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New Threat Activity by Lazarus Group Spells Trouble for Orgs

The North Korea-backed group has launched several campaigns to raise revenue for cash-strapped nation's missile program, security experts say.

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New Campaigns
The ATM cash-out attacks that CISA warned about is just the latest in a series of new campaigns that Lazarus appears to have launched in recent months. Just last week, for instance, security vendor F-Secure said its researchers had gathered evidence that tied Lazarus to an attack on an organization working in the cryptocurrency vertical — a favorite target for the threat actor. The attack began with a fake job offer containing a malicious link sent via LinkedIn to an employee at the company, F-Secure said.

According to F-Secure, the attack appears to be part of a broader campaign targeting cryptocurrency organizations in more than one dozen countries, including the US, UK, Germany, Netherlands, and Japan.

Matt Lawrence, director of detection and response at F-Secure, says the attack appears to have been advanced in nature and part of a phishing campaign running since at least January 2018. The attack leveraged two separate backdoor implants and a packer that appeared similar to those previously associated with the Lazarus group, he says.

"Lazarus Group was observed executing a large number of commands through 'cmd dot exe' and other native OS utilities throughout their time on the target network," making detection harder, Lawrence says.

He advises organizations that believe they are targets of interest for the Lazarus Group to have mechanisms for detecting such misuse of native OS technologies.

"These commands can blend in with standard activity, so it may not be possible to build high-fidelity detection for all the techniques used," he says.

Lazarus Group's activities are a continued threat and raise the need for awareness and ongoing vigilance among organizations operating in the targeted verticals, Lawrence says.

"It is F-Secure's assessment that the group will continue to target organizations within the cryptocurrency vertical while it remains such a profitable pursuit," he notes. "But [the group] may also expand to target supply chain elements of the vertical to increase returns and the longevity of the campaign."

In July, researchers from Kaspersky linked a custom strain of ransomware that leveraged VHD to the Lazarus Group. The self-replicating VHD ransomware, used in attacks on two targets in Asia and Europe in March and April, stood out for its use of a spreading utility compiled with credentials belonging to specific victims, according to Kaspersky. The security vendor said the campaign involving the VHD malware represented the Lazarus Group's first real foray into the ransomware space since WannaCry in 2016.

"The question we have to ask ourselves is whether these attacks are an isolated experiment or part of a new trend, and, consequently, whether private companies have to worry about becoming victims of state-sponsored threat actors," the vendor noted in its report.

In a separate report in July, Kaspersky said its investigation had shown Lazarus to also be developing a sophisticated cross-platform malware framework called MATA for delivering malware on systems running different operating systems. The security vendor said it had observed the framework being used in attacks on e-commerce sites, ISPs, and software developers in Germany, Japan, India, South Korea, and other countries. The threat actor appears to have invested a significant amount of resources in developing the framework, Kaspersky noted at the time.

"Any company can be the target of financially motivated attacks, whether it's state-sponsored or otherwise," KnowBe4's Smothers says. "The Lazarus Group will, of course, target all things cryptocurrency, but their use of ransomware will likely increase as this attack methodology remains profitable." 

Ransomware is profitable no matter the industry, adds Smothers, who recommends companies consider cyber insurance as part of their overall cyber training, protection, and recovery strategy.


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

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