Korea In The Crosshairs

This blog post is authored by Warren Mercer and Paul Rascagneres and with contributions from Jungsoo An.

This article exposes the malicious activities of Group 123 during 2017. We assess with high confidence that Group 123 was responsible for the following six campaigns:

  • “Golden Time” campaign.
  • “Evil New Year” campaign.
  • “Are you Happy?” campaign.
  • “FreeMilk” campaign.
  • “North Korean Human Rights” campaign.
  • “Evil New Year 2018” campaign.

On January 2nd of 2018, the “Evil New Year 2018” was started. This campaign copies the approach of the 2017 “Evil New Year” campaign.

The links between the different campaigns include shared code and compiler artifacts such as PDB (Program DataBase) patterns which were present throughout these campaigns.

Based on our analysis, the “Golden Time”, both “Evil New Year” and the “North Korean Human Rights” campaigns specifically targeted South Korean users. The attackers used spear phishing emails combined with malicious HWP documents created using Hancom Hangul Office Suite. Group 123 has been known to use exploits (such as CVE-2013-0808) or scripting languages harnessing OLE objects. The purpose of the malicious documents was to install and to execute ROKRAT, a remote administration tool (RAT). On occasion the attackers directly included the ROKRAT payload in the malicious document and during other campaigns the attackers leveraged multi-stage infection processes: the document only contained a downloader designed to download ROKRAT from a compromised web server.

Additionally, the “FreeMilk” campaign targeted several non-Korean financial institutions. In this campaign, the attackers made use of a malicious Microsoft Office document, a deviation from their normal use of Hancom documents. This document exploited a newer vulnerability, CVE-2017-0199. Group 123 used this vulnerability less than one month after its public disclosure. During this campaign, the attackers used 2 different malicious binaries: PoohMilk and Freenki. PoohMilk exists only to launch Freenki. Freenki is used to gather information about the infected system and to download a subsequent stage payload. This malware was used in several campaigns in 2016 and has some code overlap with ROKRAT.

Finally, we identified a 6th campaign that is also linked to Group 123. We named this 6th campaign “Are You Happy?”. In this campaign, the attackers deployed a disk wiper. The purpose of this attack was not only to gain access to the remote infected systems but to also wipe the first sectors of the device. We identified that the wiper is a ROKRAT module.

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