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North Korean Cybercriminals Attempt to Steal $27M in ETH

Hacking organizations 'Lazarus' and 'APT38' supported by the North Korean government were responsible for the loss of $100 million worth of Ethereum from Harmony Horizon in June 2022. 

The funds and the seizure of stolen assets were reported to the authorities. The exploiters' activities closely resembled the attempt, which was undertaken on January 13, 2023, since more than $60 million was attempted to be laundered.

The Binance chain, Bitcoin, and Ethereum transfers are made possible through Harmony's Horizon Bridge. Numerous tokens worth $100,000,000  were taken from the network on June 23, 2022.

North Korean cybercriminals were actively shifting a portion of Harmony's Horizon bridge funds during the last weekend as the price of bitcoin approached $24,000. While several cryptocurrency exchanges instantly froze certain cash, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (CZ) claimed that some exchanges are not helpful in fighting crime, which made it easier to convert ETH to BTC.

According to reports, the APT38 was able to convert some of the $27 million in Ethers to Bitcoin and withdraw the money from exchanges. The Lazurus group has reportedly been shifting laundered money to a number of addresses in order to mask their true identity through multiple layers.

With the use of its Horizon Bridge, Harmony can transmit data to and from the Ethereum network, Binance Chain, and Bitcoin. On June 23, a number of tokens from the network valued at roughly $100 million were taken.

After the exploit, the Tornado Cash mixer processed 85,700 Ether, which was then deposited at various addresses. The hackers began transferring about $60 million of the stolen money via the Ethereum-based anonymity protocol RAILGUN on January 13. 350 addresses have been linked to the attack through numerous exchanges in an effort to escape detection, according to research by the cryptocurrency tracking tool MistTrack.

Cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance and Huobi have alerted authorities about stolen Harmony's Horizon Bridge funds by freezing them. This demonstrates how DeFi platforms and centralized exchanges are dependent on one another.





North Korean Hackers Target Crypto Users with Phony Job Offers

 

In an effort to commit cryptocurrency heists, North Korean hackers are exhibiting a "startup mentality," according to a report released on Wednesday by cybersecurity company Proofpoint. 

The Sunnyvale, California-based company claimed that in December, a group they call TA444, which is similar to the notorious hacking gang Lazarus, unleashed a massive wave of phishing assaults against the banking, education, government, and healthcare sectors in the United States and Canada. 

The group's emails adopted strategies that were distinct from the methods researchers had previously connected them with, such as attempts to obtain users' passwords and login information. 

According to the study, "this extensive credential harvesting operation is a variation from standard TA444 activities, which normally include the direct deployment of malware." 

The hackers generated information like job offers and salary modifications to entice targets and employed email marketing tools to get through phishing systems. In addition, they used LinkedIn, a social networking site, to communicate with victims before sending them links to malware, the report further reads. 

According to Proofpoint, the spam wave in December nearly doubled the number of emails the group sent over the whole year.

TA444 has a "startup attitude," according to Greg Lesnewich, senior threat researcher at Proofpoint, and is "trying a variety of infection chains to help grow its revenue streams." 

He claimed that the threat actor "embraces social media as part of their M.O. and quickly ideas new attack tactics." By bringing in movable money, TA444 "leads North Korea's cashflow generation for the leadership." 

North Korea, which is still subject to strict international sanctions, has grown more dependent on cybercrime to fund its illegal weapons programme. 

The astonishing heist of more than $600 million in bitcoin from an online video game network in March was perpetrated by a group with ties to Pyongyang, according to the FBI. 

On Monday, the FBI also declared that the Lazarus Group was in charge of a $100 million theft from Horizon Bridge, a cryptocurrency transfer service run by the American Harmony blockchain, in June. North Korea has stolen bitcoin assets worth $1.2 billion worldwide since 2017, with the majority of that value coming in 2022, as per South Korea's National Intelligence Service, which made the revelation last month. 

The spy service forewarned that Pyongyang was likely to speed up its efforts this year to obtain vital defence and intelligence technology from the South.

North Korea Uses Stolen Cryptoassets to fund its Nuclear Weapons Programs

International investigators and researchers have claimed that North Korea, in recent months is responsible for stealing $300 million worth of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which was done through hacking and other mass cyberattacks. 
 
The crypto assets are allegedly stolen in order to pay for North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In regards to this, a row has broken out in South Korean political circles over Korea's politicians’ and other leaders' ties to crypto developer Virgil Griffith. 
 
This development comes after North Korea’s missile launches have intensified in the past 10 days. In the wake of the recent nuclear attacks on the island of Hokkaido, more than 5 million Japanese citizens were urgently ordered to take cover as a protective measure. Pyongyang claims that these missile launches were “simulations” for nuclear attacks on South Korea. 
 
As per Military analysts, a large part of this missile launch is being funded, using the stolen cryptocurrency. North Korea is believed to have employed thousands of well-trained hackers, who have affected South Korean businesses and organizations. It has also been accused of exploiting its cyber skills for financial gains. 
 
According to Yonhap, one of South Korea's major news sources, the UN Security Council’s North Korea Sanctions Panel has blamed the North Korean cyber organization such as ‘Lazarus Group’ for Ronin Bridge and the Harmony bridge hack. 
 
