For more than three years, the Global Research and Analysis Team( GReAT) at Kaspersky has been publishing quarterly summaries of advanced persistent menace( APT) activity. The summaries are based on our threat intelligence research and provide a representative snapshot of what we have published and discussed in greater detail in our private APT reports. They are designed to highlight the significant events and findings that we feel people should be aware of.

This is our latest installment, focusing on activities that we observed during Q3 2020.

Readers who would like to learn more about our intelligence reports or request more information on a specific report are encouraged to contact intelreports @kaspersky. com.

The most remarkable findings

We have already partly documented the activities of DeathStalker, a unique threat group that seems to focus mainly on law firms and companies operating in the financial sector. The group’s interest in meeting sensitive business info leads us to believe that DeathStalker is a group of mercenaries provide hacking-for-hire services, or acting as an knowledge broker in fiscal circles. The acts of this menace performer first came back our attention through a PowerShell-based implant called Powersing. This one-quarter, we unraveled the weaves of DeathStalker’s LNK-based Powersing intrusion workflow. While there is nothing groundbreaking in the whole toolset, we belief champions can gain a lot of value by understand the underpinnings of a modern, albeit low-tech, infection chain used by a successful threat actor. DeathStalker continues to develop and use this implant, employing tactics that have mostly been identical since 2018, while making greater efforts to evade detection. In August, our public report of DeathStalker’s activities summarized the three scripting language-based toolchains used by the group- Powersing, Janicab and Evilnum.

Following our initial private report on Evilnum, we detected a new batch of implants in late June 2020, showing interesting changes in the( so far) quite static modus operandi of DeathStalker. For example, the malware directly connects to a C2 server applying an embedded IP address or domain name, as opposed to previous variants where it made use of at least two dead fell resolvers( DDRs) or web services, such as meetings and code sharing platforms, to fetch the real C2 IP address or domain. Interestingly, for this campaign the attackers didn’t limit themselves simply to sending spear-phishing emails but actively engaged victims through multiple emails, persuading them to open the decoy, to increase the chance of compromise. Furthermore, aside from using Python-based implants throughout the intrusion cycle, in both new and age-old variants, this was the first time that we had assure the actor dropping PE binaries as intermediate stages to load Evilnum, while applying advanced techniques to sidestep and bypass security products.

We likewise found another intricate, low-tech implant that we attribute to DeathStalker with medium confidence. The delivery workflow applies a Microsoft Word document and plummets a previously unknown PowerShell implant that relies on DNS over HTTPS( DoH) as a C2 channel. We dubbed this implant PowerPepper.

During a recent investigation of a targeted campaign, we acquired a UEFI firmware image containing rogue ingredients that fell previously unknown malware to disk. Our analysis showed that the revealed firmware modules were based on a known bootkit named Vector-EDK, and the dropped malware is a downloader for further ingredients. By pivoting on unique traits of the malware, we uncovered a variety of similar samples from our telemetry that have been used against diplomatic targets since 2017 and have different infection vectors. While the business logic of most is identical, we could see that some had additional features or differed in implementation. Due to this, we infer that the bulk of samples originate from a bigger framework that we have dubbed MosaicRegressor. Code artefacts in some of the framework’s components, and overlaps in C2 infrastructure used during the campaign, suggest that a Chinese-speaking actor is behind these attacks, maybe one that has connections to groups employing the Winnti backdoor. The targets, diplomatic institutions and NGOs in Asia, Europe and Africa, all appear to be connected in some way to North Korea.


Since publishing our initial report on WellMess( visualize our APT tendencies report Q2 2020 ), the UK National Cyber Security Centre( NCSC) has released a joint technological advisory, along with Canadian and Us administration, on the most recent activity involving WellMess. Specifically, all three governments attribute the use of this malware targeting COVID-1 9 inoculation research to The Dukes( aka APT2 9 and Cozy Bear ). The advisory also details two other parts of malware, SOREFANG and WellMail, that were used during this activity. Given the direct public statement on attribution, new details provided in the advisory, as well as new information discovered since our initial investigation, we wrote our report to serve as a supplement to our previous reporting on this threat actor. While the publication of the NCSC advisory has increased general public awareness on the malware used in these recent attacks, the attribution statements made by all three governments furnished no clear evidence for other researchers to pivot on for confirmation. For the above reasons, we are currently unable to modify our original statement; and we still assess that the WellMess activity has been conducted by a previously unknown threat actor. We will continue to monitor for new activity and adjust this statement in the future if new proof is uncovered.

