A new threat group with some similarities to some other known advanced persistent threat (APT) actors is attacking the International Air Transport Association (IATA), multiple airlines, and individuals planning to emigrate to Canada on government job-related programs.
The targeted phishing operation has been active since at least 2018. Ongoing tracking shows the threat actor is continuing to actively update malware tool sets and infrastructure, according to a new Malwarebytes report.
Based on the group's tight target focus and its tools and methods, the security vendor has designated the attacker as a new APT, which it's tracking as LazyScripter. The group's primary motive appears to be to steal information and intelligence from victims, both for current use and for future targeted attacks.
Hossein Jazi, senior threat intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes, says his company's analysis suggests LazyScripter isn't as sophisticated as some other threat groups, such as North Korea's Lazarus and Russia's APT28 (aka Fancy Bear). "In fact, our researchers found that this actor has not developed any custom [remote access Trojans, or RATs] and mostly relied on open source and commercially available RATs in its operations."
Malwarebytes says its analysis of LazyScripter threat activity shows the group's modus operandi is to use targeted spam campaigns to deliver phishing lures to individuals of interest at the IATA and other focus areas. The lures mainly have themes related to the IATA, airlines, and job-related immigration to Canada. Other, less frequently used phishing themes have included those related to BSPLink, a financial settlement service that many airlines use, as well as tourism, COVID-19, Microsoft updates, and a Canadian program for skilled workers. In at least one campaign, the threat actor was observed using a legitimate Canadian immigration website as a phishing lure.
The phishing emails typically have contained embedded objects that deploy Octopus and Koadic, two open source multistage RATs. MITRE describes Koadic as a Windows post-exploitation tool for penetration testing, creating implants, and staging payloads. Octopus is a Windows Trojan that, among other things, enables data theft, file uploads and downloads, spying, and system profiling.
Malwarebytes says its researchers have observed LazyScripter also dropping other previously known RATs such as LuminosityLink — a malware that allows attackers to gain remote access to systems and spy on users — and Remcos, another tool for gaining remote control of systems. All of LazyScripter's recent phishing mails have included a malware loader that Malwarebytes is calling KOCTUPUS. It is also associated with another loader, which Malwarebytes has dubbed Empoder, for loading PowerShell Empire on infected systems.
Jazi says some specific characteristics of the threat actor include its use of multistage RATs, reliance on scripting languages to deploy the malware, and its use of free dynamic DNS providers for command-and-control communications. Another distinguishing characteristic is its use of embedded objects rather than macros to weaponize documents.
Similarities to Other Groups
Malwarebytes says its analysis of LazyScripter's malware tool sets and infrastructure suggest a connection to known APT groups, such as the Russia-based APT28 and Iranian threat group OilRig. APT28, for instance, previously has been associated with Koadic, and OilRig has been seen using the same tool that LazyScripter has been using for converting PowerShell scripts into executables.
The group with which LazyScripter has the most in common, though, is MuddyWater, another Iranian threat actor known for focusing on targets in the Middle East. Malwarebytes says its analysis shows that both groups have used Empire and Koadic, both use PowerShell, and both have used GitHub to host malicious payloads. Even so, the similarities with other groups are too tenuous, and the differences distinct enough, to suggest that LazyScripter is a distinct APT group, Malwarebytes says.
"The actor shares similarities with some Middle Eastern actors," Jazi says. "Therefore, there is a high chance that the actor is based [in the] Middle East, but we do not have enough solid indicators to confirm that."