As per the experts, the hermit state is utilizing the absence of worldwide regulatory constraints on cryptocurrencies, in order to steal cryptocurrencies to fund nuclear weapons and missile projects. 
 
In an interview with the VOA Korean Service, Jason Barlett, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) stated, “Cryptocurrency offers Pyongyang a new kind of currency that is substantially less regulated and understood by national governments, financial institutions, and institutions, and international organizations.”  
 
In accordance with a report by Nikkei Asia, North Korea is in the penultimate phase, to prepare for a nuclear weapon test, with such incidents pointing to the excavation of an underground tunnel and testing of triggering mechanisms.

North Korean Hackers Create Fake Job Offers to Target Industry Professionals Worldwide

 

ZINC, a sub-division of the notorious North Korean Lazarus hacking group, has been weaponizing open-source software with custom malware capable of data theft, espionage, financial gain and network disruption since June 2022. 

According to Microsoft threat analysts who unearthed a new phishing campaign, the malicious hackers have weaponized a wide range of open-source software including PuTTY, KiTTY, TightVNC, Sumatra PDF Reader, and muPDF/Subliminal Recording software installers to launch malware attacks against organizations in the aerospace, media, IT services, and defense sectors. 

Hackers exploiting social media platforms 

The next time you receive a text on LinkedIn, scan it twice. Microsoft warns that the APT group has been actively employing open-source software infected with trojans to target industry professionals located in India, Russia, the UK, and the USA. 

The hackers pose as job recruiters and connect with individuals of targeted organizations over LinkedIn. Once the victims are convinced to move the conversation over from LinkedIn to WhatsApp, which provides encrypted communication, the hackers moved on to the next step. During the WhatsApp conversation, the targets receive malicious software that allows ZINC to install malware on their systems. 

LinkedIn’s threat prevention and defense team confirmed spotting bogus profiles designed by North Korean hackers mimicking recruiters working at prominent media, defense, and tech firms. It is worth noting that LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft Corporation since 2016. 

Attacking methodology 

According to a joint blog post by Microsoft Security Threat Intelligence and LinkedIn Threat Prevention and Defense, the malicious KiTTY and PuTTY applications employs a sophisticated technique to ensure that only selected targets are compromised with malware and not others. 

To achieve this, the app installers do not drop malware directly but are installed only when the apps link to a specific IP address and employ login credentials given to the targets by fake recruiters. The malicious actors also employ DLL search order hijacking to install and decrypt a second-stage payload when this key ‘0CE1241A44557AA438F27BC6D4ACA246’ is presented for command and control.

Microsoft has published the full list of IoCs (indicators of compromise) discovered during investigations in their blog post and is urging the cybersecurity community to remain vigilant, given its extensive usage and use of authentic software products. 

"Zinc attacks appear to be motivated by traditional cyberespionage, theft of personal and corporate data, financial gain, and corporate network destruction," the company stated. “Zinc attacks bear many hallmarks of state-sponsored activities, such as heightened operational security, sophisticated malware that evolves over time, and politically motivated targeting."

Lazarus Hackers Employed Spear-Phishing Campaign to Target European Workers

 

ESET researchers have spotted the infamous Lazarus APT group installing a Windows rootkit that exploits a Dell hardware driver in a Bring Your Own Vulnerable Driver (BYOVD) attack. 

In a spear-phishing campaign that began in the autumn of 2021 and ran until March 2022, the hackers targeted an employee of an aerospace company in the Netherlands and a political journalist in Belgium. 

Exploiting Dell driver for BYOVD assaults 

According to ESET, the malicious campaign was mostly geared toward attacking European contractors with fake job offers. The hackers exploited LinkedIn and WhatsApp by posing as recruiters to deliver malicious components disguised as job descriptions or application forms. 

Upon clicking on these documents, a remote template was downloaded from a hardcoded address, followed by infections involving malware loaders, droppers, custom backdoors, and more. 

The most notable tool delivered in this campaign was a new FudModule rootkit that employs a BYOVD (Bring Your Own Vulnerable Driver) methodology to exploit a security bug in a Dell hardware driver.

The hackers were exploiting the vulnerability tracked CVE-2021-21551 in a Dell hardware driver (“dbutil_2_3.sys”), which corresponds to a set of five flaws that remained susceptible for 12 years before the computer vendor finally published security patches for it. 

The APT group employed Bring Your Own Vulnerable Driver (BYOVD) technique to install authentic, signed drivers in Windows that also contain known vulnerabilities. As the kernel drivers are signed, Windows allowed the driver to be installed in the operating system. However, the hackers can now exploit the driver’s flaws to launch commands with kernel-level privileges. 

Last year in December, Rapid 7 researchers issued a warning regarding this specific driver being a perfect match for BYOVD assaults due to Dell’s inadequate fixes, allowing kernel code execution even on recent, signed versions. It appears that Lazarus was familiar with this potential for exploitation and abused the Dell driver well before threat analysts issued their public warnings. 

“The attackers then used their kernel memory write access to disable seven mechanisms the Windows operating system offers to monitor its actions, like registry, file system, process creation, event tracing, etc., basically blinding security solutions in a very generic and robust way,” researchers explained. 