Russian-speaking activity

In summer, we uncovered a previously unknown multimodule C ++ toolset is set out in highly targeted industrial espionage attacks dating back to 2018. So far, we have seen no similarities with known malicious activity considering code, infrastructure or TTPs. To date, we consider this toolset and the actor behind it to be new. The malware authors named the toolset MT3, and based on this abbreviation we have named the toolset MontysThree. The malware is configured to search for specific document kinds, including those stored on removable media. It contains natural language artefacts of correct Russian and a configuration that seek directories that exist only in Cyrilic version of Windows, while presenting some false flag artefacts indicating a Chinese-speaking origin. The malware applies legitimate cloud services such as Google, Microsoft and Dropbox for C2 communications.

Chinese-speaking activity

Earlier this year, we detected an active and previously unknown stealthy implant dubbed Moriya in the networks “of the regions ” inter-governmental organizations in Asia and Africa. This tool was used to control public facing servers in those organizations by establishing a covert channel with a C2 server and passing shell commands and their outputs to the C2. This ability is facilitated using a Windows kernel mode driver. Use of the tool is part of an ongoing campaign that “were having” named TunnelSnake. The rootkit was detected on specific targeted machines in May, with activity dating back as early as November 2019, persisting in networks for several months following the initial infection. We found another tool presenting significant code overlaps with this rootkit, suggesting that the developers have been active since at least 2018. Since neither rootkit nor other lateral movement tools that accompanied it during the campaign relied on hard-coded C2 servers, we could gain only partial visibility into the attacker’s infrastructure. That said, the bulk of detected tools, apart from Moriya, consisted of both proprietary and well-known pieces of malware that were previously used by Chinese-speaking threat performers, devoting a clue to the attacker’s origin.

PlugX continues to be effectively and heavily use across Southeast and East Asia, and also Africa, with some minimal use in Europe. The PlugX codebase has been in use by multiple Chinese-speaking APT groups, including HoneyMyte, Cycldek and LuckyMouse. Government agencies, NGOs and IT service organizations seem to be consistent targets. While the new USB spreading capability is opportunistically pushing the malware throughout networks, compromised MSSPs/ IT service organizations appear to be a potential vector of targeted delivery, with CobaltStrike installer packages pushed to multiple systems for initial PlugX installation. Based on our visibility, the majority of members of activity in the last quarter appears to be in Mongolia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The number of systems in these countries dealing with PlugX in 2020 is at the very least in the thousands.

We detected an ongoing campaign, dating back to May, utilizing a new version of the Okrum backdoor, attributed to Ke3chang. This updated version of Okrum employs an Authenticode-signed Windows Defender binary utilizing a unique side-loading technique. The attackers applied steganography to conceal the main payload in the Defender executable while keeping its digital signature valid, reducing the chance of detection. We haven’t previously seen this method being used in the wild for malicious intents. We have observed one affected victim, a telecoms corporation are contained in Europe.

On September 16, the US Department of Justice released three accusations associated with hackers allegedly connected with APT4 1 and other intrusion situateds tracked as Barium, Winnti, Wicked Panda and Wicked Spider. In addition, two Malaysian nationals were also arrested on September 14, in Sitiawan( Malaysia ), for” conspiring to profit from computer intrusions targeting the video game industry”, following cooperation between the US DoJ and the Malaysian government, including the Attorney General’s Chambers of Malaysia and the Royal Malaysia Police. The first accusation alleges that the defendants set up an elite” white hat” network security corporation, called Chengdu 404 Network Technology Co, Ltd.( aka Chengdu Si Lingsi Network Technology Co ., Ltd .), and under its guise, engaged in computer intrusions targeting many hundreds of companies around the world. According to the indictment, they” be carried forward their hacking employing specialized malware, such as malware that cyber-security experts named’ PlugX/ Fast ‘,’ Winnti/ Pasteboy ‘,’ Shadowpad ‘,’ Barlaiy/ Poison Plug’ and’ Crosswalk/ ProxIP’ “. The accusations contain several indirect IoCs, which has enabled us to connect these intrusions to Operation ShadowPad and Operation ShadowHammer, two massive supply-chain assaults detected and investigated by Kaspersky in recent years.

Middle East

In June, we observed new activity by the MuddyWater APT group, involving utilize of a new fixed of tools that constitute a multistage framework for loading malware modules. Some components of the framework leverage code to communicate with C2s identical to code we complied with in the MoriAgent malware earlier this year. For the above reasons, we decided to dub the new framework MementoMori. The aims of the new framework is to facilitate execution of further in-memory PowerShell or DLL modules. We detected high-profile victims based in Turkey, Egypt and Azerbaijan.

Southeast Asia and Korean Peninsula

In May, we received new samples belonging to the Dtrack family. The first sample, named Valefor, is an updated version of the Dtrack RAT containing a new feature enabling the attacker to execute more types of payload. The second sample is a keylogger called Camio which is an updated version of its keylogger. This new version updates the logged information and its storage mechanism. We observed signs indicating that these malware programs were tailored for specific victims. At the time of our research our telemetry revealed victims located in Japan.

