both the "Xweber" and "msger" backdoors in their attacks, as well as other tools named "xrat", "clare", "irene" and "xKat".

Other tools

Once the Hellsing attackers compromise a computer, they deploy other tools which can be used for gathering further information about the victim or doing lateral movement. One such tool is "test.exe":

Name test.exe Size 45,568 bytes MD5 14309b52f5a3df8cb0eb5b6dae9ce4da Type Win32 PE i386 executable

This tool is used to gather information and test available proxies. Interestingly, it also contains the Hellsing debug path:

Another attack tool deployed in a victim's environment was a file system driver, named "diskfilter.sys", although internally it claims to be named "xrat.sys". The driver is unsigned and compiled for 32-bit Windows. It was used briefly in 2013, before being abandoned by the attackers, possibly due to Windows 7 driver signing requirements:

Another tool used by the attackers is called "xKat":

Name xkat.exe Size 78,848 bytes MD5 621e4c293313e8638fb8f725c0ae9d0f Type Win32 PE i386 executable

This is a powerful file deletion and process killer which uses a driver (Dbgv.sys) to perform the operations. We've seen it being used by the attackers to kill and delete malware belonging to their competitors.

Some of the debug paths found in the binaries include:

  • e:\Hellsing\release\clare.pdb
  • e:\Hellsing\release\irene\irene.pdb
  • d:\hellsing\sys\irene\objchk_win7_x86\i386\irene.pdb
  • d:\hellsing\sys\xkat\objchk_win7_x86\i386\xKat.pdb
  • d:\Hellsing\release\msger\msger_install.pdb
  • d:\Hellsing\release\msger\msger_server.pdb
  • d:\hellsing\sys\xrat\objchk_win7_x86\i386\xrat.pdb
  • D:\Hellsing\release\exe\exe\test.pdb
Attribution

In general, the attribution of APTs is a very tricky task which is why we prefer to publish technical details and allow others to draw their own conclusions.

The Hellsing-related samples appear to have been compiled around the following times:

Assuming normal work starts at around 9 am, the attacker seems to be most active in a time-zone of GMT+8 or +9, considering a work program of 9/10 am to 6/7pm.

Conclusions

The Hellsing APT group is currently active in the APAC region, hitting targets mainly in the South China Sea area, with a focus on Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The group has a relatively small footprint compared to massive operations such as "Equation". Smaller groups can have the advantage of being able to stay under the radar for longer periods of time, which is what happened here.

The targeting of the Naikon group by the Hellsing APT is perhaps the most interesting part. In the past, we've seen APT groups accidentally hitting each other while stealing address books from victims and then mass-mailing everyone on each of these lists. But, considering the timing and origin of the attack, the current case seems more likely to be an APT-on-APT attack.

To protect against a Hellsing attack, we recommend that organisations follow basic security best practices:

  • Don't open attachments from people you don't know
  • Beware of password-protected archives which contain SCR or other executable files inside
  • If you are unsure about the attachment, try to open it in a sandbox
  • Make sure you have a modern operating system with all patches installed
  • Update all third party applications such as Microsoft Office, Java, Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader

Kaspersky Lab products detect the backdoors used by the Hellsing attacker as: HEUR:Trojan.Win32.Generic, Trojan-Dropper.Win32.Agent.kbuj, Trojan-Dropper.Win32.Agent.kzqq.

Deny the Hellsing APT by default Appendix:

Hellsing Indicators of Compromise

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Microsoft Patches Critical HTTP.sys Vulnerability

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Dell Threat Report Claims 100 Percent Increase in SCADA Attacks

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Google Fixes Dozens of Bugs in Chrome 42

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Google has released Chrome 42, a major security upgrade to the browser that includes patches for 45 vulnerabilities. The latest version of Chrome carries with it fixes for a number of high-severity bugs, including a cross-origin bypass in the HTML parser. That vulnerability earned an anonymous security researcher a reward of $7,500 from Google. In all, […]

Microsoft Security Updates April 2015

Secure List feed for B2B - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 13:58

Microsoft releases 11 Security Bulletins (MS15-032 through MS15-042) today, addressing a list of over 25 CVE-identified vulnerabilities for April of 2015. Critical vulnerabilities are fixed in Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, and the network and graphics stacks. Most of the critical remote code execution (RCE) vulnerabilities reside in the IE memory corruption bugs for all versions of Internet Explorer (6-11) and the Microsoft Office use-after-free. updated: However, they appear to *almost* all be the result of private discoveries, at least, 24 of the 25. In reference to Office vulnerability CVE-2015-1641, "Microsoft is aware of limited attacks that attempt to exploit this vulnerability".