The APT group also delivered its trademark custom HTTP(S) backdoor ‘BLINDINGCAN,’ first unearthed by U.S. intelligence in August 2020 and linked to Lazarus by Kaspersky in October last year. Other tools deployed in the spear-phishing campaign are the FudModule Rootkit, an HTTP(S) uploader employed for secure data theft, and multiple trojanized open-source apps like wolfSSL and FingerText.

North Korean Hackers Exploit Systems via Deploying PuTTY SSH Tool

An attack using a new spear phishing tactic that makes use of trojanized variants of the PuTTY SSH and Telnet client has been discovered with a North Korea link.

The malicious actors identified by Mandiant as the source of such effort is 'UNC4034', also referred to as Temp.Hermit or Labyrinth Chollima. Mandiant asserted that the UNC4034 technique was currently changing.

UNC4034 made contact with the victim via WhatsApp and tricked them into downloading a malicious ISO package in the form of a bogus job offer. This caused the AIRDRY.V2 backdoor to be installed via a trojanized PuTTY instance. 

As part of a long-running operation called Operation Dream Job, North Korean state-sponsored hackers frequently use fake job lures as a means of spreading malware. One such group is the Lazarus Group. 

The ios file had a bogus amazon job offer which was the entry point for hackers to breach data. After making initial contact via email, the file was exchanged over WhatsApp. 

The archive itself contains a text file with an IP address and login information, as well as a modified version of PuTTY that loads a dropper named DAVESHELL that installs a newer version of a backdoor known as AIRDRY. 

The threat actor probably persuaded the victim to open a PuTTY session and connect to the remote host using the credentials listed in the TXT file, therefore initiating the infection. Once the program has been launched, it makes an effort to persist by adding a new, scheduled task every day at 10:30 a.m. local time.

After a target responds to a fake job lure, the criminals may use a variety of malware delivery methods, according to Mandiant. 

The most recent version of the virus has been found to forego the command-based method in favor of plugins which are downloaded and processed in memory, in contrast to prior versions of the malware that included roughly 30 commands for transferring files, file systems, and command execution.

Several technical indicators are also included in the Mandiant alert to aid businesses in identifying UNC4034-related activities. Days before its publication, US authorities confiscated $30 million in North Korean cryptocurrency that had been stolen.

U.S. Bans Crypto Mixing Service Tornado Cash

A 29-year-old man was detained in Amsterdam on Friday, per the Dutch tax authorities investigative department, who suspects him of working as a developer for Tornado Cash, a cryptocurrency mixing business that the US had earlier in the week sanctioned. 

The Dutch agency's action further demonstrates the increasing interest that governments are showing in so-called crypto mixers. Another cryptocurrency mixing service, Blender, received approval from the Office of Foreign Asset Control earlier this year. 

Sanctions against the service were imposed by the US Treasury Department on Monday. According to reports, North Korean state hackers used Tornado Cash to hide billions of dollars.

The Block identified the Tornado Cash engineer as Alexey Pertsev despite FIOD concealing his name. Tornado Cash, as per FIOD, "has been utilized to mask large-scale criminal money flows, particularly from data thefts of cryptocurrencies so-called crypto hacks and scams," the organization claimed.

The platform works by pooling and scrambling different digital assets from thousands of addresses, including money that might have been obtained illegally as well as money that might have been obtained legally, to hide the trail back to the asset's original source, giving criminals a chance to hide the source of the stolen money.  

After the U.S. sanction, a variety of companies have banned or deleted accounts connected to Tornado Cash, including GitHub, Circle, Alchemy, and Infura.

On the news, the Tornado Cash token TORN fell from $16.5 to $13.7, furthering this month's fall. According to CoinMarketCap, the token's decline during the past seven days has exceeded 50%.

The latest findings point to the greater attention of bitcoin mixing services for what is believed to be a means of paying out illicitly obtained cryptocurrency. 

This includes the indebted North Korean government, which is known to rely on cyberattacks on the cryptocurrency industry to steal virtual money and circumvent trade and economic sanctions placed on the country. 




               

US State Department Offers $10 Million for Information on North Korean Hackers

 

The US government has disclosed it is offering up to $10m as a reward for information on people linked with North Korean state-sponsored hacking groups. 

The US State Department revealed Tuesday it is interested in information on hackers that are part of groups including Lazarus Group, Guardians of Peace, Kimsuky, and APT38 amongst others. 

“If you have information on any individuals associated with North Korean government-linked malicious cyber groups (such as Andariel, APT38, Bluenoroff, Guardians of Peace, Kimsuky, or Lazarus Group) and who are involved in targeting US critical infrastructure in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, you may be eligible for a reward,” read a notice posted to Twitter. 

The North Korean hacking group is the only one to be called out by name on the Rewards for Justice site, which otherwise explains the purpose of the program is to generate useful information “that protects Americans and furthers US national security.” It says rewards are also offered for information on “the financial mechanisms of individuals engaged in certain activities to support the North Korean regime.” 

The amount is double the bounty the government offered in March 2022 for information on DPRK-backed hackers targeting crypto exchanges and financial institutions worldwide to support the Kim Jong-un regime's illegal operations. 

Lazarus, for example, has been blamed for various high-profile cyberattacks, including the world’s biggest ever crypto-heist when $618m was stolen from Vietnamese developer Sky Mavis and its Ronin Network. In 2020, the hackers exfiltrated $281m from Singapore-headquartered cryptocurrency exchange KuCoin. 