We have been tracking LODEINFO, fileless malware used in targeted attacks since last December. During this time, we find several versions as the authors were developing the malware. In May, we saw version v0. 3.6 targeting diplomatic organisations located in Japan. Shortly after that, we detected v0. 3.8 as well. Our investigation uncovered how the attackers operate during the lateral movement stage: after obtaining the desired data, the attackers wipe their traces. Our private report included a technological analysis of the LODEINFO malware and the attack sequence in the victim’s network, to disclose the actor’s tactics and methods.

While tracking Transparent Tribe activity, we discovered an interesting tool used by this APT threat actor: the server ingredient used to manage CrimsonRAT bots. We acquired different versions of this software, allowing us to look at the malware from the perspective of the attackers. It shows that the main purpose of this tool is file stealing, committed its functionalities for exploring the remote file system and collecting files utilizing specific filters. Transparent Tribe( aka PROJECTM and MYTHIC LEOPARD) is a very prolific APT group that has increased its activities in recent months. We reported the launch of a new wide-ranging campaign that uses the CrimsonRAT tool where we were able to set up and analyze the server component and insured the use of the USBWorm component for the first time; we likewise saw an Android implant used to target military personnel in India. This breakthrough likewise demonstrates much of the information already discovered during previous investigations; and it also confirms that CrimsonRAT is still under active development.

In April, we discovered a new malware strain that we named CRAT, based on the develop path and internal file name. The malware was spread use a weaponized Hangul document as well as a Trojanized application and strategic web compromise. Since its breakthrough the full-featured backdoor has quickly evolved, diversifying into several ingredients. A downloader delivers CRAT to profile victims, followed by next-stage orchestrator malware named SecondCrat: this orchestrator loads various plugins for espionage, including keylogging, screen capturing and clipboard stealing. During our investigation, we acquired several weak connections with ScarCruft and Lazarus: we discovered that several debugging messages inside the malware have similar patterns to ScarCruft malware, as well as some code patterns and the call of the Lazarus C2 infrastructure.

In June, we observed a new define of malicious Android downloaders which, according to our telemetry, have been actively used in the wild since at least December 2019; and have been used in a campaign targeting victims almost exclusively in Pakistan. Its authors utilized the Kotlin programming language and Firebase messaging system for the downloader, which simulates Chat Lite, Kashmir News Service and other legitimate regional Android applications. A report by the National Telecom& Information Technology Security Board( NTISB) from January describes malware sharing the same C2s and spoofing the same legitimate apps. According to this publication, targets were Pakistani military bodies, and the attackers employed WhatsApp messages, SMS, emails and social media as the initial infection vectors. Our own telemetry shows that this malware also spreads through Telegram messenger. The analysis of the initial decide of downloaders allowed us to find an additional determined of Trojans that we believe are strongly associated, as they use the package name mentioned in the downloaders and focus on the same targets. These new samples have strong code similarity with artefacts previously be given to Origami Elephant.

In mid-July, we find a Southeast Asian government organization targeted by an unknown threat performer with a malicious ZIP package containing a multilayered malicious RAR executable bundle. In one of the incidents, the package was themed around COVID-1 9 containment. We believe that the same organization was probably the same target of a government web server watering-hole, compromised in early July and serving a highly similar malicious LNK. Much like other campaigns against particular countries that we have seen in the past, these antagonists are taking a long-term, multipronged approach to compromising target systems without utilizing zero-day exploits. Notably, other groups( probably OceanLotus) applied a similar Telegram delivery technique with its malware implants against the same government targets within a month or so of the COVID-1 9-themed malicious LNK, in addition to its use of Cobalt Strike.

In May 2020, Kaspersky technologies avoided an attack using a malicious script for Internet Explorer against a South Korean company. Closer analysis revealed that the attack used a previously unknown full chain that consisted of two zero-day exploits: a Remote Code Execution exploit for Internet Explorer and an Elevation of Privilege exploit for Windows. Unlike a previous full chain that we detected, used in Operation WizardOpium( you can read more hereand here ), the new full chain targeted the most recent develops of Windows 10, and our tests demonstrated reliable exploitation of Internet Explorer 11 and Windows 10 construct 18363 x64. On June 8, we reported our breakthroughs to Microsoft, who confirmed the vulnerabilities. At the time of our report, the security team at Microsoft had already prepared a spot for vulnerability CVE-2 020 -0 986 that was used in the zero-day Elevation of Privilege exploit; but before our breakthrough, the exploitability of this vulnerability had been considered least likely. The patch for CVE-2 020 -0 986 was released on June 9. Microsoft assigned CVE-2 020 -1 380 to a use-after-free vulnerability in JScript and the patch for this was liberated on August 11. We are calling this and related attempts Operation PowerFall. Currently, we are unable to establish a definitive is connected with any known menace actor, but due to similarities with previously discovered exploits we be suggested that DarkHotel may be behind this attack.

