North Korea Likely Behind New Targeted Attacks On South Korea
'Kimsuky' operation targets South Korean think-tanks in classic cyberespionage campaign
A new wave of targeted attacks on South Korean organizations contains multiple signs that the attacks are likely coming from the North, according to new research.
Kaspersky Lab exposed a cyberespionage campaign, dubbed Kimsuky, aimed at spying on and stealing information from South Korean think-tank organizations.
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South Korea has been hammered by several targeted attack campaigns in the past year, including the so-called DarkSeoul DDoS and data-destruction attacks on major South Korean banks, media outlets, and other entities. McAfee this summer revealed those attacks and other campaigns against South Korean targets were all part of a four-year effort to steal information about South Korean military and government operations that McAfee has dubbed Operation Troy. Operation Troy also targeted U.S. Forces Korea, Republic of Korea, the Korean Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Kaspersky Lab found no connection between the Kimsuky campaign and Operation Troy or Dark Seoul, says Kurt Baumgartner, principal researcher for Kaspersky Lab.
"This group appears to be lightly resourced and highly focused on exactly what they want. The operation and its implementation is simplistic, somewhat sloppy, but appears to be fairly effective," Baumgartner said in an email interview.
The Kimsuky targeted attack campaign focused on 11 organizations in South Korea and two in China. Among the targets were the Sejong Institute, Korea Institute For Defense Analyses (KIDA), South Korea's Ministry of Unification, and Hyundai Merchant Marine. According to Kaspersky, the attack likely was delivered via spear-phishing e-mails: It executes keylogging, directory listing collection, and remote control access, and steals HWP documents, a word processing document type widely used by the South Korean government.
Kaspersky says Kamsuky's Trojan malware first surfaced in May of this year, and the attacks have been rife with flaws that provided the researchers with clues about the attackers' origin. The code's compilation path string, for example, includes Korean words, including commands for "attack" and "completion."
And two email addresses where infected bots send status reports and other information are registered to "kimsukyang" and "Kim asdfa." The researchers say while the names don't necessarily correlate with specific attackers, the source IP addresses are located in the Jilin Province Network and Liaoning Province Network in China. ISPs there are believed to provide lines into North Korea as well, according to the research.
In addition, the malware disables South Korean anti-malware company AhnLab's security software.
Kaspersky Lab's full report on Kimsuky is available here.
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