The Microsoft Office CVE-2015-1649 use-after free is a critical RCE impacting a variety of software and scenarios. The vulnerable code exists across desktop versions Word 2007, 2010, the Word Viewer and Office Compatibility apps, but not Word 2013 or Word for Mac. It's also critical RCE on the server-side in Word Automation Services on Sharepoint 2010 and Microsoft Office Web Apps Server 2010, but not SharePoint 2013 or Web Apps 2013.

As the new Verizon Data Breach 2015 report highlighted today, many exploits currently effective against targets are exploiting vulnerabilities patched long ago. According to their figures, many of the exploited CVE used on compromised hosts were published over a year prior. Microsoft provides Windows Update to easily keep your software updated, and Kaspersky products provide vulnerability scanners to help keep all of your software up-to-date, including Microsoft's. Please patch asap.

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Verizon DBIR Challenges Data Breach Cost Estimates

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Your Tax Refund with a Data Kidnapping Twist!

Secure List feed for B2B - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 07:40

Oh, how procrastination gets all of us! April 15th is the U.S. tax deadline and it looks like most of us will be coming down to the wire on declaring our taxes and holding our collective breath in expectation of that sweet, sweet refund. Sadly, our malware writing friends are aware of this and their discipline has proven far superior. Knowing that many are on the lookout for emails from the Internal Revenue Service concerning pending refunds, criminals have crafted some of their own:

The attachment is actually a Trojan-Downloader.MsWord.Agent malware, built by the same group behind the recent LogMeIn malicious campaign described here.

The infection scheme is very similar to the aforementioned, however, the threat actor has moved on from abusing Pastebin entries and has instead hacked a Web server in China to host the instructions script file. This file as well as the download URL are also encoded in Base64 and the resulting payload is actually ransomware.

URLs embedded in the malicious macros leading to a Base64 encoded instructions script file and the payload URL below

Instructions files with the URL to the ransomware payload

The malicious ransomware payload is detected by Kaspersky Anti-Virus as Trojan-Ransom.Win32.Foreign.mfbg

Due to the reliance on the IRS branding, this particular malicious campaign is mostly focused on US citizens and permanent residents of the USA.

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Challenging CoinVault – it's time to free those files

Secure List feed for B2B - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 07:23

Some months ago we wrote a blog post about CoinVault. In that post we explained how we tore the malware apart in order to get to its original code and not the obfuscated one.

So when were contacted recently by the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) of the Netherlands' police and the Netherlands' National Prosecutors Office, who had obtained a database from a CoinVault command & control server (containing IVs, Keys and private Bitcoin wallets), we were able to put our accumulated insight to good use and accelerate the creation of a decryption tool.

We also created a website and started a communications campaign to notify victims that it might be possible to get their data back without paying.

To build the decryption tool we needed to know the following:

  • Which encryption algorithm was being used?
  • Which block cipher mode was being used?
  • And, most importantly, what malware are dealing with?

There was obviously no time for "hardcore" reverse engineering, so the first thing we did was run the malware sample to see what it was doing. And indeed, just as we thought, it was another CoinVault sample. The next thing we did was open the executable in a decompiler, where we saw that the same obfuscation method was used as described in the post. So CoinVault it is. However, we still didn't know which encryption algorithm and block cipher mode it was using.

But luckily we have a sandbox! The nice thing about the sandbox is that it executes the malware, but also has the ability to trace virtually anything. We can dump files and registry changes but in this case the memory dumps were the most interesting. We knew from the previous CoinVault samples that the malware was using the RijndaelManaged class, so all we had to do was search in the memory dump for this string.

And here it is. We see that it still uses AES, although not the 128-bit block size anymore, but the 256-bit one. Also the block cipher mode has changed from CBC to CFB. This was all the information we needed to write our decryption tool.

To see if you can decrypt your files for free, please go to https://noransom.kaspersky.com

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