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Cyberespionage

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Winnti or Higaisa resurrected from APT41 Backdoor

Winnti' a cyberespionage group from the Chinese origins primarily identified for targeting software companies and political organisations worldwide, gained trac...

20-Jan-2021
15 min read

Related Articles

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Cyberespionage

APT

Unfading Sea Haze, a new cyberespionage group, targets South China Sea nations...

Unfading Sea Haze, a newly identified threat actor, has been targeting high-level organizations in South China Sea countries since at least 2018. Our investigation has revealed sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) consistent with state-sponsored cyber espionage. This detailed [Threat Research](https://www.secureblink.com/threat-research) dissects their operations, highlighting their persistence, advanced methodologies, and potential alignment with Chinese interests. ## Background "Unfading Sea Haze" first surfaced to the attention of cybersecurity researchers in late 2023. The group is believed to be state-sponsored, with initial indicators pointing towards possible affiliations with East Asian cyber-espionage units. Their primary targets include government agencies, defense contractors, and critical infrastructure organizations. ## Historical Context and Evolution ### Discovery and Attribution Our investigation revealed no prior documentation of Unfading Sea Haze, indicating their successful evasion of detection for over five years. Their focus on military and government entities in the South China Sea suggests alignment with Chinese geopolitical interests. The use of Gh0st RAT variants, a tool popular within Chinese cyber espionage circles, supports this attribution. ### Geopolitical Targeting and Tool Sharing Unfading Sea Haze's targets and tactics indicate a sophisticated and possibly state-sponsored group. Their use of the Gh0st RAT framework and the SharpJSHandler tool resembles methods used by other Chinese threat actors, such as APT41. However, no direct connections to previously known groups were found, suggesting either a new actor or an evolution of existing capabilities within the Chinese cyber ecosystem. ## Threat Actor Profile ### Attribution While concrete attribution is challenging, "Unfading Sea Haze" exhibits characteristics consistent with state-sponsored cyber-espionage groups. Indicators suggest potential links to actors operating out of East Asia, particularly those with interests in maritime dominance and geopolitical influence in contested waters. ### Motivation and Objectives The primary motivation appears to be geopolitical, with objectives including: **Espionage:** Gathering intelligence on maritime operations, trade routes, and military movements. **Disruption:** Impairing maritime infrastructure to weaken economic and military capabilities. **Influence:** Exerting control or creating leverage in territorial disputes and economic negotiations. ## Technical Analysis of Attacks ### Initial Compromise and Regaining Access While the initial infiltration methods remain unknown due to the age of the breaches, spear-phishing emerged as a key technique for regaining access. Malicious LNK files within ZIP archives were used extensively. The attackers employed lengthy, obfuscated command lines within these files to evade detection. For example, a command line executed a series of tasks to avoid ESET Kernel Service detection, download a payload, and execute it using MSBuild. ### In-Memory Execution and Fileless Techniques Unfading Sea Haze leveraged MSBuild.exe for fileless attacks, specifying remote SMB shares as working directories. This technique allows the execution of malicious code in memory, reducing forensic artifacts on the victim's machine. A typical command might use PowerShell to initiate MSBuild with a project file from a remote server, executing entirely in memory and bypassing traditional security measures. ### Persistence Mechanisms Scheduled tasks and DLL sideloading were primary methods for persistence. The attackers mimicked legitimate Windows processes, using harmless programs to load malicious DLLs. For instance, they renamed mspaint.exe to clipsvc.exe and placed it in a directory with a malicious DLL, ensuring the legitimate program would load the attacker's code. Another example involved the Windows Perception Simulation Service, where attackers placed a malicious hid.dll in a specific directory to be loaded by the service. ### Custom Malware and Tools Unfading Sea Haze developed and deployed multiple custom malware strains. The Gh0st RAT family included SilentGh0st, TranslucentGh0st, and InsidiousGh0st, each evolving to add new features and evade detection. More recent variants like FluffyGh0st and EtherealGh0st are modular, allowing dynamic functionality via plugins. Ps2dllLoader was a key component, loading .NET or PowerShell payloads directly in memory, further obfuscating their presence. ### SharpJSHandler and Web Shell Alternatives SharpJSHandler acted as a web shell alternative, capable of executing encoded JavaScript via HTTP requests. Variants also used cloud storage services for communication, complicating detection. By avoiding traditional web shell methods and using platforms like Dropbox and OneDrive, Unfading Sea Haze demonstrated a high level of operational security. ## Data Collection and Exfiltration ### Espionage Focus The primary objective of Unfading Sea Haze appears to be espionage. Custom keyloggers, browser data stealers, and tools targeting portable devices were used extensively. For instance, xkeylog was strategically placed to capture keystrokes, while browser stealers extracted data from major browsers like Chrome and Edge. ### Exfiltration