On July 22, we came across a suspicious archive file that was uploaded to VirusTotal from an Italian source. The file seemed to be a triage consisting of malicious scripts, access logs, malicious record files and several screenshots related to suspicious file detectings from security solutions. After looking into these malicious record files, we identified that they are related to a Lazarus group campaign that we reported in June. This campaign, dubbed DeathNote, targeted the automobile industry and individuals in the academic realm applying seduce documents containing aerospace and defense-related job descriptions. We are confident that these documents are related to a recently reported attack on an Israeli defense company. We have uncovered webshell scripts, C2 server scripts and malicious records, identified several victims connected to the compromised C2 server, as well as uncovering the method used to access the C2 server.

We have find an ongoing Sidewinder campaign that started in February, employing five different malware types. The group induced changes to its final payloads and continues to target government, diplomatic and military entities employing current themes, such as COVID-1 9, in its spear-phishing endeavors. While the infection mechanism remains the same as before, including the group’s exploit of selection( CVE-2 017 -1 182) and use of the DotNetToJScript tool to deploy the final warheads, we found that the actor also employed ZIP archives containing a Microsoft compiled HTML Help file to download the last-stage payload. In addition to the existing. NET-based implant, which we call SystemApp, the threat actor added JS Orchestrator, the Rover/ Scout backdoor and modified versions of AsyncRAT, warzoneRAT to its arsenal.

Other interesting breakthroughs

Attribution is difficult at the best use of times, and sometimes it’s not possible at all. While analyse an ongoing campaign, we detected a new Android implant undergoing developing, with no clear link to any previously known Android malware. The malware is able to monitor and steal call logs, SMS, audio, video and non-media files, as well as identifying information about the infected device. It also implements an interesting feature to collect information on network routes and topology obtained using the “traceroute” command as well as employing local ARP caches. During this investigation we uncovered a cluster of similar Android infostealer implants, with one example being obfuscated. We likewise found older Android malware that more closely resembles a backdoor, with tracings of it in the wild dating back to August 2019.

In April, Cisco Talos described the action of an unknown performer targeting Azerbaijan’s government and energy sector utilizing new malware called PoetRAT. In collaboration with Kaspersky ICS CERT, we recognized supplementary samples of associated malware and documents with broader targeting of multiple universities, government and industrial organizations as well as entities in the energy sector in Azerbaijan. The campaign started in early November 2019; and the attackers switched off the infrastructure immediately following publication of the Cisco Talos report. Since then , no new related documents or PoetRAT samples have been discovered. We find a small overlap in victimology with Turla, but since there is no technically sound proof of relation between them, and we haven’t been able to attribute this new set of activity to any other previously known actor, we named it Obsidian Gargoyle.

Final reckons

The TTPs of some threat actors remain fairly consistent over time( such as utilizing hot topics such( COVID-1 9) to entice customers to download and execute malicious attachments mailed in spear-phishing emails ), while other groups reinvent themselves, developing new toolsets and widening their scope of activities, for example, to include new platforms. And while some threat performers develop very sophisticated tools, for example, MosiacRegressor UEFI implant, others have great success with basic TTPs. Our regular quarterly examines are intended to highlight the key growths of APT groups.

Here are the main trends that we’ve seen in Q3 2020 😛 TAGEND

Geo-politics continues to drive the development of many APT campaigns, as seen in recent months in the activities of Transparent Tribe, Sidewinder, Origami Elephant and MosaicRegressor, and in the’ naming and shaming’ of various threat actors by the NCSC and the US Department of Justice. Organisation in the financial sector likewise continue to attract attention: the action of the mercenary group DeathStalker is a recent example. We continue to observe the use of mobile implants in APT strikes with recent examples including Transparent Tribe and Origami Elephant. While APT threat actors remain active across the globe, recent hotspots of activity have been Southeast Asia, the Middle East and various regions affected by the activities of Chinese-speaking APT groups. Unsurprisingly, we continue to see COVID-1 9-themed onslaughts- this quarter they included WellMess and Sidewinder. Among the most interesting APT campaigns this one-quarter were DeathStalker and MosaicRegressor: the former underlining the fact that APT groups can achieve their aims without developing way sophisticated tools; the latter representing the leading-edge in malware development.

As always, we would note that our reports are the product of our visibility into the threat landscape. However, it should be borne in mind that, while we strive to continually improve, there is always the possibility that other sophisticated onslaughts may fly under our radar.

Read more: