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

4/14/2015
10:30 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

'APT-On-APT' Action

New spin on the cyber espionage attack: spies hacking other spies for information.

Cyber espionage hackers on occasion have bumped into one another in attack campaigns and inadvertently phished each other after stealing the same email addresses of targets. But this time, it was a case of turnabout.

While investigating a massive spear-phishing attack by a cyber espionage gang in March of last year, Kaspersky Lab researchers spotted what they say is the sign of a new form of cyber espionage activity: APT (advanced persistent threat) groups attacking other APTs. A cyber espionage group they call Naikon, which targets government and industry organizations in the Asia-Pacific region, got a response email from one of its targets, "The Security Office," asking to confirm that the "Secretariat" indeed had sent the email. A member of the Naikon gang sent an email reply in broken English purportedly from the Technical Assistant to the National Secretariat that basically said the message was legit.

That's when the targeted organization--another APT that Naikon apparently had unknowingly targeted in its phishing campaign--retaliated by crafting a phishing email of its own a few days later. "The email in this case originates from a government email … and is directed to the Naikon attackers. They decided to strike back at the attacker, a spy-on-spy sort of move," said Costin Raiu, head of Kaspersky's global research and analysis team, in a recorded presentation about the attack.

The message included an attachment that was supposedly a directory, and contained an infected screen saver file in an RAR archive file that Kaspersky confirmed contained malware. "They [Hellsing] are interested in infecting other APTs and learning about their operations," he said.

Raiu says it's a new twist to the APT. "Welcome to the APT wars," he said. "We're now in a world where nation-state APTs are fighting each other in counter-intel and intel-gathering mechanisms. Obviously, the goals are attribution: they want to know who's trying to infect me and what's been stolen or what can be stolen from my country or [from] my neighbors."

The group that hit back also targets the Asia-Pacific region -- mainly government and diplomatic organizations -- in its own cyber espionage attacks, and has been in action since around 2012, according to Kaspersky, which has dubbed the group "Hellsing" after some strings the attackers left behind in their malware.

"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. However, considering the targeting and origin of the attack, it seems more likely that this is an example of a deliberate APT-on-APT attack," Raiu said.

It was also the first time Kaspersky had seen Hellsing, which it says loads a custom backdoor that can download and upload files on the infected machine, as well as update and uninstall itself. Hellsing has targeted some 20 different organizations, mainly in Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and the US. 

Kaspersky Lab has posted a blog with screen shots and code samples.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
44% of Security Threats Start in the Cloud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/19/2020
Zero-Factor Authentication: Owning Our Data
Nick Selby, Chief Security Officer at Paxos Trust Company,  2/19/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
The concept of application security is well known, but application security testing and remediation processes remain unbalanced. Most organizations are confident in their approach to AppSec, although others seem to have no approach at all. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-9405
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
IBL Online Weather before 4.3.5a allows unauthenticated reflected XSS via the redirect page.
CVE-2020-9406
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
IBL Online Weather before 4.3.5a allows unauthenticated eval injection via the queryBCP method of the Auxiliary Service.
CVE-2020-9407
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
IBL Online Weather before 4.3.5a allows attackers to obtain sensitive information by reading the IWEBSERVICE_JSONRPC_COOKIE cookie.
CVE-2020-9398
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-25
ISPConfig before 3.1.15p3, when the undocumented reverse_proxy_panel_allowed=sites option is manually enabled, allows SQL Injection.
CVE-2015-5201
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-25
VDSM and libvirt in Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor (aka RHEV-H) 7-7.x before 7-7.2-20151119.0 and 6-6.x before 6-6.7-20151117.0 as packaged in Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization before 3.5.6 when VSDM is run with -spice disable-ticketing and a VM is suspended and then restored, allows r...