The North Korean hackers have also infiltrated mobile phones of well-known personalities, including particular South Korean legislators, to obtain their private data, claimed Mun Chong Hyun, head of the EST security response center (ESRC). He said hackers target organizations on North Korea's websites or build counterfeit Facebook accounts for those functioning in the North Korean industry on an ongoing basis. 

Last year, the US Department of Justice unsealed a federal incitement of several suspected members of the infamous Lazarus Group (APT38), said to be linked to military intelligence agency the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB). However, North Korea is a notoriously secretive and globally isolated state, making traditional intelligence-gathering efforts challenging. 

In 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department banned three North Korean hacking groups (Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel) for funneling financial assets they stole in cyberattacks to the North Korean government.

North Korean Hackers Employ H0lyGh0st Ransomware to Target Businesses

 

Researchers from Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) this week claimed that the North Korean hackers are employing the H0lyGh0st ransomware to target small and midsize businesses worldwide. 

The hacking group, which calls itself H0lyGh0st and is tracked by Microsoft as DEV-0530, has been employing ransomware since at least June 2021 and has successfully exploited multiple businesses since September 2021. 

The activities of DEV-0530 are similar to other ransomware gangs out there. The group engages in double extortion, threatening to publish personal data stolen from victims unless a ransom is paid. 

In recent years, North Korean hackers have siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign businesses to help their country which is struggling economically due to the U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is equally possible that the hackers are employing ransomware for personal gain, which could explain an “often-random selection of victims.” 

According to Microsoft, the activities of DEV-0530 are partially linked to a group known as Plutonium (also known as DarkSeoul or Andariel). Both groups have been spotted operating from the same infrastructure, employing custom malware controllers with similar names, and emailing accounts belonging to each other. 

“MSTIC has observed known DEV-0530 email accounts communicating with known PLUTONIUM attacker accounts. MSTIC has also observed both groups operating from the same infrastructure set, and even using custom malware controllers with similar names,” Microsoft says. 

The researchers also identified that the hacker’s activities are consistent with the UTC+9 time zone employed in North Korea. DEV-0530’s first malicious payload was spotted in June last year, BLTC_C.exe, which was classified as SiennaPurple, despite its lack of complexity compared to other variants in the same ransomware family. More powerful derivatives of the malware were released later, between October 2021 and May 2022, and were based on the Go programming language. 

In November 2021 DEV-0530 successfully exploited several small-to-midsized businesses in the manufacturing, finance, education, and event and meeting planning sectors in multiple nations. Likely opportunistic, the attacks exploited vulnerabilities such as CVE-2022-26352 on public-facing web assets for initial access. 

Subsequently, the hackers would steal “a full copy of the victims’ files” and then shift to encrypt the contents on the system, appending the .h0lyenc extension to impacted files. In addition to dropping a ransom note, the attackers emailed the victim to inform them that their data was stolen and encrypted by H0lyGh0st. 

“Based on our investigation, the attackers frequently asked victims for anywhere from 1.2 to 5 Bitcoins. However, the attackers were usually willing to negotiate and, in some cases, lowered the price to less than one-third of the initial asking price. As of early July 2022, a review of the attackers’ wallet transactions shows that they have not successfully extorted ransom payments from their victims,” Microsoft researchers explained.

North Korea: Maui Ransomware Attacks Healthcare Services

 

North Korean state-sponsored hackers are using Maui to encrypt computers and data for vital healthcare services, including electronic health records, diagnostics, imaging, and intranet. A joint advisory from the FBI, the Treasury Department, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) describes a ransomware campaign that Pyongyang has been executing at least since May 2021. 

Traits of threat actors

It is unknown how these threat actors enter organizations through the initial access vector. The less well-known ransomware family stands out, according to cybersecurity firm Stairwell, since it lacks numerous essential characteristics typically found in ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) groups. Stairwell's findings served as the basis for the alert. 

The lack of an "embedded ransom letter to provide recovery instructions or automated means of transferring encryption keys to attackers" is one analogy of this, according to security expert Silas Cutler in a technical analysis of the ransomware.

Instead, Maui sample analysis indicates that the malware is made to be manually executed by a remote actor using a command-line interface, utilizing it to target particular files on the compromised machine for encryption, as recently seen in the case of Bronze Starlight.

Each of these keys is then encrypted with RSA using a key pair generated for the first time when Maui is launched, in addition to encrypting target files with AES 128-bit encryption with a new key. The RSA keys are encrypted using a hard-coded, particular-to-each-campaign RSA public key as a third-degree of security.

The fact that Maui is not provided as a service to other affiliates for use in exchange for a cut of the money earned is another thing that sets it apart from other conventional ransomware products. 

Why is DPRK targeting healthcare?

Ransomware is highly hazardous in the healthcare industry. Such businesses often don't provide cybersecurity much attention or funds. Hospitals and other similar organizations also own critical medical and health data prone to abuse. Furthermore, such facilities cannot afford to be shut down for an extended period, which increases the possibility that they might pay the ransom to resume services.

