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
How Attackers Infiltrate the Supply Chain & What to Do About It
Shay Nahari, Head of Red-Team Services at CyberArk,  7/16/2019
US Mayors Commit to Just Saying No to Ransomware
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/16/2019
The Problem with Proprietary Testing: NSS Labs vs. CrowdStrike
Brian Monkman, Executive Director at NetSecOPEN,  7/19/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-12551
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-22
In SweetScape 010 Editor 9.0.1, improper validation of arguments in the internal implementation of the Memcpy function (provided by the scripting engine) allows an attacker to overwrite arbitrary memory, which could lead to code execution.
CVE-2019-12552
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-22
In SweetScape 010 Editor 9.0.1, an integer overflow during the initialization of variables could allow an attacker to cause a denial of service.
CVE-2019-3414
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-22
All versions up to V1.19.20.02 of ZTE OTCP product are impacted by XSS vulnerability. Due to XSS, when an attacker invokes the security management to obtain the resources of the specified operation code owned by a user, the malicious script code could be transmitted in the parameter. If the front en...
CVE-2019-10102
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-22
tcpdump.org tcpdump 4.9.2 is affected by: CWE-126: Buffer Over-read. The impact is: May expose Saved Frame Pointer, Return Address etc. on stack. The component is: line 234: "ND_PRINT((ndo, "%s", buf));", in function named "print_prefix", in "print-hncp.c". Th...
CVE-2019-10102
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-22
aubio 0.4.8 and earlier is affected by: null pointer. The impact is: crash. The component is: filterbank. The attack vector is: pass invalid arguments to new_aubio_filterbank. The fixed version is: after commit eda95c9c22b4f0b466ae94c4708765eaae6e709e.