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US Defense Contractors Struck by SockDetour Windows backdoor

Unit 42 has evidence of at least four defense contractors being targeted by this campaign, with a compromise of at least one contractor.

 

SockDetour, a new custom malware discovered on US defence contractor computers, has been utilised as a backup backdoor to sustain access to hijacked networks. 

The malicious payload was discovered by Unit 42 security researchers, who believe its administrators kept it hidden for a long time because it has been utilised in the open since at least July 2019. The fact that SockDetour "operates filelessly and socketlessly" on compromised Windows servers by hijacking network connections explains its stealthiness, making it much difficult to identify at the host and network levels. 

The connection hijacking is carried out with the help of the official Microsoft Detours library package, which is used for monitoring and instrumenting Windows API calls.

Unit 42 explained, “With such implementation, SockDetour [..] serves as a backup backdoor in case the primary backdoor is detected and removed by defenders." 

The threat actors utilised a very precise delivery server in one of the attacks, QNAP network-attached storage (NAS) device commonly used by small businesses that had earlier been infected with QLocker ransomware — they most likely utilised the same security vulnerability (the CVE-2021-28799 remote code execution bug) to acquire access to the server. 

On July 27, 2021, the researchers discovered the malware on the Windows server of at least one US defence contractor, which led to the identification of three additional defence organisations being attacked by the same group with the same backdoor. 

"Based on Unit 42’s telemetry data and the analysis of the collected samples, we believe the threat actor behind SockDetour has been focused on targeting U.S.-based defence contractors using the tools. Unit 42 has evidence of at least four defence contractors being targeted by this campaign, with a compromise of at least one contractor," researchers explained. 

What is SockDetour?

The SockDetour backdoor was earlier linked to attacks exploiting various vulnerabilities in Zoho products, including ManageEngine ADSelfService Plus (CVE-2021-40539) and ServiceDesk Plus (CVE-2021-44077), by an APT activity cluster tracked by Unit 42 as TiltedTemple. While Unit 42 analysts suspected in November that the TiltedTemple campaign was the work of a Chinese-sponsored threat group known as APT27, the firm did not link the SockDetour malware to a specific hacking group. 

The partial attribution is based on techniques and harmful tools that match APT27's earlier activities, as well as similar cyber espionage targeting of the same industries (e.g., defence, technology, energy, aerospace, government, and manufacturing). TiltedTemple attacks targeting Zoho vulnerabilities resulted in the compromise of critical infrastructure organisations' networks. 

In three separate campaigns in 2021, TiltedTemple assaults targeting Zoho vulnerabilities resulted in the penetration of networks belonging to critical infrastructure organisations around the world, using: 
• an ADSelfService zero-day exploit between early-August and mid-September, 
• an n-day AdSelfService exploit until late October, 
• and a ServiceDesk one starting with October 25.
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