Although these North Korean-sponsored ransomware operations targeting healthcare companies have been occurring for a year, iboss claims that they have increased significantly and become more sophisticated since then. It's the most recent example of how North Korean enemies are changing their strategies to shadily produce an ongoing flow of income for the country's struggling economy. 

The ransomware attacks are alleged to have temporarily or permanently affected health services in several cases. It is currently uncertain what infection vector was first used to carry out the incursions. Only 2% of those who paid the ransom in 2021 received their whole data recovered, according to the Sophos' State of Ransomware in Healthcare 2022 report. This compares to the global average of 46%. 

Lazarus Group Responsible For $100M Crypto-Heist


Cyber security researchers have found Lazarus Group responsible for stealing $100m worth of crypto via Harmony's Horizon Bridge, a California-based company. Lazarus group is a popular North Korean state-sponsored hacking group that was also behind $620 million worth of crypto theft from the Ronin exchange in March. 

Following the incident, the Harmony cybersecurity team was warned of the attack last week by blockchain forensics company Elliptic that the institution has been attacked by a cross-chain bridge. 

“There are strong indications that North Korea’s Lazarus Group may be responsible for this theft, based on the nature of the hack and the subsequent laundering of the stolen funds,” Elliptic wrote. 

Additionally, Reuters reported that Chainalysis, a blockchain firm is also investigating with Harmony; it claims that the attack style is similar to previous attacks attributed to North Korea-linked actors.

“On Thursday, June 23, 2022, the Harmony Protocol team was notified of a malicious attack on our proprietary Horizon Ethereum Bridge. At 5:30 AM PST, multiple transactions occurred that compromised the bridge with 11 transactions that extracted tokens stored in the bridge,” the company said in its blog. 

As the name suggests, Blockchain bridges allow users to transfer their crypto assets from one blockchain to another. The malicious actors stole $100 million in crypto assets, including Ethereum (ETH), Binance Coin, Tether, USD Coin, EOS, and Dai. 

Elliptic said that the hack was carried out by compromising the cryptographic keys of a multi-signature wallet, a technique that is popularly used by the suspected groups. 

“Lazarus Group tends to focus on APAC-based targets, perhaps for language reasons referring to the Asia-Pacific region. Although Harmony is based in the US, many of the core team has links to the APAC region,” Elliptic added. 

Further, the report suggests that after two days of attack Harmony offered to pay a $1 million bounty to the group for the return of Horizon bridge funds. Also, researchers reported that they have found the offenders behind the $100 million hack.

FBI: North Korean Hackers Stole $600M+ Worth Cryptocurrency

 

The FBI accused North Korean government associated hackers of stealing more than $600 million in bitcoin from a video game company last month, the latest in a sequence of sophisticated cyber thefts linked to Pyongyang. 

The FBI said in a statement, "Through our investigation we were able to confirm Lazarus Group and APT38, cyber actors associated with the DPRK, are responsible for the theft of $620 million in Ethereum reported on March 29th." "DPRK" is an abbreviation for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and Ethereum is a technology platform linked with a type of cryptocurrency. 

The FBI was referring to the recent hack of Axie Infinity's computer network, which allows gamers to win cryptocurrency. Undiscovered hackers stole the equivalent of about $600 million — estimated at the time of the hack's detection — on March 23 from a "bridge," or network that allows users to transmit cryptocurrency from one blockchain to another, according to Sky Mavis, the business that developed Axie Infinity. 

The US Treasury Department sanctioned Lazarus Group, a large group of hackers suspected of working for the North Korean government, on Thursday. The precise "wallet," or bitcoin address, that was utilised to cash out on the Axie Infinity hack was sanctioned by the Treasury Department.

According to a United Nations panel and outside cybersecurity experts, cyberattacks have been a major source of revenue for the North Korean state for years as its leader, Kim Jong Un, pursued nuclear weapons. North Korea is reported to have fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile in more than four years last month. According to Chainalysis, a company that records digital currency transactions, the Lazarus Group has stolen an estimated $1.75 billion in cryptocurrencies in recent years. 

Ari Redbord, head of legal affairs at TRM Labs, a firm that investigates financial crime said,"A hack of a cryptocurrency business, unlike a retailer, for example, is essentially bank robbery at the speed of the internet and funds North Korea's destabilizing activity and weapons proliferation. As long as they are successful and profitable, they will not stop." 

While much of the focus of cybersecurity analysts has been on Russian hacking in the wake of the Ukraine conflict, suspected North Korean hackers have been far from silent. Last month, Google researchers revealed two separate suspected North Korean cyber attempts aimed at US media and IT businesses, as well as the bitcoin and financial technology industries. Users who are targeted by state-sponsored hackers are notified by Google. 

If a Google user has "any link to being active in Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies" and receives a warning from Google about state-backed hacking, it nearly invariably turns out to be North Korean activity, according to Shane Huntley, who leads Google's Threat Analysis Group.

Further, Huntley told CNN, "It seems to be an ongoing strategy for them to supplement and make money through this activity." 

Kimsuky Hackers Employ Commodity RATs with Custom Gold Dragon Backdoor

 

Researchers in South Korea have discovered a fresh wave of activity from the Kimsuky hacking organization, employing commodity open-source remote access tools distributed with their own backdoor, Gold Dragon. Kimsuky, also known as TA406, is a North Korean state-sponsored hacker group that has been actively engaging in cyber-espionage efforts since 2017. The organization has shown amazing operational adaptability and threat activity diversity, participating in malware distribution, phishing, data harvesting, and even cryptocurrency theft. 

