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

Sophisticated Campaign Targets Pakistan's Air Force

Espionage campaign uses a variety of new evasion techniques.

A new campaign of exploits and malware has hit Pakistan's Air Force, and it shows signs of being the work of a sophisticated state-sponsored actor in the Middle East. It also has implications for governments and organizations far from Pakistan's borders, according to Cylance researchers.

The espionage campaign has been named "Operation Shaheen" in reference to the Shaheen Falcon that is the symbol of Pakistan's Air Force. According to Kevin Livelli, director of threat intelligence at Cylance and one of three authors of three bundled reports detailing the operation, Shaheen is frequently invoked in the phishing email messages used as launch vectors for the attacks.

After the email messages, though, the campaign quickly becomes highly sophisticated. The threat actor, dubbed the "White Company" by the Cylance researchers, uses an array of evasion and obfuscation techniques to hide the presence and operation of malware.

"The White Company is the first threat actor of any kind that we've encountered that targets and effectively evades no fewer than eight different antivirus products," Livelli says. Those eight products — from Sophos, ESET, Kaspersky, Bitdefender, Avira, Avast, AVG, and Quick Heal — were then turned against their owners when the malware "surrendered" to the antivirus software on a specific date. The surrender, he says, seems intended to distract, delay, and divert the target's resources after the espionage package had achieved persistence on the victim's systems.

According to Livelli, the White Company's campaign is notable not just for the sophistication of its evasion techniques, but for the many layers of obfuscation employed. As Tom Pace, senior director of consulting services at Cylance and another report author, explains, "One of the techniques is packing the malware, which is a common technique. They're packing it in five different layers, which is pretty significant." That's because with each level of packing, there's a risk of corrupting the exfiltrated data, making it unusable, he says.

"For the White Group to risk packing five times is indicative of a very good familiarity with leveraging this kind of tool, and it's something we don't really see very often," Pace says. Most threat actors might pack their malware once or even twice, but five-level packing is "... both impressive technically, and something we don't see," he adds.

Operation Shaheen is not the only White Group campaign under way, either, though Cylance hasn't yet completed the research to say who the other targets are. Even for those not currently in the group's crosshairs, though, there are reasons to be concerned by this activity.

"If you apply the traditional techniques of investigating these kinds of incidents, you would have missed most of the key takeaways here and not really understood what was going on in the campaign," Livelli says. "If [traditional techniques are] applied in another context, and you're following the tried-and-true methods, you're not going to learn the right answers."

As for what to do with that concern, both Livelli and Pace suggest a redoubling of basic efforts. "Even people that are incredibly sophisticated, with no technical limitations to their skills, are still just sending emails," Pace says.

And users can be trained to avoid those emails, he adds. "If you look at some of the titles of documents there, they are like a perfect example of things that you see in most companies' security awareness program training," he explains.

Related Content:

 

Black Hat Europe returns to London Dec 3-6 2018  with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Tips for Infosec Pros Considering A Lateral Career Move
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/21/2020
For Mismanaged SOCs, The Price Is Not Right
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/22/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
IT 2020: A Look Ahead
Are you ready for the critical changes that will occur in 2020? We've compiled editor insights from the best of our network (Dark Reading, Data Center Knowledge, InformationWeek, ITPro Today and Network Computing) to deliver to you a look at the trends, technologies, and threats that are emerging in the coming year. Download it today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-7989
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
Adive Framework 2.0.8 has admin/user/add userUsername XSS.
CVE-2020-7990
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
Adive Framework 2.0.8 has admin/user/add userName XSS.
CVE-2020-7991
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
Adive Framework 2.0.8 has admin/config CSRF to change the Administrator password.
CVE-2020-7984
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
SolarWinds N-central before 12.1 SP1 HF5 and 12.2 before SP1 HF2 allows remote attackers to retrieve cleartext domain admin credentials from the Agent & Probe settings, and obtain other sensitive information. The attacker can use a customer ID to self register and read any aspects of the agent/a...
CVE-2019-16029
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
A vulnerability in the application programming interface (API) of Cisco Smart Software Manager On-Prem could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to change user account information which can prevent users from logging in, resulting in a denial of service (DoS) condition of the web interface. Th...