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

12/12/2018
03:00 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

U.S. Defense, Critical Infrastructure Companies Targeted in New Threat Campaign

McAfee finds malware associated with 'Operation Sharpshooter' on systems belonging to at least 87 organizations.

A cyberthreat group using malware tied to the Sony Pictures hack of late 2014 is attacking nuclear, defense, energy, and financial companies in what appears to be a campaign to gather information for future exploitation.

In October and November alone, the malware has appeared on systems belonging to at least 87 organizations, most of them in the US, McAfee said in a report this week.

The actors behind "Operation Sharpshooter," as McAfee is calling the campaign, are distributing the malware via malicious Word documents purporting to be job recruitment-related. All of the malicious documents have English-language descriptions for jobs at unknown companies and have been sent from a US-based IP address and via the Dropbox service, the security vendor said.

"From what we were able to gather, the malicious documents were sent to target persons at organizations involved with key programs the actor was looking to gather data on," says Ryan Sherstobitoff, senior researcher at McAfee.

McAfee has not been able to determine with certainty how the attackers are delivering the rogue Word document to target individuals, Sherstobitoff says. "But we suspect it was delivered via spear-phishing with a link to the site that hosted the maldoc," he says.

The malicious document contains a weaponized macro that uses embedded shellcode to inject the Sharpshooter downloader into Word's memory, McAfee said.

Sharpshooter initiates a four-step process to download "Rising Sun," a second-stage implant that also runs in memory and collects intelligence about the machine. The second-stage binary is downloaded to the infected endpoint's startup folder to ensure persistence on the system. Sharpshooter also downloads a second — benign — Word document from the control server, most likely as a decoy to hide the malware, McAfee said.

Rising Sun's capabilities include collecting network adapter information, computer name, user name, IP address information, OS information, drive and process information, and other native system data. The malware is designed to then encrypt the harvested data using the RC4 algorithm and encoding the encrypted data with Base64 before sending it off to the control server. The control servers being used in the campaign are located in the US, Singapore, and France.

The Rising Sun implant supports 14 different backdoor capabilities in total, including the abilities to terminate processes, clear process memory and write files to disk McAfee said in its report.

Shared Code and TTPs
What makes Rising Sun noteworthy is that it uses source code from Trojan Duuzer, a backdoor that North Korea's infamous Lazarus Group used in its attack on Sony in late 2014 and early 2015.

There are several other similarities as well, McAfee said. The documents that are being used to distribute Rising Sun contain metadata indicating they were created using a Korean-language version of Word. Both malware tools use the same techniques for constructing and decoding library names and API names, and both have a nearly identical set of capabilities. Other tactics, techniques, and procedures used in the Sharpshooter campaign are also similar to those employed by the Lazarus Group in its Sony campaign, McAfee said.

However, the connections between the two campaigns are so obvious that it is quite possible the threat actors behind Operation Sharpshooter are planting false flags to make attribution more difficult, McAfee noted.

Rising Sun's communication mechanism and encoding schemes are two areas where it differs from Duuzer. "[Rising Sun] is more sophisticated in terms of the implementation of the command code structure as well as the decoding scheme," Sherstobitoff says. The encryption method it uses is more advanced than Duuzer, too. "There is clear indication this implant is not just an upgraded version of Duuzer," he says.

But for all the sophistication of the malware itself, Operation Sharpshooter is yet another reminder of the threat companies face from employees opening attachments or clicking on links that they should have avoided.

"Phishing is one of the oldest techniques in the book," said Leigh-Anne Galloway, cybersecurity resilience lead at Positive Technologies. In most cases, phishing emails lack sophistication or are moved automatically to the spam folder. But with sophisticated campaigns such as Sharpshooter, even large companies are vulnerable, she said.

"Phishing emails play on a person's emotions, providing a level of incentive for opening a file or clicking on a link," Galloway said. The risk associated with phishing can be reduced through proper user awareness training, she said.

Related Content:

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Exploits Released for As-Yet Unpatched Critical Citrix Flaw
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/13/2020
Microsoft to Officially End Support for Windows 7, Server 2008
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/13/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
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
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
[Just Released] 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-2020-5397
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
Spring Framework, versions 5.2.x prior to 5.2.3 are vulnerable to CSRF attacks through CORS preflight requests that target Spring MVC (spring-webmvc module) or Spring WebFlux (spring-webflux module) endpoints. Only non-authenticated endpoints are vulnerable because preflight requests should not incl...
CVE-2019-17635
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
Eclipse Memory Analyzer version 1.9.1 and earlier is subject to a deserialization vulnerability if an index file of a parsed heap dump is replaced by a malicious version and the heap dump is reopened in Memory Analyzer. The user must chose to reopen an already parsed heap dump with an untrusted inde...
CVE-2019-19339
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
It was found that the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 kpatch update did not include the complete fix for CVE-2018-12207. A flaw was found in the way Intel CPUs handle inconsistency between, virtual to physical memory address translations in CPU's local cache and system software's Paging structure entries...
CVE-2007-6070
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: CVE-2008-1382. Reason: This candidate is a reservation duplicate of CVE-2008-1382. Notes: All CVE users should reference CVE-2008-1382 instead of this candidate. All references and descriptions in this candidate have been removed to prevent ...
CVE-2019-17634
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
Eclipse Memory Analyzer version 1.9.1 and earlier is subject to a cross site scripting (XSS) vulnerability when generating an HTML report from a malicious heap dump. The user must chose todownload, open the malicious heap dump and generate an HTML report for the problem to occur. The heap dump could...