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North Korean State Actors Deploying Novel Malware to Spy on Journalists

Spear-phishing campaign loaded with new "Goldbackdoor" malware targeted journalists with NK News, analysts found.

New analysis has attributed a spear-phishing campaign targeting journalists covering North Korea to APT37/Ricochet Chollimia, a state-backed group linked to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Notably, researchers said the group is deploying a novel malware strain called Goldbackdoor, a variation of Bluelight malware previously attributed to APT37.

According to a report from researchers at Stairwell, multiple phishing emails were sent to NK News on Mar. 18 that appeared to be from the personal email address of the previously compromised former head of of the South Korean National Intelligence Service, and contained Goldbackdoor malware. NK News handed over the information to Stairwell for further investigation, the cybersecurity firm said.

"Due to the sensitive nature of journalists' work, they are often targets of surveillance and malware, intent on stealing information, ferreting out sources or even destroying evidence and scaring the reporters into not publishing stories," Erich Kron, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, said in response to the news. "In regimes like North Korea, where news is tightly controlled by the state, articles or information that paints the leadership or government in a negative light is treated as a serious threat to national security."