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'Lurid' APT-Type Attacks Target Former USSR Region

Researchers uncover a year-long-plus cyberespionage campaign

Another day, another targeted attack campaign: This time, however, the former Soviet Union is in the bull's eye.

At least 50 victim organizations ranging from government ministries and agencies, diplomatic missions, research institutions, and commercial entities have been hit in the former Soviet Union region and other countries. Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Vietnam have been hit hardest in the apparent industrial espionage campaign that has been going on at least since August 2010.

The advanced persistent threat (APT)-type attacks -- dubbed "Lurid" after the Trojan malware family being used in it -- has infected some 1,465 computers in 61 countries with more than 300 targeted attacks. The attackers deployed a command-and-control (C&C) infrastructure of some 15 domain names and 10 IP addresses to keep their foothold in the victim machines.

"This seems to be a notable attack in that respect: It doesn't target Western countries or states. It seems to be the reverse this time," says Jamz Yaneza, a research director at Trend Micro.

Just who is behind the attack is unclear, but Trend says this is most likely a case of industrial espionage. "It's certainly not out of Russia ... they don't play around in their own backyard," Yaneza says.

The attacks could be out of China or the U.S., notes David Perry, global director of education for Trend Micro, given that some of the IP addresses appeared to be out of the U.S. "But we don't have evidence," Perry says, and attackers can hide their locations by using IP addresses from other regions for their C&C infrastructure.

Yaneza says attackers stole Word files and spreadsheets, not financial information. "A lot of the targets seemed to be government-based," he says. And it also could be the work of hactivists, he says.

Interestingly, the Lurid Trojan downloader, a.k.a. Enfal, has been used before in targeted attacks against U.S. governments and businesses. But Trend says there's no connection between those previous attacks and this one. They were unable to determine just what type of data the attackers are after, but they did see the attackers were trying to pilfer documents and spreadsheets from their victims.

Meanwhile, David Sancho and Nart Villeneuve, senior threat researchers for Trend, said the attackers employed various Adobe Reader exploits and malicious RAR files stuffed with malicious screensavers. "While we still have to locate any samples used in these campaigns that contain zero-day exploits, the campaign identifiers used by the attackers do make reference to the use of such exploits," the researchers wrote.

The fact that the attackers used patched Adobe bugs indicates they were after organizations, not consumers, Trend's Yaneza notes. "It seems to point to organizations with a fixed [application version] policy. If it were after regular [consumer] users, most of them are using auto-patch for PDFs," he says.

Trend discovered two methods the attackers used to maintain their foothold in the victim networks and remain under the radar: One program installed itself under the guise of a Windows service, while another copied itself to the system folder. "It ensures persistence by changing the common start up folder of Windows to a special one it creates. It then copies all the usual auto-start items there, as well as itself," Sancho and Villeneuve blogged.

The malware exfiltrates data from the victim machines via HTTP POST commands with the C&C servers, which also can execute a remote shell on the machines. "The attackers typically retrieve directory listings from the compromised computers and steal data (such as specific .XLS files). Trend Micro researchers have some of the commands, but not the actual files," they blogged.

Russia had 1,063 IP addresses hit in the attacks; Kazakhstan, 325; Ukraine, 102; Vietnam, 93; Uzbekistan; 88; Belarus, 67; India, 66; Kyrgyzstan, 49; Mongolia, 42; and China, 39.

The Trend Micro blog post on Lurid is available here.

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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

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