Beginning in January 2021, TA406 began delivering malware payloads through phishing emails that led to 7z archives. These archives contained an EXE file with a double extension that made it appear to be a .HTML file. If the file is opened, it will launch a scheduled activity called "Twitter Alarm," which will allow the actors to drop new payloads every 15 minutes. When run, the EXE opens a web browser to a PDF version of a valid NK News item housed on the actor's infrastructure, hoping to fool the victim into thinking they're reading a post on a news site. 

Kimsuky used xRAT in targeted assaults against South Korean entities in the most recent campaign, as discovered by experts at ASEC (AhnLab). The campaign began on January 24, 2022. xRAT is a free and open-source remote access and administration program that may be downloaded from GitHub. Keylogging, remote shell, file manager operations, reverse HTTPS proxy, AES-128 communication, and automated social engineering are among the functions provided by the malware. 

A sophisticated threat actor may choose to deploy commodity RATs for basic reconnaissance activities and do not require much configuration. This enables threat actors to concentrate their efforts on designing later-stage malware that necessitates more specialized functionality dependent on the security tools/practices available on the target. 

Kimsuky often deploys Gold Dragon as a second-stage backdoor after a fileless PowerShell-based first-stage assault that employs steganography. This malware has been recorded in a 2020 report by Cybereason and a 2021 analysis by Cisco Talos researchers, therefore it is not new. However, as ASEC describes in its study, the variation found in this latest campaign has additional functions such as the exfiltration of basic system information. 

The malware no longer leverages system processes for this operation, instead installs the xRAT tool to manually steal the required information. The RAT disguises itself as an executable called cp1093.exe, which copies a regular PowerShell process (powershell_ise.exe) to the “C:\ProgramData\” path and executes via process hollowing.

 Lazarus APT Cell Exploits the Windows Update Client

 

According to experts at a cyber security agency, Lazarus, a notable hacking organization with ties to the North Korean government, has been utilizing the Windows Update client to spread malware as part of a new spear-phishing effort.

The North Korean nation-state hacking outfit known as the Lazarus Group, formerly as APT38, Hidden Cobra, Whois Hacking Team, and Zinc, has been operating since at least 2009. The threat actor was tied to a sophisticated social engineering campaign aimed at security experts last year. 

The two macro-embedded messages seem to be enticing the targets about new Lockheed Martin job opportunities: 
  • Lockheed Martin JobOpportunities.docx 
  • Salary Lockheed Martin job opportunities confidential.doc 

Both of these documents were created on April 24, 2020, but enough evidence leads us to believe it was leveraged in a campaign between late December 2021 and early 2022. The threat actor's domains are one of the pieces of evidence that this attack took place recently. The attack begins with the malicious macros hidden in the Word document being executed. 

The malware executes a series of implants in order to gain startup persistence on the target computer and inserts code into the computer's restart system to ensure a restart does not knock down the virus.

Researchers discovered evidence that the threat group used GitHub as a command and control (C2) site for its attacks. Lazarus' use of GitHub as a C2 is unusual, according to the researchers, who claim this is the first time a group is seen to be doing so. The threat group was found to be utilizing GitHub as a command and control (C2) site for its attacks. According to the researchers, Lazarus' usage of GitHub as a C2 is uncommon. 

The campaign's attribution to the Lazarus APT is based on different facts as stated below: 
  • The usage of employment opportunities as a template is something Lazarus has done before.
  • Defense industry targets, particularly Lockheed Martin, are well-known targets for North Korean-linked APT. 
  • The metadata utilized in this campaign connects the documents to various other materials used by Lazarus previously.

North Korean Hackers Attack Russian Diplomats

 

American information security experts from Cluster25 and Black Lotus Labs discovered cyberattacks on employees of the Russian Foreign Ministry before the New Year holidays. They were allegedly carried out by the North Korean hacker group Konni. 

According to Black Lotus Labs, the attackers began a phishing campaign back in October. They sent some diplomats archives with information about vaccination data and sent others links to download a fake program for registering vaccinated people on the federal vaccine registry. As a result, the account of one of the employees of the Foreign Ministry (mshhlystova@mid.ru) was compromised. From this address, hackers sent a phishing email to Deputy Minister Sergei Ryabkov at SRyabkov@mid.ru on December 20. 

In addition, Cluster25 reported that another letter, which contained an infected archive was sent on December 20 to the Russian Embassy in Indonesia, the sender was listed as the diplomatic mission in Serbia. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the attack was real. "However, the attack was timely detected and localized by standard means of active protection of the ministry's information infrastructure and did not spread further," the Foreign Ministry said. The ministry stressed that the phishing attack had no destructive impact on the information infrastructure of the Foreign Ministry. 

As Anastasia Tikhonova, the head of the Group-IB threat research group explained, American experts could take examples of emails from the VirusTotal (VT) service, which analyzes suspicious files. According to her, one of these letters was posted there on the day of the attack, December 20. 