Techniques Initially, data exfiltration was performed using a custom tool, DustyExfilTool, which transmitted files via TLS. From 2022, attackers shifted to using curl and FTP, later adopting more dynamic credential management to enhance security. The use of rar.exe for archiving and transferring files, along with targeted data extraction from messaging apps like Telegram and Viber, highlighted their methodical approach to data theft. ## Attack Vectors and Techniques ### Social Engineering "Unfading Sea Haze" employs targeted social engineering tactics, including spear-phishing and fake communication channels, to gain initial access. These tactics often exploit human vulnerabilities, leveraging current events or operational details specific to the maritime industry. ### Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) The campaign utilizes APTs to establish and maintain prolonged access to targeted networks. These threats are characterized by their stealth, persistence, and ability to adapt to defensive measures. Key techniques include: **Phishing and Spear-Phishing:** Crafting convincing emails and messages to lure victims into divulging credentials or downloading malicious software. **Exploitation of Zero-Day Vulnerabilities:** Utilizing unknown or unpatched vulnerabilities to infiltrate systems. **Lateral Movement:** Once inside, moving laterally across networks to compromise additional systems and data. ### Coordinated Attacks "Unfading Sea Haze" conducts coordinated attacks on maritime navigation and communication systems. These attacks can disrupt shipping routes, interfere with GPS signals, and compromise communication between vessels and control centers. Methods include: **Signal Jamming:** Disrupting GPS and communication signals to create navigational hazards. **Data Exfiltration:** Stealing sensitive information related to maritime operations and strategies. **Malware Deployment:** Installing malware that can disrupt or control navigation and communication systems. ## Detailed Analysis of "Unfading Sea Haze" ### 1. Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs)** **Reconnaissance:** Extensive use of open-source intelligence (OSINT) to gather information about potential targets. **Initial Access:** Spear-phishing emails with malicious attachments or links, exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities. **Execution:** Deployment of malware to establish a foothold within the target network. **Persistence:** Use of legitimate credentials and creating backdoors to ensure long-term access. **Privilege Escalation:** Exploiting vulnerabilities to gain administrative privileges. **Defense Evasion:** Techniques such as obfuscation, encryption, and the use of legitimate tools to blend in with normal network traffic. **Credential Access:** Harvesting credentials using keyloggers, credential dumping tools, and network sniffing. **Discovery:** Mapping the internal network to identify critical assets and data. **Lateral Movement:** Moving across the network using remote desktop protocols and lateral tools like PsExec. **Collection:** Gathering and staging data for exfiltration. **Exfiltration:** Using encrypted channels to send data back to command and control (C2) servers. **Impact:** Data theft and potential for destructive actions if detected. ### 2. Tools and Malware **SeaMist:** A modular malware platform that allows for dynamic updates and the addition of new capabilities. **HazeRAT:** A remote access tool that provides the group with full control over compromised systems. **Custom Exploits:** Developed or acquired zero-day exploits tailored for high-value targets. ### 3. Infrastructure **Command and Control (C2):** Use of compromised legitimate websites and custom-built C2 servers to manage operations. **Communication:** Encrypted communications channels to avoid detection by network security tools. ### 4. Affected Sectors **Government Agencies:** Targets include departments dealing with national security, foreign affairs, and intelligence. **Defense Contractors:** Organizations involved in the development of military technologies and defense systems. **Critical Infrastructure:** Sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation are at risk due to the potential for significant disruption. ## Case Studies **Case Study 1:** Breach of a National Defense Contractor In early 2024, "Unfading Sea Haze" successfully infiltrated a major national defense contractor. Using spear-phishing emails containing malicious PDF attachments, the group gained initial access. They then exploited a zero-day vulnerability in a widely used enterprise application to escalate privileges. Over the course of several months, the group exfiltrated sensitive data related to defense technologies. **Case Study 2:** Compromise of a Government Agency A government agency responsible for foreign affairs fell victim to a sophisticated attack by "Unfading Sea Haze." The attackers used social engineering to compromise an employee's email account. From there, they moved laterally within the network, gaining access to confidential diplomatic communications. The breach remained undetected for nearly a year, highlighting the group's ability to maintain persistence. ## Conclusion Unfading Sea Haze represents a sophisticated and persistent cyber threat, employing advanced techniques and custom tools to achieve their espionage objectives. Their ability to remain undetected for over five years underscores the critical importance of robust cybersecurity practices. Enhanced credential hygiene, timely patching, and vigilant monitoring are essential to countering such advanced threats. This research aims to equip the security community with the knowledge to detect and disrupt Unfading Sea Haze's operations, contributing to a more secure digital landscape.

