Brazilian Cyberspies In Suits Shake Down Victims With Stolen Company Secrets

'Poseidon Group' puts a new spin on cyber-extortion, and operates across land and sea.

TENERIFE, SPAIN – Kaspersky Lab Security Analyst Summit – If you thought ransomware was scary, imagine this: men in well-dressed suits show up at your office brandishing a binder full of stolen information they hacked out of your company and “encourage” you to hire them as your security help.

“’We are aware you have security problems,’” they say, explained Kaspersky Lab senior security researcher Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, describing the newly discovered cybercrime gang out of Brazil that he and his team have dubbed the Poseidon Group. “And if you deny the Poseidon Group, all of that [stolen] information goes to the other side of [their] business we can call "market forecasting," which is basically a market intelligence service they sell with your business secrets.

The group flies just under the radar of pure blackmail and makes you an offer you can’t refuse. And if you decline their help, they just come back again later. Poseidon leaves malware in your network so they can exfiltrate more internal information, and come calling again with more evidence of how they 0wn you. “They wait a year to approach [you] again. ‘Look what I found for you: are you ready to work with me,’” they say, said Dmitry Bestuzhev, director of the global research threat analysis team at Kaspersky Lab.

Poseidon is a commercial cyber espionage attack group that specifically targets Portuguese and English Windows machines, and has been in action since at least 2005. The attackers so far have hit at least 35 organizations mainly in Brazil but also in the US, France, Kazakhstan, United Arab Emirates, India, and Russia, spanning financial, government, telecommunications, energy, manufacturing, service utilities, media, and public relations industry.

The group is tuned into the latest security research, too. “They go to conferences. We knew that they were at Black Hat,” Bestuzhev said. They then are able to keep their malware and operation under the radar, he said.

They start with a spear phishing email rigged with RTF/DOC files that, once opened, unleashes a payload of tools that grab user credentials, Group Policy, SQL server logs, and other information about the internal network operations so they can root out sensitive information without raising any red flags.

Kaspersky Lab analyzed a Poseidon attack on an oil industry target in Kazakhstan, which contained a password-protected file with its executable. That ensures any antivirus scanners would be unable to open it in a sandbox, Bestuzhev said.

Why the Poseidon moniker? The attackers operate on land, sky, and sea, the Kaspersky researchers said. “They exfiltrate by hijacking satellite communications,” Guerrero-Saade said. They also house command and control centers inside some “well-known” ISPs that service ships, for example, so ship communications were abused.

Among their weapons: seven different rogue digital certificates, including one posing as Microsoft Corp., to mask their malware. They gather recon about a target’s Group Policy parameters such that they can game the system with legit-appearing file names that hide their malware, which is constantly being customized and updated for various victim environments.

“They’ve got credentials, they know your databases, and they come back later when you have forgotten about it,” Guerrero-Saade said. 

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief 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 Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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