It should be noted that the Konni group (APT37) has been known since 2017. In its attacks, it used, in particular, documents related to Russia-DPRK relations, taking texts from public sources. Kaspersky Lab cybersecurity expert Denis Legezo said that Konni can send a corrupted PDF file. The recipient cannot open it, and attackers under the guise of a reader send him an infected program.

Lazarus, Cobalt, and FIN7 Cyber Groups Allegedly Opened Fire on the Financial Industry

 

A study titled "Follow the Money" by Outpost24's Blueliv that addressed the financial sector, aims to identify and follow groups that are big perpetrators of financial theft and fraud. The Lazarus, Cobalt, and FIN7 threat groups were determined to be the most common threat actors targeting financial institutions. As the Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the situation by disrupting training and operations, it's no surprise that cyber attacks on financial institutions are on the rise. 

Attacking banks provide various possibilities for profit for cybercriminals through extortion, theft, and fraud, while nation-states and hacktivists also target the financial industry for political and ideological leverage. The Strategic Technologies Program investigates the evolution of cyber risks to the financial system, as well as legal and regulatory attempts to improve its defenses.

Lazarus is a North Korean state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) group that has been linked to high-profile assaults on Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Bangladesh Bank via SWIFT, and the WannaCry ransomware epidemic in 2017. Banks, casinos, financial investing software producers, and crypto-currency enterprises are among the companies involved. 

The group's virus has lately been discovered in 18 nations around the world. A vulnerability in one of the targeted organization's servers is discovered by the Lazarus team. It infects a website that was accessed by employees of a particular organization, uses malware to access the target's IT infrastructure, and finds a server running SWIFT software. This group tries to drain the company's accounts by downloading new malware that could communicate with SWIFT software. 

Cobalt has been linked to attacks against financial institutions around the world, resulting in the theft of millions of dollars, since at least 2016. It first appeared on the scene with an ATM jackpotting attack on a Taiwanese bank. Despite the arrests, the gang is believed to be still functioning. To break into networks, the Cobalt group uses social engineering—users open infected attachments from phishing emails that are disguised to look like messages from reputable corporations and regulatory agencies. These attachments contain a document file that either downloads or contains a dropper in a password-protected archive from a remote server.

Another important, profit-driven threat group is FIN7, which specializes in Business Email Compromise (BEC) and the deployment of Point-of-Sale (PoS) malware designed to steal large amounts of customer credit card information from businesses. While banking and finance cybersecurity tactics are evolving, there are still numerous improvements that can be addressed, according to Blueliv.

To Target Security Firms, the Zinc Group Disguised as Samsung Recruiters

 

According to Google TAG researchers, a spear-phishing campaign targeting South Korean security organisations that market anti-malware solutions was carried out by a North Korean-linked APT group posing as Samsung recruiters. The state-sponsored hackers, according to the Google Threat Horizons report, issued false job offers to employees at security firms. In previous campaigns, the same gang, known as Zinc, attacked security experts, according to Google TAG researchers. 

“TAG observed a North Korean government-backed attacker group that previously targeted security researchers posing as recruiters at Samsung and sending fake job opportunities to employees at multiple South Korean information security companies that sell anti-malware solutions.” reads the Google Threat Horizons report. 

According to Google, the emails included a PDF that purported to be a job description for a position at Samsung, but the PDFs were malformed and wouldn't open in a conventional PDF reader. If the targets complained that they couldn't open the job offer archive, the hackers promised to assist them by providing a link to a "Secure PDF Reader" app that they could download. 

Google, on the other hand, claims that this file was a modified version of PDFTron, a genuine PDF reader, that was altered to install a backdoor trojan on the victims' machines. 

The Zinc APT group, also known as Lazarus, increased its activities in 2014 and 2015, and its members generally utilised custom-tailored malware in their assaults. This threat actor has been active since at least 2009, and potentially as early as 2007, and has been involved in both cyber espionage and sabotage campaigns aiming at destroying data and disrupting systems. 

The threat actor's methods have baffled the security community, which believes the organisation tried to obtain unreleased vulnerabilities and exploits from some of their naive and negligent members, as tracked by Microsoft under the codename "Zinc." 

 The attacks were ascribed to the same team of North Korean hackers who previously attacked security researchers on Twitter and other social networks in late 2020 and into 2021, according to the Google Threat Analysis Group, the Google security team that discovered the malicious emails. 

 The attack against South Korean antivirus makers could be different since compromising their employees could give the group access to the tools they need to launch a targeted supply chain attack on South Korean enterprises that use their anti-malware software.

North Korean hacker group Kimsuky started attacking Russian political scientists

The American cybersecurity company Proofpoint has discovered that the Kimsuky hacker group, presumably from North Korea, is attacking Russian scientists, foreign policy experts, and non-governmental organizations that deal with various issues of interaction with the DPRK.

It follows from the company's research that hackers send phishing emails to Korean experts on behalf of well-known experts in the Russian Federation.

Alexey Pavlov, Business Development Director of the center for countering cyberattacks Solar JSOC Rostelecom-Solar, explained that the letters contain a link, upon clicking on which the user sees a window for entering a login and password. This is similar to a Windows pop-up window for password-protected network resources. According to the attackers' plan, the victim must enter his credentials. Since the unsecured HTTP protocol is used, hackers get the credentials in cleartext.