loading..   11-Jun-2024
loading..   1 min read
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Malware

Discover the sophisticated Latrodectus malware, the advanced successor to IcedID...

In November 2023, security researchers uncovered the Latrodectus malware, which swiftly evolved into a significant threat by February 2024. This malware, distributed by initial access brokers (IABs), is a sophisticated loader primarily utilized for deploying additional payloads, including [QakBot](https://www.secureblink.com/threat-research/qakbot:-an-infamous-banking-trojan-family), DarkGate, and PikaBot. The following [Threat Research](https://www.secureblink.com/threat-research) meticulously dissects its components, operational techniques, and the broader implications. ### Infection Chain and Deployment Latrodectus typically initiates infection through email phishing campaigns, a method that surged in March 2024. The campaigns involve oversized JavaScript files leveraging Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to invoke `msiexec.exe` and install a remotely-hosted MSI file from a WEBDAV share. This technique underscores a significant evolution from traditional phishing methods, indicating a strategic pivot towards leveraging legitimate administrative tools to obscure malicious activities. ### Malware Capabilities and Techniques Latrodectus exhibits several capabilities characteristic of advanced malware loaders: 1. **Enumeration and Execution**: It prioritizes gathering comprehensive system information and executing various payloads. The focus on enumeration suggests a strategic approach to identifying high-value targets within infected networks. 2. **Obfuscation and Anti-Analysis**: The malware employs advanced obfuscation techniques and anti-analysis checks to evade detection and analysis in sandboxed environments. This includes source code obfuscation and dynamic API resolution by hash, complicating static analysis efforts. 3. **Persistence Mechanisms**: Persistence is achieved through scheduled tasks and registry modifications, ensuring the malware's resilience against system reboots and user intervention. This persistence is crucial for maintaining long-term access to compromised systems. 4. **Command and Control (C2) Communication**: Latrodectus establishes secure communication with C2 servers over HTTPS. It dynamically updates, restarts, and terminates itself based on commands received from the C2, allowing flexible control over infected hosts. ### Campaign Analysis: TA577 and TA578 **TA577 Campaigns**: - **November 2023 Campaigns**: TA577 utilized Latrodectus in three notable campaigns. A significant deviation on 24 November involved using varied email subjects and URLs, leading to JavaScript files executing via curl to run a DLL. The transition to new methods indicates adaptive strategies to evade existing detection mechanisms. - **28 November 2023**: This campaign saw the use of thread-hijacked messages with URLs leading to zipped JavaScript or ISO files. This dual method increases the chances of successful execution, reflecting an intricate understanding of target behaviors and email security protocols. **TA578 Campaigns**: - **December 2023 to February 2024**: TA578's campaigns often began with contact form submissions, escalating to impersonating companies to send legal threats about copyright infringement. This tactic demonstrates a sophisticated social engineering approach designed to exploit trust and urgency. - **Use of DanaBot**: Initially distributing Latrodectus via DanaBot infection, TA578's versatility in utilizing multiple malware strains highlights their strategic flexibility and resourcefulness. ### Malware Initialization and Operation Upon execution, Latrodectus resolves Windows API functions dynamically, performs extensive checks to ensure it is not running in a sandbox, and validates the environment's suitability. It registers a mutex ("runnung") to prevent multiple instances on the same host, a simple yet effective method to avoid conflicts and redundant infections. ### Communication Protocol & Commands Latrodectus communicates with its C2 server using RC4 encryption and base64 encoding. The malware's ability to handle commands such as executing shellcode, DLLs, and executables, as well as collecting system information, illustrates its utility in a wide range of post-exploitation scenarios. Notably, the malware's communication includes detailed system parameters, enhancing the C2's capability to tailor responses and commands based on specific host characteristics. ### Infrastructure and Lifespan Team Cymru's analysis revealed a sophisticated infrastructure supporting Latrodectus. The malware's C2 servers exhibit a lifecycle marked by frequent turnover and dynamic setup rates. This infrastructure's evolution from late 2023 through early 2024 indicates a strategic testing and refinement phase, culminating in more frequent but shorter-lived C2s. The use of Cloudflare to conceal C2 domains reflects an advanced understanding of modern cybersecurity defenses and the need for stealth and resilience. ### Connection to IcedID Latrodectus shares several operational and infrastructural characteristics with IcedID, a notorious banking trojan. The reuse of specific infrastructure components and operational techniques suggests that the developers of IcedID may be behind Latrodectus. ![p20.png](https://sb-cms.s3.ap-south-1.amazonaws.com/p20_56107cd98b.png) ***Latrodectus infrastructure connected to IcedID infrastructure.