An unknown threat actor is targeting companies in the US petroleum industry with a sophisticated data-stealing remote access Trojan (RAT) that previously had been used in attacks against retail and hospitality organizations.
Netskope says it observed a recent spike in alerts for the malware family — the Adwind RAT — among its customers operating within the petroleum industry.
The attacks appear to be originating from a domain belonging to Westnet, an Australian ISP. What's not clear is if the attacker is a Westnet customer or has compromised accounts belonging to Westnet customers and is using them to distribute Adwind, Netskope said in a report.
News of the attacks on US petroleum companies coincides with recent reports about the US government planning a major cyberstrike against Iran to punish the country for its reported involvement in this month's bombing of a major Saudi Arabian oil facility.
On Sunday, Reuters reported on Iran's oil minister warning the country's petroleum industry to be on alert for cyber attacks from the US. In June, the Washington Post quoted unnamed sources as saying US Cyber Command had carried out an offensive attack on Iranian computer systems that had allegedly been used to plan attacks on oil tankers in the region.
According to Netskope, the command and control infrastructure that the attackers are using in the latest Adwind campaign is different from that used in the previous attacks on organizations in the retail and hospitality sectors. So Netskope has no data to suggest the two groups are linked, according to the security vendor.
Adwind is sold as commodity malware on Dark Web markets and several threat actors have used it in various campaigns over the last two years. From a functionality standpoint, the Adwind strain being used in the petroleum industry attacks is very similar to older Adwind samples.
It can encrypt and exfiltrate data; capture Web cam images; scan hard drives for specific files based on extensions defined in the malware's configuration; inject malicious code into legitimate processes to remain under the radar; and monitor system status, Netskope said. The malware modifies registry settings to achieve persistence and can terminate firewalls, AV, and other security services on infected devices.
One area where the latest Adwind strain is significantly superior to its predecessors, however, is obfuscation. Netskope's analysis of the malware showed that it uses multiple embedded JAR archives before unpacking the final payload. JAR, or Java Archive, is a file format that allows for multiple files to be aggregated into one file.
"Java being cross-platform makes it an ideal choice if the attackers want to target multiple operating systems," says Abhinav Singh, information security researcher at Netskope. "By creating multiple layers of embedded and encrypted JAR archives, it becomes incredibly difficult for security solutions to understand the actual behavior and functionality of the JAR."
The latest Adwind version also spins up multiple execution processes, which further complicates the task of keeping track of suspicious behaviors, Singh says. "Analyzing this malware sample was like peeling an onion, layer after layer."
The obfuscation measures in the Adwind samples that Netskope analyzed were so effective, that only five out of 56 anti-virus tools on Virus Total were able to detect the malware initially. But when Netskope managed to extract the final unencrypted JAR through manual analysis, it discovered that more than 30 vendors were able to detect the malware, Singh says.
Netskope's analysis shows the attackers are primarily interested in documents, files, and other locally stored data. They also appear keen on finding information like FTP passwords and SSH keys that can give the more access to the network.
For targeted organizations, the latest attacks are another reminder of the need to get the basics right in terms of network monitoring and content downloads, Singh says. "The main takeaway here is that attacks and threat actors are constantly evolving. By re-using the old techniques in new ways, they are trying to target companies where infrastructure management is complex and hard to upgrade."