The Proofpoint study provides an example of such a letter in Russian, allegedly on behalf of the Executive director of the National Committee for BRICS Research, Georgy Toloraya. “Mass mailings are being sent from fake addresses opened in my name,” he confirmed, adding that the signature was copied from old letters.

"Positive Technologies specialists recorded Kimsuky attacks using Korean themes in August," says Denis Kuvshinov, head of the company's threat research department.

According to Group-IB experts, over the past year, Kimsuky has been quite active in conducting cyber espionage operations not only against South Korea but also countries that support it.

The group has been carrying out thematic attacks since 2018. In 2020, it attacked Russian military and industrial organizations.

Experts believe that Kimsuky will try to purposefully extract valuable documents from specific officials and employees of research organizations. Kimsuky can connect infected computers to a botnet or steal access to crypto wallets.

TA406 APT Group, Which is Tied to North Korea, has Increased its Attacks

 

In 2021, a North Korean-linked threat actor known as TA406 ramped up its attacks, including credential harvesting activities, according to Proofpoint. The adversary, also known as Kimsuky, Thallium, and Konni by security researchers, has been attacking companies in sectors like education, government, media, and research, as well as other businesses. According to Proofpoint, TA406 is the most closely associated with Kimsuky activity, which is tracked by the security firm as three distinct threat actors: TA406, TA408, and TA427.

Kaspersky researchers initially discovered the TA406 cyberespionage group in 2013. The US-CERT published a report on Kimusky's latest operations towards the end of October 2020, detailing their TTPs and infrastructure. The APT group primarily targeted South Korean think tanks and organizations, with victims in the United States, Europe, and Russia. 

“Our analysts have tracked TA406 campaigns targeting customers since 2018, but the threat actor’s campaigns remained low in volume until the beginning of January 2021,” the company said. 

During the first half of the year, Proofpoint noticed weekly attacks against journalists, foreign policy experts, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly those related to actions that affect the Korean Peninsula. Journalists and academics were also targeted. TA406 targeted high-ranking political figures at numerous governmental institutions, and consultancy firms, defense institutions, law enforcement agencies, and economic and financial organizations, as part of their March 2021 campaign. 

Amadey, Android Moez, BabyShark, CARROTBAT/CARROTBALL, FatBoy, KONNI, SANNY, and YoreKey are among the malware families used. It also appears that NavRAT and QuasarRAT were used. 

“Generally, TA406 phishing campaigns focus on individuals in North America, Russia, and China, with the actors frequently masquerading as Russian diplomats and academics, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, human rights officials, or Korean individuals. TA406 has also targeted individuals and organizations related to cryptocurrency for the purpose of financial gain.” reads the report. 

According to the security experts, TA406 has been involved in financially motivated assaults, such as sextortion and the targeting of cryptocurrency, just like other North Korean state-sponsored actors. “Proofpoint assesses with high confidence that TA406 operates on behalf of the North Korean government. Proofpoint anticipates this threat actor will continue to conduct corporate credential theft operations frequently, targeting entities of interest to the North Korean government,” the security firm notes.

North Korean Hackers Targeting Security Researchers with Trojanized IDA Pro

 

A North Korea-linked hacking group known as Lazarus is likely behind a compromised version of a popular IDA Pro reverse engineering application, in the second Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) assault against cybersecurity researchers discovered this year.

IDA Pro is an application that converts an executable file into assembly language, allowing cybersecurity experts and programmers to examine legitimate software for bugs and to determine malicious behavior. 

Due to its high cost, some researchers often download a pirated cracked version; as with any pirated software, there is always the risk of running malicious executables. This is exactly what ESET researcher Anton Cherepanov spotted in a compromised version of IDA Pro 7.5, distributed by the Lazarus hacker group. 

Threat actors inject two malicious DLLs named idahelp.dll and win_fw.dll into the IDA pro installer that will be launched when the program is installed. The win_fw.dll file manufactures a new task in the Windows Task Scheduler that executes the idahelper.dll program. 

The idahelper.dll will then link to the devguardmap[.]org site and install malicious payloads believed to be the NukeSped remote access trojan. The installed RAT will allow the cybercriminals to gain access to the security researcher's device to steal files, take screenshots, log keystrokes, or execute further commands. 

"Based on the domain and trojanized application, we attribute this malware to known Lazarus activity, previously reported by Google's Threat Analysis Group and Microsoft," ESET tweeted regarding connection to Lazarus.

A North Korean hacking group, tracked as Zinc by Microsoft, has a long history of targeting security researchers with backdoors and remote access trojans. Earlier this year in January, Google revealed that Lazarus designed a plot to launch a mass-scale social media campaign to create fake personas posing as vulnerability researchers. 

Using these personas, the hackers contact other security researchers regarding potential collaboration in vulnerability research. After establishing contact with a researcher, the hackers sent malicious Visual Studio projects with malware as prebuilt binaries. This includes the Comebacker dynamic link library (DLL) which attempts to perform privilege escalation for processes and the Klackring DLL that registers malicious services on the researcher's device. 

APT groups in North Korea are increasing with each passing day and are directly linked to the regime of Kim Jong Un. Lazarus is the largest and most prolific of those groups and is believed to be responsible for an attack on COVID-19 vaccine makers in December 2020, to steal intellectual property.