*** This connection underscores the iterative nature of malware development, where new threats evolve from existing ones, incorporating lessons learned and adapting to new defensive measures. ### Technical Analysis of Latrodectus Malware The Latrodectus malware represents a sophisticated evolution in the landscape of cyber threats, marked by its strategic deployment as a successor to the well-known IcedID malware. In this rigorous and meticulous analysis, we will dissect the technical facets of Latrodectus, emphasizing its infection chain, capabilities, persistence mechanisms, anti-analysis techniques, and its command-and-control (C2) infrastructure. #### 1. Infection Chain The infection chain of Latrodectus is characterized by its use of oversized JavaScript files delivered through phishing emails. These emails often contain URLs leading to the download of JavaScript files. Upon execution, these scripts leverage Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to invoke `msiexec.exe`, facilitating the installation of a remotely-hosted MSI file from a WEBDAV share. This process mirrors techniques employed by sophisticated malware loaders, highlighting Latrodectus’s intent to blend into the background of typical network activity. #### 2. Capabilities and Payload Delivery Latrodectus is designed as a downloader with the primary objective of fetching and executing additional malicious payloads. This malware exhibits capabilities commonly expected from loaders, such as: - **Payload Deployment:** Able to deploy other malware like QakBot, DarkGate, and PikaBot. - **System Enumeration:** Conducts extensive enumeration of the infected system to gather information. - **Command Execution:** Executes arbitrary commands, DLLs, and executables as instructed by the C2 server. - **Self-Deletion:** Incorporates a self-delete mechanism to remove traces post-execution. #### 3. Persistence Mechanisms To maintain persistence on compromised systems, Latrodectus employs several techniques: - **Scheduled Tasks:** Sets up scheduled tasks to ensure it runs at system startup. - **AutoRun Key:** Modifies registry keys to establish automatic execution. - **File Relocation:** Ensures it runs from a designated location in `%AppData%`, restarting itself from this location if necessary. #### 4. Anti-Analysis and Obfuscation Latrodectus demonstrates advanced anti-analysis and obfuscation strategies to evade detection: - **Dynamic API Resolution:** Resolves Windows API functions by hash, complicating static analysis. - **Debugger and Sandbox Detection:** Checks for the presence of debuggers and the characteristics of sandbox environments (e.g., minimum number of running processes, valid MAC addresses). - **String Obfuscation:** Utilizes a simplified string decryption routine, evolving from a pseudo-random number generator (PRNG) to a rolling XOR key method. #### 5. Command-and-Control (C2) Communication Latrodectus maintains robust C2 communication protocols: - **HTTPS Communication:** Establishes contact with C2 servers over HTTPS, ensuring encrypted data transmission. - **Command Handling:** Receives commands for system information collection, self-updating, restarting, termination, and payload execution. - **Configuration Parsing:** Reads a hardcoded filename (`update_data.dat`) to decrypt and set C2 addresses, ensuring updated C2 communication points. #### 6. Infrastructure and Threat Actor Association The infrastructure supporting Latrodectus exhibits a high level of sophistication: - **Tiered C2 Architecture:** The malware uses a multi-tier C2 architecture with Tier 1 (T1) and Tier 2 (T2) servers to enhance resilience and operational security. - **Common Hosting Providers:** C2 servers are hosted on platforms known for cybercriminal activity, such as BLNWX, BV-EU-AS, and LITESERVER. - **Operator Patterns:** Analysis shows consistent patterns in the setup and operation of C2 servers, with notable activity spikes aligning with operational phases and testing periods. #### 7. Evolution from IcedID Latrodectus retains several characteristics reminiscent of IcedID, suggesting a shared lineage or development team: - **Bot ID Generation:** Utilizes host serial IDs to generate unique bot IDs, similar to IcedID. - **Campaign ID Hashing:** Implements campaign ID hashing using the FNV-1a algorithm, aiding in tracking and attributing threat actor campaigns. - **Command Set Similarity:** Shares a command set with IcedID, including commands for executing binaries, updating the bot, and collecting system information. #### 8. Threat Actor Activity The malware has been primarily distributed by Initial Access Brokers (IABs) such as TA577 and TA578: - **TA577:** Initially used by Latrodectus in November 2023, switching tactics and payloads in subsequent campaigns. - **TA578:** Adopted Latrodectus almost exclusively from January 2024, employing varied social engineering tactics, including contact form submissions and legal threat impersonations.

loading..   23-May-2024
loading..   1 min read
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ransomware

StopCrypt ransomware is back with a vengeance! This analysis dives into its mult...

The ever-evolving threat landscape of ransomware demands constant vigilance and in-depth analysis. StopCrypt ransomware, a particularly nasty strain, has garnered significant attention due to its recent resurgence and concerning capabilities. Our Threat Intel Lab at Secure Blink categorically captures the underlying nuances of this StopCrypt ransomware variant showcasing advanced evasion tactics and a sophisticated multi-stage execution process. #### Infection Cycle Upon execution, the ransomware begins by loading the msim32.dll library using the LoadLibrary function, although the significance of this action remains obscure. It then employs a protracted time-delaying loop, iterating over a large number of iterations to artificially prolong execution time. This strategy aims to thwart time-sensitive sandboxes and security mechanisms, complicating detection efforts. Additionally, the malware utilizes techniques such as LocalAlloc and VirtualProtect to manipulate memory permissions, potentially facilitating its malicious activities while evading detection. #### First Stage Payload During the initial stage of execution, the ransomware dynamically resolves essential APIs vital for its operation. Rather than employing straightforward API calls, it constructs API function calls directly on the stack. This method enhances obfuscation and complicates analysis by security tools. The malware meticulously resolves the addresses of critical APIs, including GlobalAlloc, VirtualAlloc, SetLastError, and others. This process ensures the ransomware's ability to allocate memory and execute its malicious routines without relying on fixed API calls that could be easily identified and intercepted. #### Second Stage Payload In the subsequent stage, the ransomware focuses on process hollowing—a technique used to inject malicious code into a legitimate process while maintaining its functionality. Similar to the first stage, API function names are dynamically created on the stack, enhancing obfuscation. The malware resolves the addresses of numerous APIs necessary for process hollowing, including MessageBoxA, WinExec, CreateProcessA, and many others. This comprehensive approach enables the ransomware to effectively manipulate processes and execute its payload while evading detection. #### Final Payload After successfully executing the second stage, the ransomware proceeds to its final payload. It launches a resumed process with specific parameters, creates a new directory to store its binary, and utilizes the icacls.exe utility to deny permissions, thwarting attempts to modify or delete the ransomware. Furthermore, the ransomware schedules tasks to execute its payload at regular intervals, ensuring persistence and continued malicious activity. ![Fig_18_(1).png](https://sb-cms.s3.ap-south-1.amazonaws.com/Fig_18_1_14c84b11c5.png) ***StopCrypt Ransomware Note [Sonicwall](https://blog.sonicwall.com/en-us/2024/03/new-multi-stage-stopcrypt-ransomware/)*** #### Update A subsequent analysis confirmed the presence of a new variant of StopCrypt ransomware, further underscoring the ongoing evolution and adaptation of these malicious threats.

loading..   30-Apr-2024
loading..   1 min read